Every generation has an Elvis. Being an Elvis is not only about shaking your hips or making teenagers scream. When things are going bad in the public relations department, a famous entertainer can add pop, sizzle and glamour to the message. Performers sell soap, cars and coca cola. And lately, rich corporations have been in need of a little sizzle to sell corporate globalization.
Nixon needed Elvis. He saw a good ‘ol southern boy that loved his Mama cruise into the White house to join hands with the Administration in one of the many wars on drugs. Elvis, heavily medicated, was more than ready to expose his peers to extra scrutiny.
Mussolini had Ezra Pound. The Macarthyites had Ronald Reagan, who, at the time a Democrat, spent his career at the Screen Actors Guild ratting out so-called subversives in his Union.
Bono, the 80’s inspired politico warbler is the latest in a long line of performers who are trotted out on behalf of the power holders. Poor Bono, he doesn’t get it. At first I thought he looked silly. But now I see him as dangerous. Okay, well, silly and dangerous. At least that’s how he looked at the World Economic Forum held recently in New York. “Bono steals spotlight at forum,” said the Globe and Mail byline of February 5. While distribution of the Earth Times may have been banned at the exclusive Waldorf-Astoria for the WEF the corporate and political elite made a home for Bono.
Admittedly, I have never been a fan. Bono has always seemed a little pompous and overblown to me. But what the heck, pop music is aural candy. The candy I can live with. What was more alarming was to see Irish pop stars Bob Geldof and Bono praising the Canadian Prime Minister in Genoa during the G-8 meetings last year. Meanwhile, on the other side of the barricades Carlo Giuliani was shot and killed by a police bullet. Police routinely attacked independent journalists, medics and protestors, as has become a routine practice in crowd control.
Bono is a big fan of the Chretien. “These politicians keep taking the lead on issues that really concern us, people who are what you might call the movement for change in the developing world” offered Bono.
As working class activists anywhere know, picket lines mean don’t cross and, as working class Canadians know, there is little to praise about Jean Chretien. Both of these notions are lost on Bono. Did he know that the Prime Minister is known more for his arrogance and gaffes than anything else? That he is known to experience sudden spasms of insanity? A few years ago, for instance, he grabbed an anti poverty demonstrator by the neck and threw him to the ground while passing through the crowd. When demonstrators were violently pepper sprayed at the APEC summit in Vancouver while in a designated protest zone, the Chretien government, in an effort to shield Indonesian dictator Suharto from seeing any visible opposition, turned loose the RCMP. The PM had a laugh, joking later, “pepper is something I put on my plate.”
One can see the hint of a smile whenever Chretien has the good fortune to have himself photographed with the man with the long hair and wrap around shades. The PM won’t be grabbing Bono by the throat. The RCMP will hold the pepper spray. Chretien loves these photo moments. He revels in them, and there is Bono looking like nothing more than a prop in a public relations exercise. Bono is not unlike the wartime entertainers brought out for little more than their breasts and hips. Bono for his gold records and an image.
The man Bono praises presides over the same government that has not probed the political murder of Aboriginal activist Dudley George. Chretien was a Cabinet Minister when Canadian authorities collaborated in the railroading of Leonard Peltier. Today, while thrill seekers build ski hills on traditional land of the Secwepemc Nation in British Colombia, the Chretien government looks the other way. The government recently passed a law criminalizing dissent and allowing unprecedented abuse of the legal process by the authorities. Poverty protesters are beaten and jailed routinely. Free collective bargaining is a privilege granted by the government and not a right guaranteed under international law. Some workers in Chretien’s Canada, like those delivering mail in rural areas, are forbidden to join unions under federal law. Good old Bono, hanging with Jean Chretien, the man that has never seen an IMF dictate that he didn’t like. But lets remember that Bono is now a statesman or a “superstatesman” as the Globe and Mail called him.
At least Africa is in good hands. Bono will join U.S.Treasury secretary Paul O’Neill on the road to Africa next month where they will be “gauging poverty”. One can imagine millions of Africans in Rwanda or Angola shivering with anticipation at the arrival of the pop star and the U.S. politician. Imagine the peasants of Somalia or the Congo celebrating this latest attempt to gauge poverty. Perhaps even a study will be commissioned or a few token debts relieved.
But Bono is more than PR fodder. He actually talks. On drug companies Bono offered this insight: “I think they need to make the profits, we need to do the research”. On the challenges of his career as a social justice advocate he offered “It’s more difficult than you imagine to get attention for these issues”
Fortunately no one was shot at the World Economic Forum. Still, while Bono pontificated, activists were routinely arrested and attacked in the streets. At least one person was knocked unconscious. Many were pepper sprayed or beaten. Twenty were held 12 hours in a police van without water or communication. As has become routine, independent journalists and medics were also attacked.
It is not uncommon for individuals to experience an inflated feeling of self from time to time. Using entertainers to sell is not new. Doors open when mutual interests are served. What a coincidence to find Bono et al performing at the patriotic Super Bowl the next day. In this case Bono, as many before him, was completely out of his element. In a revealing display of the utter lack of analysis one would expect from most aging millionaires, Bono offered, “I really believe if we gather forces on this and we don’t create easy bad guys and good guys on this we can make progress.”
He actually thinks they are listening and we can all be winners in the universal concert bowl. The “superstatesman” should stick with tape loops.
Dave Bleakney is a Canadian Postal Worker and musician.