Several years back I ran a kitchen on a volunteer hippie farm near Newcastle, Ontario. We had all types of transients coming through the farm, and all of them were strongly encouraged to either help tend the crops or work in the kitchen cooking the day’s meals or preserving the harvest. In the spirit of the dysfunctional laid-back-to-nature vibe of the farm, I kept rules to a minimum in the kitchen. In fact, there was only one hard and fast, non-negotiable rule: You can listen to whatever shitty music you like, but no Bono.
Looking back, I have a lot of regrets about that time of my life, but my injunction against U2 is something I’ll stand by proudly. Bono is quite possibly my least favourite person in the world today – and if you follow the news as closely as I do, you’ll know that that’s quite a statement.
My beef with Bono is that he’s very much “part of the problem” – he’s pretty much the quintessential “part of the problem” – but he’s managed to convince seemingly everybody that he’s part of the solution, that he’s being the change we need to see in the world. Which couldn’t be further from the truth:
[Bono] has cosied up to racists such as Jesse Helms, whitewashed architects of the Iraqi adventure such as Tony Blair and Paul Wolfowitz, and discovered a soulmate in the shock-doctrine economist Jeffrey Sachs. He has also brownnosed the Queen, sucked up to the Israelis, grovelled at the feet of corporate bullies and allied himself with rightwing anti-condom US evangelicals in Africa. The man who seems to flash a peace sign every four seconds apparently has no problem with the sponsorship of the arms corporation BAE. His consistent mistake has been to regard these powers as essentially benign, and to see no fundamental conflict of interests between their own priorities and the needs of the poor. They just need to be sweet-talked by a charmingly bestubbled Celt…
As a multimillionaire investor, world-class tax avoider, pal of Bush and Blair and crony of the bankers and neo-cons, Bono has lent credence to the global forces that wreak much of the havoc he is eager to mop up. His technocratic, west-centred, corporation-friendly campaigns have driven him into one false solution, unsavoury alliance and embarrassing debacle after another. The poor for him, Browne claims, exist largely as objects of the west’s charity. They are not seen as capable of the kind of militant mobilisation that might threaten western interests.
Plus U2 hasn’t written a decent tune in at least two decades.
No but seriously – Bono’s narrative about world poverty is about as disempowering as it gets. He’s made a fortune off of pitying the poor piously in public, and what’s more, he rips from the poor the context of their poverty, the structural and historical reasons that poverty this endemic and deep exists in the world today. The legacy of slavery and racism and colonialism and the theft of wealth and resources over the past five hundred years disappears, replaced by wide-eyed famine-stricken stick-limbed poverty porn that Bono and his ilk push upon us while urging us to buy their RED-branded crap. He provides cover to neoliberal politicians the world over by meeting them for photo ops and allowing them to seem like part of the solution, too.
The really shitty part is that, to people who aren’t paying close attention, Bono seems like a really good guy – a bit of a douche, maybe, but at least he’s fighting the good fight and, y’know, raising awareness. To which I reply: the number one thing Bono is raising awareness of is Bono.
Which doesn’t stop people from treating him like some kind of messiah. Check out the reaction as he arrived on Parliament Hill in Ottawa today:
— Tyler Dawson (@tylerrdawson) June 15, 2015
Bono was in Ottawa to meet with the Prime Minister, as well as Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau. The ostensible purpose of the trip was to urge Canada’s leading politicians to give more to foreign aid, but the actual purpose, as far as I can discern, was for Bono to get his name in the paper again. Nothing of substance about his discussions with any of the politicians has been released, just standard boilerplate, with each party playing up their platform and jockeying for advantage in the news cycle. In a week it’ll all be forgotten – but some folks will be left with the impression that Bono cares, and maybe even made a little difference.
For me, the most interesting thing about his visit was the contrast it provides. Bono requested a meeting with Harper, and later agreed to meeting with the two major opposition leaders as well. But the funny part is, Harper said yes to this wannabe rockstar of global aid. Which is strange, because right off the top of my head I can think of a lot of times he’s refused to meet with people…
Like Chief Theresa Spence, who held a six-week hunger strike on Victoria Island in Ottawa in the winter of 2013, demanding a nation-to-nation meeting between Harper, the Governor-General, and the country’s chiefs.
Or the Nishiyuu Walkers, seven Cree youths who walked sixteen hundred kilometres from Grassy Narrows to Ottawa to raise their concerns about mercury poisoning on their lands. (Harper was busy the day they arrived greeting two Chinese pandas at Pearson Airport.)
Or even Kathleen Wynne, premier of Canada’s most populous province, who was snubbed by Harper for thirteen months after he took issue with comments she made about him that hurt his feelings.
Basically, Harper only meets with people when he thinks there’s something in it for him. Hell, he only talked to Vladimir Putin so that he could brag about insulting the Russian president to his face.
So what did he get out of the Bono meeting? Was Harper just hoping that a little bit of that mockstar glory would rub off on him? I mean, they didn’t even get photographed together as far as I can tell.
“I don’t know where the money has gone; I haven’t seen any breakdown,” charges Stephen Lewis, the former UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa…
The McLeod Group, a foreign policy think-tank based in Ottawa, published a scathing series of editorials this week which attacked the Harper government for “grandstanding” but not delivering, especially in helping women prevent unwanted pregnancies, or getting access to safe abortion.
In fact, there’s no mention at all in the summit’s agenda of contraception, condoms or family planning.
“Crudely put, women and girls are dying in developing countries to appease the still strong anti-choice lobby amongst the grassroots ‘core’ of Conservative supporters,” the editorial series thundered.
None of which got mentioned in today’s celebrity-worshipping coverage of Bono’s visit to the Hill, which just regurgitated government talking points about how much they’ve helped mothers and children in poor countries over the years.
Which is Bono all over. He creates the appearance of progress, of compassion and charity, but it’s only ever a self-promoting facade. It’s no surprise that politicians want to meet him – most of them are in the same business themselves.