June 26, 2013 § 2 Comments
In today’s Guardian, Terry Eagleton gets his hatchet out on Ireland’s most famous son, Paul Hewson, better known as Bono, the ubiquitous frontman of Irish megastars/corporate behemoth, U2. Eagleton is ostensibly reviewing a book, Harry Browne’s, Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power), which sounds like a good read. Eagleton’s review, though, is a surprisingly daft read by a very intelligent man, one of my intellectual heroes.
He takes Bono to task for being a stooge of the neo-cons. For Bono sucking up to every neo-con politician from Paul Wolfowitz to Tony Blair and every dirty, smelly corporate board in the world in the line of his charity work. Eagleton even takes a particularly stupid quote from Ali Hewson, Bono’s wife, about her fashion line, to make his case. Now, just to be clear, I think Bono is a wanker. I love U2, they were once my favourite band, and The Joshua Tree is in my top 3 albums of all-time. But Bono is a tosser. He can’t help it, though, he’s like Jessica Rabbit, he was just made that way. Eagleton, for his part, essentialises the Irish in a rather stupid manner as an internationalist, messianic people, and says, basically, Bono and his predecessor as Irish celebrity charity worker, Bob Geldof, were destined to be such. Whatever.
I’m more interested in Eagleton’s critique of Bono as a corporate/neo-con stooge. It’s a valid argument. Bono has coozied up to some dangerous and scary men and women in his crusades to raise consciousness and money for African poverty and health crises. But, I see something else at work. A couple of years ago, there was news of a charity organisation seeking to use Coca-Cola’s distribution network in the developing world to get medicine out there. I thought it a brilliant idea, but, perhaps predictably, there was blowback. Critics complained that this would then give Coca-Cola Ltd. positive publicity and that it did nothing to stunt Coca-Cola’s distribution, blah blah blah. Sure, that’s all true, but perhaps it would be a good thing if needed medicines were distributed through Coke’s network, especially since Coca-Cola Ltd. was more than willing to help out? Maybe the end result justified the means?
And so, reading Eagleton on Bono today, I thought of Cola Life (the charity working with Coke). And I thought, it’s certainly true that Bono has worked with some skeezy folk. But, if the end result is worth it, what’s the problem? If working with the likes of Tony Blair (hey, remember when everyone loved Tony Blair?!?) and Paul Wolfowitz and Jeffery Sachs actually can lead to positive developments for Africa and other parts of the developing world, is it not worth giving it a try? Or is it better to sit on our moral high grounds in the developed world and frown and shake our heads at the likes of Cola Life and Bono for actually trying to work at the system from within for positive change?
I’ve always been struck by a Leonard Cohen lyric, the first line of “First We Take Manhattan”: “They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom/For trying to change the system from within.” Cohen there summed it up, working within the system for change and revolution is boring, it’s not glamorous, it’s not glorious. But my experience has taught me that it works, and more positive change can be affected through pushing from within the system than from without it. It doesn’t mean it’s always all that ethically clean, either, sometimes you have to get dirty to do a wider good, and I think that’s what Cola Life and Bono are doing on a much bigger, grander, and more impressive scale. And I think the Terry Eagleton’s of the world are living in the past, with their moralistic tut-tutting, all the whilst sitting on their hands and doing little to actually do something to bring about positive change.