Bono: Soft Imperialist Liberal Shill

TIME magazine asks "Can Bono save the world?" Judging from his US flag jacket, the answer is very likely a resounding no.

TIME magazine asks “Can Bono save the world?” Judging from his US flag jacket, the answer is very likely a resounding no.

Bono is a classic example of the paternalistic, neocolonialist rich celebrity with the white savior complex enormous enough to convince him he can save the world with a little sweat (well, not much (any) sweat) and his signature (gotta get an autograph!). He, along with his good friends in the IMF and World Bank, bends over backward (or rather pays some people to bend backward) to bring aid to the “backward” peoples of the “Third World,” singing condescending screeds about how sad it is that children in Africa “don’t know it’s Christmas“–while he himself is blissfully unaware of how he propagates, and exacerbates, the very ills he wishes to heal.

Contact Music ran a story in September about “angry anarchists” chasing Bono down the street in Germany.

The shill

was in Heiligendamm in 2007 for the 33rd G8 summit meeting of world leaders when he was cornered by a number of protesters opposed to his presence at the event.
The group was supporting the ‘Make Bono History’ campaign, which aims to “remove Bono from the public-eye and restore a sense of dignity to mankind”, and the singer was terrified when the placard-waving demonstrators started chasing him.

Sounds heavenly, if you ask me.

Why? Dave Marsh wrote an astoundingly good review of Harry Browne’s book The Front Man: Bono (In the Name of Power) last May, “Bono: Mascot of Neoliberalism,” exposing Bono for the neoliberal charlatan he is. Highlights follow (emphasis mine):

Bono may be the personification of all that’s evil about contemporary celebrity culture and all that’s worse than bankrupt about liberal capitalism (and liberal capitalists) but there’s also a real person in there, and he’s spent most of a lifetime making himself what history must surely judge—perhaps not with as much restraint as the author—as a fool.

his chosen trade, liberal philanthropic paternalism

Langston Hughes wrote that the animal that should be chosen to represent liberals is not a donkey or an elephant but an ostrich. This book could be subtitled Bono (With His Head in the Sand).

Bono proves a useful tool for understanding the forces around him because his behavior exemplifies the way that liberals, especially neoliberals from Clinton and Blair to Obama, not only played into the hands of reactionaries but vanished every time they got a chance to act like liberals are supposed to act.

Liberals have usually not lived up to their rep. They derive the bulk of their glory by taking credit for the achievements of radicals. The current crop, whose respect for civil liberties is nil and whose attitude toward the suffering is STFU, sets new lows. It is now easier to name a liberal Supreme Court Justice who thinks Roe V. Wade a mistake than to find one who will make any meaningful effort to stop illegal detention, de facto segregation in everything (schools, housing, jobs, the Obama cabinet), or prevent the incarceration, even murder, of political opponents without trial. Liberals claim the entirety of the moral high ground as their turf, but at best, they’re absentee landlords.

Harry Browne reserves his sense of outrage in The Front Man for a rendition of the liberal and neoliberal subversion of human rights. He pays especial attention as that subversion is accomplished under cover of noble goals as articulated by Bono and his guru, the austerity (for others) loving pinhead Jeffrey Sachs, one of the early proponents of TINA (there is no alternative). The TINA doctrine almost literally forms the wool over Bono’s eyes. It boils down to the rich should rule the world, and the richest become the most powerful. The portrait here of how Bono, a man of only marginally inconceivable wealth, has been passed around, mostly without compensation to the suffering or often even himself, resembles a nonfiction Sister Carrie. If I knew how to get my remaining liberal friends to accept evidence-based political journalism, I’d say this book has redemptive power. Alas, there is that ostrich and an abundance of sand, already forming a dune around the person of the former Goldwater volunteer.

The Front Man is, in addition to being an important book about Bono and celebrity, one of the few books about contemporary music that understands issues of colonialism and white privilege, especially in regard to Africa. But Browne doesn’t spend enough time on religion, and in defining the Christian humanism that informed all of Bono’s early work and still empowers his evangelical rhetoric about TINA. This is why Bono is not a unique figure. Actually, he’s a type and the type is not all that new. Consider a paragraph that C.L.R. James wrote in 1950:

“The Christian Humanists have a systematic political economy. They propose decentralized self-governing corporations of private property with every worker in his place. They have a philosophy of history. They believe in the eternal ambiguities of the human situation and the impossibility of ever attaining human freedom on earth. They have a theory of politics. The natural and ideological elite must rule, the masses must not have absolute sovereignty. Since evil and imperfection are eternal, they say, the alternatives are either limited sovereignty or unmitigated authoritarianism.” (From State Capitalism and World Revolution)

Even Browne has given us no better way to account for why Bono misunderstands the meaning of his own successes (there have been some, and not only onstage) and why he cannot recognize his most significant failures, either as a rock star or as a political figure.

The Front Man serves as both an effective cautionary tale and an excellent how-to-book on avoiding the traps of neo-liberalism. On top of that, it offers the tale of a mannish boy who’s genuinely incapable of grasping why some folks just plain don’t like his act.

There’s more critical goodness where that came from. Lots more. (CounterPunch really hates Bono. And rightfully, at that.)
– “‘Factivism’ and Other Fairytales from Bono” (March 2013) *Highly recommended*
– “Bono: Sacred Cow or Sad Clown?” (June 2013)”
– “Bono’s Faith Offensive” (June 2013)
– “What the Irish Hate About Bono” (August 2013)
– “Bono: “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me”” (September 2013)

And these are just from 2013. Point is there’s a lot of research out there exploring how much of a rich capitalist shill (with a horrendous white savior complex) the “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” cultural imperialist (and overall imperialist) Bono is.

So, yeah, we get the idea. Bono sucks. Anarchists should chase him down the street more often. At a bare minimum.