Best of 2010 | Bozoby Brandon Edmonds / 30.12.2010
Paul David Hewson is a tireless campaigner for Africa. His work on behalf of many great causes is a living beacon of selfless service. Oh shit sorry wait, different article. What I meant to write was please won’t that shouty Celtic fuckstick called Bono just die. I prefer to call him Bozo. He’s the supreme embodiment of everything wrong with celebrity advocacy. Turning African Suffering into his own personal b®and leveraging device.
At least fellow professional hand-wringer Sir Bob Geldoff’s music is universally avoided. Somehow U2 keep raking it in. They have the highest selling tours (a half billion pound deal with Live Nation) and are the highest earners in pop (according to Forbes, which Bozo co-owns, the band made over $130 million last year). Their most recent 360 degrees tour has grossed well over $300 million. People of earth you unfathomably adore this band.
Outsized success for over three decades has turned the lead singer into a strutting self-appointed “man of conscience” – nominated for a Nobel Peace prize, photographed ‘talking truth to power’ (Bush, Putin, Obama, Berlusconi) and occupied hatching pragmatic market-based consumer-driven solutions to the ‘great issues’ of the day (Aids, Debt, Poverty). Here’s Bozo: “I’ve been over-rewarded for what I do and I’m trying to give my time and my resources, but… I’m a rich rock star, so shoot me.”
Great idea! Mark Chapman, John Lennon’s shooter, was denied parole recently. Why not let him out and see if a murderous obsession with Bozo takes hold? As one withering blog put it, he’s the “tousle-haired, leather trouser-wearing equivalent of the rich ladies-who-lunch.”
There are legitimate reasons to loathe Bozo. He’s a preposterous hypocrite.
U2’s management moved from Ireland to the Netherlands recently to avoid the closure of a tax loophole. The move saved them around $30 million. It also led to nationalist protests. Et tu, U2! As an organization tracking corporate tax avoidance puts it: “Bono participates in the worldwide offshore tax-evasion system that is to a large extent responsible for the poverty of Africa.” The African Union was quick to point out that “tax dodging by foreign companies costs it $150 billion a year” – three times what it receives in aid! The Tax Justice Network speculates that if tax on the money the world’s rich have squirreled away in tax havens were paid – states could finance the UN Millennium Development Goals (full global education, safety, hygiene, employment) five times over.
We’re just getting started.
Bozo sits on the board of a venture capital firm called Elevation Partners. He’s heavily invested in their portfolio. Which includes both Palm electronics whose products are built in China at a factory where four thousand workers “walked off the job to protest low wages and poor conditions”. Riot police forced them back to work injuring 20. And Bioware/Pandemic game producers whose Mercenaries 2 simulates an invasion of Venezuela. Bozo even met with US defense secretary Robert Gates to discuss Africom – the military command hub for Africa. He’s also been nominated 3 times for a Nobel Peace prize.
Bozo twice attended prayer breakfasts at the Dubbya White House. Read that again. Prayer, Bush, Bozo. What a terrible thing to do to breakfast! U2 drummer Larry Mullen has called Bush and Blair “war criminals” and said he “cringes” to see Bozo anywhere near them. As the Rock Confidential newsletter put it: “there is not one shred of evidence that he disagrees on any issue – war, tax shelters, immigration – with the power brokers he wants us to believe are the last best hope of humanity”.
Bozo’s DATA Foundation (working to “eliminate poverty & Aids in Africa”) raised $31 million in 2006 but spent only a fifth of that on charity. The rest went to “transportation, security and U2 tour tickets”.
Responding to the Trade Not Aid critique Bozo and his wife Ali Hewson founded a fashion brand called Edun (with $20million of their own cash, since selling 49% of it to Luis Vuitton at a loss). It was supposed to “revitalize apparel manufacturing in sub-Saharan Africa”. It didn’t. To cut costs the failing label now manufactures 70% of its products in China! The white wrist band popularized during the Make Poverty History Campaign also turned out to be manufactured in China. With labor costs so low, businesses increasingly head East. Even “ethical” ones.
U2 recently played in Berlin to mark the 20 year collapse of the Wall. Bozo is yet to mention the illegal Zionist wall being erected around Palestinian settlements. Or the militarized wall along the US-Mexico border. Concert organizers in Berlin erected a 12 foot high barrier to prevent everyone without a ticket from even looking! You don’t get to be the world’s most commercially successful band by bending the rules of supply and demand. It also explains Bozo’s advocacy of Chinese-style online policing functions, in his guest column for the New York Times, to be imposed on ISP’s to crack down on file-sharing. A “threat” he ingenuously frames in terms of saving future songwriters rather than keeping shareholder yield sky high.
Crucially African counter-voices have begun to challenge Bozo’s well-circulated image. The head of African Aid Action, Jobs Selasie, claimed that since Band Aid the number of Africans living on handouts has increased by 500% and African governments now plan on 70% of annual budgets being provided by “overseas aid”. For all Bozo’s rhetoric about “Africa Rising” – long term aid has made the continent more dependent. “You can’t impose change from without,” Selasie said. “It has to come from within and we won’t end poverty with handouts.”
Then there was Andrew Mwenda. A Ugandan journalist twice imprisoned for criticizing government corruption. At a TED conference in Tanzania he challenged G8 countries to liberalize trade rules so African goods can compete on the world market. “Did any country ever become rich by holding out the begging bowl?” Mwenda claims celebrity charities portray Africans as “unable to think, empty”. Giving money to governments only makes them “accountable to donors, the World Bank, the IMF, the celebrities and not their own people”. Billions donated to corrupt regimes pays off allies, bolsters police forces and “maintains repressive rule”. Bozo heckled him. “Bollocks,” he was heard to shout. You don’t need very large ones to set the truth aside when it clashes with your unexamined pieties. You just need to be Bozo. Billionaire financier and globetrotting philanthropist.
So where’s the harm? The guy’s essentially ‘doing good works’. Far more so than this muck-raking article. Slavoj Zizek, a post-Marxist philosopher and cultural commentator, helps us get to the bottom of late capitalism’s generous billionaire givers. Your Gates, Soros and Bozo’s. Essentially “they give away with one hand what they grabbed with the other”. Walking contradictions. Symptoms of a system in crisis. “Their dogma is a new postmodernised version of Adam Smith’s invisible hand: the market and social responsibility are not opposites, but can be re-united for mutual benefit… nobody has to be vile in order to do business these days.”
Or as Bozo says: “Big business is not bad. Big bad business is bad.” Again and again the singer sets up “solutions” to problems in market terms. His Product Red idea licensed partner companies (Apple, The Gap, Microsoft) to create a red product and a percentage of the profit would go to a global fund. Consumerism would solve Aids and poverty. As he once put it: “Amid poverty and disease are opportunities for investment and growth.” But the campaign failed. Despite Bill Gates heralding it as “creative capitalism”. After a $100 million marketing campaign, only some $18 million was raised. That doesn’t matter though because, as Zizek puts it, these givers “do not want to be mere profit-machines: they want their lives to have deeper meaning.” Hence the great charity impulse. “A humanitarian mask hiding the underlying economic exploitation.”
We’re one, Bozo, but we’re not the same.