Bono Bombs, Again: Celebrity Politics & Why the Music Industry is No Victim

 The views expressed inside this editorial aren’t necessarily the views of or its employees.   Like his ear-ringing, pitch-piercing singing, many of Bono’s ideas fall flat: Aggression isn’t enough: Artistry ought to have greater command. In an Op-Ed for the New York Times last Sunday (“Ten for the Next Ten”), Sir Bono listed 10 […]

 The views expressed inside this editorial aren’t necessarily the views of or its employees.


Like his ear-ringing, pitch-piercing

singing, many of Bono’s ideas fall flat: Aggression isn’t enough: Artistry

ought to have greater command.

In an Op-Ed for the New York Times last Sunday (“Ten

for the Next Ten”), Sir Bono listed 10 touchstones for the next 10 years,

one of which had the original title, “Intellectual Property Developers.” Bono writes

the “only thing protecting the movie and TV industries from the fate that has

befallen music and indeed the newspaper business is the size of the files. The

immutable laws of bandwidth tell us we’re just a few years away from being able

to download an entire season of ‘24’ in 24 seconds.” And there lies the problem:

“Many will expect to get it free.” Refuge for this shapeless logic is found in

the past decade of unregulated, laissez-faire


A decade’s worth

of music file-sharing and swiping has made clear that the people it hurts are

the creators — in this case, the young, fledgling songwriters who can’t live

off ticket and T-shirt sales like the least sympathetic among us — and the

people this reverse Robin Hooding benefits are rich service providers, whose

swollen profits perfectly mirror the lost receipts of the music business.

Stop right there! Is Bono implying that

these “fledgling songwriters,” whose cause he seems hell-bent on avenging, only

began feeling the pinch

or being cheated of their commission these last few years—and for no other

reason but illegal music downloading? And is he also attempting to lay blame on

the internet service providers—who are no saints themselves—rather than a music

industry too

arrogant to predict

a revolt amongst consumers, following

decades of disposable songs and one-hit wonders?  

But, you see, this is the sort of thing

Bono does. His sympathy, to the man looking from the outside in, seems to fall

on the hapless victims whose rights he’s been renowned as champion for. Bono, unfortunately,

is hardly an activist. Bono, in truth, is a shill—for power structures and huge

conglomerates. In this case, his gladiator Halloween costume is fitted on

behalf of “fledgling songwriters” wronged by “rich service providers”; but,

really, it is the big, rapacious record labels he is going to war for.

Next, Sir Bono, his highness, betrays

his true intentions, with calls for censorship—even so far as advocating the

kind China is notorious for: “But we know from America’s noble effort to stop

child pornography, not to mention China’s ignoble effort to suppress online

dissent, that it’s perfectly possible to track content.” And there you have it:

From teenage love, praying tongues,

strange fruits, bally boots, and native drums.

I thought the age of romance was over. If

anyone, in 2010, still believes the music industry is a victim of anything but

its own hubris and collective stupidity, I hear Bernie Madoff can still squeeze

you in for the big payback a-coming. 

With ruthlessness and the kind of fearlessness Suge Knight can only

fantasize about, major record labels bullied

artists and fans for years, never anticipating a day when the tables would

turn with their victims assuming full control. Mind you, these are the same

labels who fined fans charged with “illegally” downloading copyrighted songs up

to $150,000 each, some ending up with bills as high as $675,000 and $2,000,000.

Is he referring to the same record industry currently

being sued

in a $6 billion class action lawsuit by burnt artists? Have we

been overcome so easily by selective amnesia that we fail to recall how

vehement major record companies were—and are—in treating artists like ATM

machines—worked until emptied of their last pennies? And when fans demanded

creative and complex music, in the midst of inundating trash, how many of those

demands were met?  

But Bono has mastered this art—of

skillful shilling. The same guy who preaches a brand of morality nuns can only

hope of aspiring toward has different set of rules to which he adheres—much

different from those he proselytizes. Four years ago, U2, Bono’s band, began

relocating its multi-million dollar business empire to Holland, due to a

cap on artist tax-exemption which had just gone into effect. Ireland was facing

financial hell, and, besides such productive measures as shutting down special

needs classes in primary schools and levying pay-cuts to struggling workers,

tax increases were also being pursued. The tax-emption, which big bands like U2

had benefited significantly from, was initially introduced to aid

underprivileged artists. When Bono and the boys got word of the cap, they fled

for Holland—a tax-free haven. Meanwhile, the poor and indigent of Ireland were left to fend for


But Bono, whose pals include anti-war

peaceniks like George Bush and Tony Blair, is celebrated by mass media as a moral

crusader against militarism and poverty—better yet, African poverty. “Bono is

no man of peace,” legendary music critic

and Sirius Satellite radio host Dave Marsh wrote

last year

; “he has yet to speak out against any war.” This fierce defender

of poor people’s rights “is part owner of Pandemic/Bioware, producers of

Mercenaries 2, a video game which simulates an invasion of Venezuela.” Worse

yet, for all his award-winning antics and semantics about poverty-stricken

African families, “last year Bono met with US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

to discuss plans to set up a new U.S. military command for Africa.” Bono is a

proponent of AFRICOM—the dreaded imperialist order opposed

by most African governments.

I might be wrong, and in some ways hope

I am, but Bono appeals to me as just another feed-the-children financier whose

intentions cannot be counted as pure. Yes, he’s willing to stand in the midst

of pot-bellied, dry-mouthed kids, with flies levitating in circles, but how

much does this Good Samaritan value the humanity and dignity of those he is known worldwide for speaking on behalf

of—even if they gave him no such authority.  

A couple of years back at the acclaimed Technology,

Entertainment, Design  (TED) conference,

Bono was in the audience as veteran Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda was

assailing, with

breathtaking eloquence

, everything Bono’s philanthropic career rests

upon—Aid to Africa. Mwenda argued that aid, while charitable and conscionable,

can often do more harm than good, since 1) aid often never reaches those for

whom it is meant 2) aid feeds the notion that Africans are lazy, laggardly bums

who, despite the benevolence of Westerners, refuse to pull themselves up by

their bootstraps 3) aid helps clear the consciences of European countries who

owe far more than a few shillings of their declining currency 4) aid most

always has hidden agendas undisclosed even to recipient governments 5) aid,

when treated as the end thereof, rather than means to an end of independence

and self-sufficiency, can nurture subservience and subordination among

oppressed populations. In response, Bono did what all self-respecting, humble

public servants know is best—he heckled Mwenda in an expletive-riddled rant.

Bono never, for a second, felt perhaps

this African journalist (African first, journalist second), knows more about

Africa—and her needs—than an Irish singer. His hubris couldn’t take being

upstaged, so he screamed “bullocks” and other unprintable words.

Social entrepreneur Andrew Rugasira had

it right when, responding to Bono’s bratty behavior, he



The G8 countries

are not driven by the pleas or haranguing of rock stars. They are defined by

hard-nosed economic and political interests borne of a history rooted in

economic and political domination, virulent self interest, and the reality that

they got their societies to where they are now not through handouts, rooted in

kindness, but by home grown solutions to their developmental challenges.

Bono’s knowledge about Africa came to

life again in his editorial. Number 10 was as opportunistic and slow-witted as

the first: “The World Cup Kicks Off the African Decade.” First, my intelligence

is higher than Hollywood standards, so I don’t buy the notion that

sports can change or alter political or racial paradigms. Bono, however, is

drawing this parallel between the 2010 Worlds Cup and a decade he believes

would mark new frontiers for Africa. Of course my hopes for Africa and Bono’s

are probably diametrically opposed, so I find his predictions quite frightening.

From his arm-chair of convenience, he reminisces over the 2006 civil war in

Ivory Coast which, his version of history suggests, was “put on hold” because

the West African country qualified for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Okay, Bono:

believing is believing?  Then he castigates

South Africa’s critics, who “should be red-faced now” since its “impressive

preparations underline the changes on the continent, where over the last few

years, 5 percent economic growth was the average.” This is Bono’s conception of

the “African Decade”—“growth,” “changes,” “potential,” working to “shore up

fragile young democracies across the continent.”

If South Africa’s “preparations” for the

World Cup “underline” future “changes on the continent,” I wonder how Bono

accounts for the government’s


of thousands of its poor residents to make way for these


breaking prior promises to provide equitable housing for evicted citizens.

Is Bono concerned that the same poor he wants the world to believe he bleeds

for are

being attacked by government agents who, like other rogue forces of the

past, are willing to shed human blood for a bonanza lastingly only a few weeks?

Make no mistake: This is Bono’s bit.

Like a comedian, he captures his audience through acute timing and emotional

ecstasy. But once those gullible—entranced—minds have been surrendered, he goes

in for the kill—or punch-line, if you will.  


I’ll let Dave Marsh have the last word:

“Despite the inspiration that many people take from the anthems Bono has

written, 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 mankind.”

Tolu Olorunda is a cultural critic whose work regularly appears on and

other online journals. He can be reached at: