The decision of Bob Dylan to play only those songs that the Beijing government approved of always looked a bit weak.
Playing that approved list of songs while the same government had Ai Weiwei spirited away? That seems somewhat less than heroic.
The Spectator's David Blackburn is quite laid back about Dylan's silence:
Given that it’s nearly 50 years since Dylan purposefully stopped being the ‘voice of conscience’, his reticence does not come as a shock.Except, of course, Dylan hasn't done any such thing, never missing a chance to turn up at the White House to hook himself up to the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement.
And, as David Aaronovitch observes in today’s Times, why should Dylan do what we are too timid and politic to do?Here's a suggestion, David and David - because we haven't been invited to play a gig approved by the people who have locked Weiwei up. I can say, fairly certainly, that even if I attempted to interest people in the news that I wasn't going to play the Beijing Academy, nobody would turn up.
Yes, our governments have been as grubby and spineless as normal, but whoever thought that "Bob Dylan is no more useless and unprincipled than William Hague" would be a phrase that he would ever aspire to?
Besides, what could he achieve?A small amount of media focus on the wrongdoings of the Chinese state? A small crowd of the rich Chinese who'd paid for the tickets realising that they can't expect to enjoy visits from Bob Dylan and similar artists while dissidents disappear? A bit more than doing bugger all would?
Dylan’s words might be welcome to some Western ears...Well, that would be a start - not looking like a self-obsessed, amoral, money-grubbing chimp dancing to whims of Beijing might be a positive move.
... but he’s just one man selling records.And when did simply having a massive audience and a global platform ever count for anything, eh?
He does not command divisions, even in the metaphorical sense. Human rights violations in China are for governments to challenge. Perhaps Dylan's silence expresses that.Perhaps. You don't really believe that, though, do you, David? If Dylan wanted to say 'look, I'm just a humble singer of songs, I'm not going to get involved in politics as that's for governments to do', he could have said that. But he'd presumably not bother, as it would sound like a weaselly statement trying to smudge over the grisly spectacle of having to turn up his amp to drown out the cries of tortured dissidents (no wonder Dylan went electric - can you imagine trying to drown that out with an acoustic guitar?).
Even if Dylan had stepped down from being the voice of a generation's conscience when it stopped being convenient, are we supposed to accept that he also detached his personal conscience as well?