Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Bono's IndependentToday was the Independent's baptism into the Bonoworld of Red, the bid to try and turn social justice into a consumer fashion accessory. And it's as predictable as you'd expect - a lot of Bono showing off the circles he moves in - there's a circle-jerk interview with Blair and Brown; a bit from Nelson Mandela saying how great Red is. Naturally space is found for something from Geldof. The cover is a stunt - not unusual for the Indie, to be honest, but a not-very-good artwork from (of course) Damien Hirst and the headline "No news today" (with, in smaller print, "just 6,500 Africans died today as a result of a preventable, treatable disease" at the bottom) doesn't really work. There are so many ways 6,500 pointless deaths could have been given the centre stage; instead, they're dashed to the small print.

It's a fair summation of what the Bonoesque attitude is - the terrible facts of what happens in some parts of Africa are deemed to be inadequate to generate a reaction; he doesn't believe we could consider so many deaths without them being rolled into a big production number.

Wouldn't a simple black and white headline "6,500 Die in AIDS crisis" have made the point a bit more starkly?

But then, that would be putting the people themselves at the heart of the story, something which Red isn't minded to do. There is space found for an African voice, or two, beyond Mandela - but mainly room is found for quotes from the rich and powerful rather than those whose voices are never heard.

By a strange coincidence, Red chose yesterday to announce its tie-up with Motorola, launching a new mobilephone from which a small slice of the profits will go to Bono's AIDS charity, allowing this to count as "news" and meaning Bono the editor could run a story quoting Bono the charity organisers in a news story about Bono the philanthropist. Now, Motorola are one of the better electronics companies - their refusal to use Coltan from the Congo seems genuine and something they police quite successfully - but is it really helpful to encourage people to throw away their current mobile phone and get a new one, with a thin payment to charity, in the name of helping the world be a better place? Could the deal cut with the UK mobile phone operators to give a slice of revenues from calls made on this phone not have been drafted in some other way that didn't require a new phone to be bought, and another, old one, added to the 100 million mobiles thrown away in Europe each year?

(By the way, the phones will cost £149 - only £10 from that will go to the Red foundation.)

Bono uses a signed editorial to try and justify the whole concept of consumer-activism - he describes it as "irrelevant" to worry about the motivation of anyone involved, and as "ganging up on the problem." But chucking away mobile phones, running up credit card debts, shopping at the Gap for trousers we'll only wear once - how can these ever be part of the solution when they're at the heart of Western over-consumption, of having more than our share: how can the problem be its own solution?

More worryingly, Red has the same weakness as Live8 built into it: it suggests that the world can change, and the individual needs do little more than watch a Pink Floyd gig or buy a skirt on an American Express card. Billy Bragg once observed that "there's drudgery in social change". To pretend that it's possible to bring about global change without doing anything unpleasant or difficult is to do everyone a disservice. Because when action really needs to be taken - to hold the government and self-appointed saviours to account - "I gave at the checkout line" might be just the cop-out people need.

Just to show exactly who his friends are these days, Bono invites Condoleeze Rice to choose her top ten. For the record, here it is, with Rice's comments:

1. Mozart - Piano Concerto in D Minor - "I won my first piano competition at the age of 15, playing this work"
2. Cream - Sunshine of your love - "I love to work out to this song. Believe it or not, I loved acid rock in college - and I still do"
3. Aretha Franklin - Respect - "The Queen of Soul's anthem"
4. Kool and the Gang - Celebration - "It's just such a great song"
5. Brahms - Piano Concerto No 2 - "It's a stormy, difficult piece, but I'm going to learn to play it before I leave this earth"
6. Brahms - Piano Quintet in F minor - "passionate, without being sentimental"
7. U2 - (no actual quote or choice from Rice here, but there is an observation that "Rice is happy listening to any of their tunes"; we imagine this was a gesture to Bono by someone who wanted to show what pals they were, but not so much she could be arsed to send a researcher to find out the name of one of their songs. Mind you, choosing a band named after American spyplanes, part of an intelligence service which is less than gleaming, might be considered bravery enough without having to plough through one of their albums)
8. Elton John - Rocket Man - "It brings back memories of college, friends, my first boyfriend"
9. Beethoven - Symphony Number 7 - "Quite sumply the greatest symphony of all time"
10. Mussorgsky - Boris Godunov "The greatest opera of all time. If you love Russia, you have to love Godunov"


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