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Comment: Make Bono History

By guest contributor Gerry Fitzpatrick

29 October 2008

A reflection the failure of the Make Poverty History campaign.

"What this big, long, exact, cold and brutal analysis shows us is that halfway to this historic date of 2010 halfway these wealthy countries ... have delivered 14 percent. How tragic is that?" Geldof told reporters in Paris. "What a failure for all of us,"
Bono after failure of the Make Poverty History

In vaults of Universal Studios there are two cans of a film quietly collecting dust. They have never been through a projector as much as their neighbours. Only given a short release after it was made in 1967 Privilege was the work of the radical director Peter Watkins who’s War Game had been banned by the BBC the previous year. 

Privilege tells the story of Steven Shorter (Paul Jones of Manfred Man) a rock star that becomes the focus of youth rebelliousness – a role he is unusually competent at because in this totalitarian future – it is his job. 

Acting out what his audience cannot Shorter easily manipulates the inner longing of the controlled population for liberty. 

In series of stage performances the film shows him singing identity crisis songs after which he is then ‘arrested’ by security guards and placed in a pretend prison on stage. The audience is then worked up into frenzy until Shorter is eventually ‘released’ to sing a song of make-believe freedom.  Having brought out the genuine rebelliousness of his followers, the state then finds that it can’t control the crowd. Shorter is then instructed to turn his act into a Christian crusade – but his ‘conversion’ is not successful and it all ends badly. 

Looking at Privilege and U2 performing at the 1984 Live Aid it is astonishing to see just how accurate Privilege’s view of Britain in ‘1970’ became the Britain of the 1980s. The stage moves are the same – the slow repetitive musical build-up, the gestures and the declamations to crowd – the payer?like pleading. All these aspects of U2s performance – appears like a re-enactment of the stage drama of Privilege.  The only difference being that instead of security guards ‘imprisoning’ then ‘releasing’ the singer, they were instructed to release trapped girls in the audience who were saved with a hug and a kiss by the Lordly performer. 

This theme of spiritual redemption occurs in song after song and on album after U2 album. Not surprisingly its one that evangelical Christians in America have come to admire. On web page after web page, blog after blog, Bono particularly has been praised for his religious out look. A turn of events he has not discouraged in the many interviews he has given. 

The potential has always existed for the rock redeemer – someone who turns the troubles of his soul into the nation’s salvation. That after all was the story of Tommy the Who’s rock opera.  But it was Watkins and not the Who - who got the future right about Britain, the rock star and the right as Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart declared their support for Enoch Powell. That was mercifully short lived as they were rightly pilloried for their stupidity by what was then a more numerous and independent left.

These days there not so independent wedded as they are to the state in the form of their ties to officially supported NGOs. As the charity status of Make Poverty History  - Working for Oxfam or Trocaire is one thing – making George Soros and Pat Robertson the basis of an anti?capitalist revolutionary change is not only dangerous it is risible. 

Hopefully, Make Poverty History will become a fading sign of our times where the destructive power of the capitalist robber baron billionaire and the nickel and diming bigot who promised so much and delivered so little. 


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