Bono is a Tool
Bono's latest attempt to save the world is through the power of consumerism and credit card debt. He has allied himself with The Gap, Armani, Converse, and American Express, among others, in a "Product Red" campaign to eliminate poverty through the purchase of designer clothing and other luxury goods (and with a special red American Express card that is "designed to eliminate HIV in Africa").
Good intentions aside, the folly of Bono's plans to end the problems of hunger and poverty by working through some of the very neoliberal institutions that inflame and sustain those problems has been pretty well documented. But the "Product Red" campaign looks like a new gold standard for cynical, corporate ploys designed to extract money from consumers hoping to make a difference by buying something.
The latest issue of Rock & Rap Confidential spells all this out in a cheerfully muckraking article, pulling no punches. The story does not seem to be available online, so I've reproduced it here from their email newsletter, for your edification:
In January, Bono announced his latest campaign to save the poor through capitalism--or rather, the other way around. This is Red, a marketing scam which finds the increasingly deranged U2 frontman in business with Nike Converse, The Gap, Giorgio Armani and American Express. Red products include Converse sneakers made from "African mudcloth," "vintage" Gap t-shirts, Armani wraparound sunglasses, and a red American Express card. The companies will donate "a portion" of their profits to fighting AIDS in Africa, the continent for whose poor Bono claims to be the spokesman. This portion is for the most part unspecified (American Express promises 1% of spending). Nor is it specified whether Bono takes a cut--presumably he would be crowing if he weren't, as he did when U2 pimped iPods for free.
"It's just a couple of degrees from becoming a Saturday Night Live skit," says Noel Beasley of the UNITE/HERE textile workers union. "It's like if you took Bob Dylan's 'The Times They Are A-Changing,' used it to pitch Rolex watches and tried to convince people that if they bought enough luxury goods they could make a revolution. It's ludicrous on its face."
Financial Times termed Red "the latest in a series of marketing experiments by companies worried that television advertising is losing its punch. Many of these efforts are based on the idea of using good works or services as a way to get consumer attention." The term for this, in respectable marketing circles, is "corporate social opportunity."
As Beasley said on Kick Out the Jams, Dave Marsh's Sirius radio show, "This is obviously the economic wet dream of every retailer and credit card loan shark in the world, if you can pitch consumerism and credit card debt as the salvation of the planet, while garment workers and shoe workers are starving to death and literally burning to death in horrific conditions in places like Burma and Thailand." As a member of the executive committee of the International Textile, Leather and Garment Workers Foundation, Beasley regularly monitors sweatshop and slave labor conditions around the globe, up close and in person.
Bono announced his scheme at Davos, Switzerland, where he attended the World Economic Forum, a meeting of leaders of the world's richest countries. According to Financial Times, he got the Red idea from Robert Rubin, one of the architects of Clintonomics.
Bono explicitly believes that only such powerful insiders can effect meaningful change. Capitalism controls everything, and therefore, only capitalist solutions can be "effective."
In Caracas, Venezuela, the World Social Forum took place at the same time as the Davos conference. The WSF is a meeting of leaders and activists from around the globe, from poor nations as well as rich ones. It is dedicated to the proposition that social justice occurs only when people govern themselves. The World Social Forum is the sound of some of the world's have-nots speaking for themselves, which Bono sees as counter-productive. But today, five South American nations are run by governments that believe otherwise, while the countries where schemes like Red operate, particularly Britain and the U.S., allow their populations to grow poorer and more powerless by the day.
Bono claims to be a disciple of Martin Luther King. Dr. King spoke of the "triple evils"--racism, war and poverty--as inextricably connected. He eventually concluded that opposing one of them without opposing all of them didn't make any sense. So Dr. King risked his relationship with the LBJ administration by first attacking the war in Vietnam, then starting the Poor Peoples Campaign, which raised exactly the same issues as the World Social Forum.
Bono and his ilk want to convince good-hearted folks that there is no need for the lowly to move. As long as Bono cuddles with the mighty, poverty and AIDS in Africa are being powerfully addressed. So Bono, "spokesman for the poor," meets with Bush and never mentions Iraq or New Orleans.
For the past several years, Bono has argued that African nations need to be relieved of their multibillion dollar debt to rich countries. Much of that debt has been erased. This has produced no tangible reduction in poverty. Bono has issued pronouncements about increased U.S. aid to Africa after every one of his meetings with George Bush and his senior officials. That increase never comes and, as detailed by an article last summer in the U2 fanzine Rolling Stone, the way what little aid there is gets dispensed makes conditions worse.
The 2007 World Social Forum will be held, fittingly enough, in Africa. An offshoot, the U.S. Social Forum, will be held next year in Atlanta, a symbolic return to the South which gave birth to Martin Luther King's Poor People's Campaign. Both of these massive gatherings (20,000 people are expected in Atlanta, 300,000 in Africa) will be suffused with culture, as artists from around the world speak directly with poor people, not about them from afar. The sound of a certain Irish pop star, off shilling for sweatshop syndicates and their middlemen, will be heard only faintly, if at all.