These days everyone who is anyone must have a fashionable cause. You simply cannot be a successful entertainer or athlete without one. It is not enough to bring joy to someone's life for an hour or two with your stand-up comedy routine or your half-hour bass guitar solo. You must be politically involved and socially concerned. (Conservative causes count too, but they count against you.)
I say these days, but the notion that a celebrity must have a cause goes back at least to the mid-19th century when novelist Charles Dickens used his considerable celebrity to rail against social injustice and inequality in Britain. It wasn't long before causes became for actors, artists and those famous for being famous, an essential accessory, not unlike those tiny handbag dogs.
U2's Bono is perhaps the best-known example of a contemporary celebrity with a cause. Actually he has countless causes. There is a good chance even he does not know how many he has. This allows Bono -- Ireland's mononymous answer to Sting -- to incessantly scold and hector the West over how wasteful, greedy and decadent it is. It's not just western governments that have to listen to Bono's inane lecturing. (After all, western governments truly are wasteful, greedy and decadent.) No, the planet's savior harangues everyday Americans like you and I who are only trying to get by. (For the record, the anti-colonialist Sting wasn't too anti-colonial to accept the title Commander of the Order of the British Empire back in 2003.)
Bono watchers are familiar with his list of pet causes: relocating his business empire to Holland to avoid paying taxes, flying hats round the world first class, establishing a private equity fund to invest billions in a series of money-making schemes… sorry, wrong list. That's Bono's double-standards list. His pet causes include rebuilding New Orleans, fighting AIDs in Africa, and debt relief for slacker nations.
You may have noticed a conspicuous absence of green causes. This could be because U2's current 360° Tour is the most un-eco-friendly man-made event since the Great Fire of London in 1666.
This month Bono and his bandmates brought their giant carbon-footprint-sized rock extravaganza to my hometown. It reportedly took six jumbo jets to fly in all of the stage equipment, which was loaded onto 110 tractor-trailers and hauled to the stadium. At that point it took roadies and an additional 120 laborers more than a week to tear up the sod from the diamond of Busch Stadium and construct the massive revolving spaceship with an aluminum floor. (Yes, the empathetic Bono had workers build an aluminum floor for concert-goers to stand on in 100-plus degree temperatures.) Even the local alternative weekly had to ask: "Is there anything less 'green' than tearing up grass to accommodate a concert?" Elsewhere one environmental consultant estimated the band's carbon footprint from the first leg of the 360° Tour equaled the average annual waste produced by 6,500 Brits. Or, to pick up on the intergalactic starship theme, U2 wasted enough fuel last year to fly to Mars and back. And this is the environmental scold who once told a Tokyo audience: "My prayer is that we become better in looking after our planet."
BUT WHAT IS A LITTLE eco-hypocrisy compared to an awesome U2 concert?
Bono, however, isn't totally oblivious. While U2's killer stage show will distract most fans from the damage the band has wreaked on the environment, rock critics are not so naive. For these critics, Bono has fished into his pocket and purchased carbon offsets, the champagne environmentalist's equivalent of the indulgences the Catholic Church used to hock. And just in case that gesture falls short, Bono, who flies to his gigs in a private jet, requested fans carpool to the show. And you should carpool in a hybrid. And don't even think of using the air conditioner. Better yet, take the bus.
Personally, I could care less if aged rock stars want to put on glamorous Las Vegas-style spectacles in hopes of proving that they are still virile. There is obviously a large and well-heeled market for such things. The truth is if Bono were to hold his shows in Central Park, just he and The Edge sitting on stumps playing a box guitar, I would still find him to be an insufferable bore.
"Hypocrisy," said Molière, "is a fashionable vice, and all fashionable vices pass for virtue." Luckily for celebrities, their fans lack the ability to tell the difference between the two.