Not So Easy on His Knees: Balancing Faith with Celebrity (Part One)
November 3, 2008 · Print This Article
By Laurie Britt-Smith
November 3, 2008
Editor’s Note: Here, we continue to publish the work of Dr. Laurie Britt-Smith and her exploration of Bono’s rock-n-roll rhetoric. In this installment, she begins an exploration of the tension between faith and celebrity grounded in the concept of a Discourse community as introduced in her last post.
In recasting a justice movement as a cross-cultural necessity powered by the individual instead of a corporate or governmental entity, Bono is spinning out a vision of an alternate reality that runs counter to the imperial history of western involvement in Africa. This is part of his role as a prophet-he is presenting a vision that makes a break from the established order, from the “imperial reality” as Walter Brueggemann terms it.
He is daring Western leaders to rewrite how they respond and interact with Africa or risk the wrath of those who elected them, those who fund their own power.Â In his letter as guest editor of the July 2007 issue of Vanity Fair, Bono writes that he took on that temporary journalistic foray because he needed some help in spreading “the idea of the continent of Africa as an opportunity, an adventure, not a burden.” Adding, “Our habit-and we have to kick it-is to reduce this mesmerizing, entrepreneurial, dynamic continent of 53 diverse countries to a hopeless deathbed of war, disease, and corruption.”
Some may want to call this impulse an urge to correct the mistakes of colonialism. He is having to work out his vision in a post-colonial world where the activities and intentions of the West are always suspect and haunted by the ghost of imperialistic intent, but Bono would not use those theoretical terms.Â He is responding to the crisis based on his understanding of Christian spiritual truth-the Christ given mandate to honor God with all your being and to love others; in loving others, one honors God (Matthew 22:37-39, Mark 12:30-31).Â Â Bono proclaimed in 1988, “To me, faith in Jesus Christ that is not aligned to social justice-that is not aligned with the poor-it’s nothing.” From his earliest moments in the spotlight, Bono has made declarations of both his faith and what would become his global mission twenty years later with the DATA and the One campaign.
One way to discuss Bono’s rhetoric is to examine what Discourses are informing it, how they interact with each other, and how those acquired social literacies give him the cultural power and credibility/ethos to effect change in the culture.Â James Gee uses the metaphor of a map with shifting boundaries when discussing Discourse communities. Shifts in how an individual or group comes to think of and interpret a concept occur whenever one Discourse intersects or overlaps with another.
Sometimes the assimilation of a new concept is smooth and goes unnoticed, whereas at other times it can cause great discord. Bono has acquired many social languages from many different Discourse communities which lends to the development of ethos in his rhetoric. However, there will always be a clash of expectations as differing social groups come together. What makes Bono remarkable is that for the large part he is able to overcome that sense of discord among people groups and continue to motivate people to move forward, regardless of his own personal flaws (the prophet is not a saint-and he has always been very open about pointing out his own imperfections) and murmuring among his critics.
The three largest patterns/Discourse communities that seem to have the most influence on Bono’s rhetoric are his spirituality and rock star celebrity status, two Discourses which are not only linked together, but also inextricably tied to a third Discourse community created by his Irish ethnicity.
However, he is an American prophet in that he has and continues to influence American Discourse about what it means to be an American.Â He understands that the basis of American society and rhetoric is the vision of the ever-improving society stating, “It is the land of reinvention. It was never about where you come from, it’s always about where you’re going. And people accept that beginning again is at the heart of the American Dream.” Of course, this perception of America is based on what his Irish heritage has taught him about America, as it also influences how he processes religion, how he is affected by fame, and how he is received by his audience.