Pious plonker or just misunderstood: why we should all lay off Bono - U2 Feedback

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Old 12-29-2018, 02:01 AM   #1
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Pious plonker or just misunderstood: why we should all lay off Bono

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Pious plonker or just misunderstood: why we should all lay off Bono
It’s easy to stick the boot in to the U2 frontman’s grating form of activism but at his core isn’t he just trying to do the right thing?
Michael Hann
Fri 28 Dec 2018 13.59 GMT Last modified on Fri 28 Dec 2018 18.40 GMT

First things first. It’s somewhere beyond obvious that it would be preferable if U2 had not moved some part of their business to the Netherlands in order to avoid paying tax on royalties in Ireland. It would be significantly better for what I am about to write if Bono had not been named in the Paradise Papers for engaging in a (wholly legal) investment in a Lithuanian shopping centre, via the tax haven that is Malta. In fact, there are about a million things Bono could do that would make it easier to stick up for him. He could make the many and varied charities he is involved in devote more of their resources to aid than to the sometimes nebulous concept of “raising consciousness”. He could perhaps not describe those working in the aid sector as “cranks carping from the sidelines” when they raise concerns about the practical problems of his campaigns bypassing African entrepreneurs to work directly with assorted kleptocracies.

Above all, he could stop being quite so pious all the time. He could stop making his own good deeds seem like something the rest of us should aspire to, because it makes people resent him all the more. But, blimey, I felt sorry for him this week after he and The Edge took part in an annual charity event in Dublin, busking for the homeless. Just type Bono and hypocrite into Twitter and see the stream of bile emerge. Damian Rice and Glen Hansard, who also participated, didn’t get it in the neck for daring to ask people for money for the homeless. Just Bono.

The problem for Bono is that once you align yourself so publicly with the side of social justice, people – unreasonably, perhaps – demand perfection. And if you happen to be the singer of a rock’n’roll band while aligning yourself publicly with social justice, people also expect you to be a revolutionary, rather than someone who employs diligent tax advisers. But anyone who participates in capitalist economies ceases to be perfect with respect to social justice: pretty much all of us have treasured possessions whose existence is contingent on the exploitation of labour. Pretty much of all of us are the beneficiaries in some way of some awful degradation of the world. Those of us who work for ourselves ask financial experts to find some way to minimise our tax exposure: can we offset some of our utility bills, our phone bills and so on? We don’t go to the Inland Revenue offering them our bank accounts and a suggestion they take what they want.

Instead we make trade-offs. Buy a pair of trainers made in some appalling factory in east Asia but feel happy we have a direct debit to a child poverty charity. Eat some crappy burger from a takeaway, but buy some organic veg from the shop. Maybe it’s worth thinking of Bono as living life in some hugely inflated scale of that. The shabby things U2 and Bono do (and which are, one can be sure, far from unique among the super-rich of music) are balanced in the ledger against the worthwhile things.

Let’s not forget that the list of worthwhile things Bono and U2 have done over their career – whether or not you like their music, whether or not you think Bono is an arse – far outstrips what the vast majority of their contemporaries do. He has campaigned for debt relief. Not just by shouting slogans from a stage, but by engaging with the right to persuade them to the cause. He has campaigned for Aids awareness. He has set up fairtrade companies. He has toured for Amnesty. He’s supported, variously, Chernobyl Children International, the Clinton Global Initiative, Every Mother Counts, Keep a Child Alive, Make Poverty History, Millennium Villages, Not On Our Watch, the Red Cross, the Lunchbox Fund, Unicef, War Child, Water.org, Witness and more (according to Inside Philanthropy). He’s helped establish three different campaigning organisations: Red, One and DATA (Debt, Aids, Trade, Africa). This is not an insignificant list. It speaks of serious and genuine commitment.

The sad thing is that if he had just sat on his backside in his mansion counting his money, mumbling the odd platitude in interviews, but never doing anything, no one would care. His views on social activism would be unworthy of comment. No one would complain about his hypocrisy, criticise U2’s tax arrangements, or sneer at him for busking for the homeless. Everyone would just assume it was business as usual for a rock star, and not raise an eyebrow. But once you try to be good, you can never be good enough.

That strikes me as a terrible shame. It’s not that I want the world to hail Bono – I feel no great urge to do so myself – but I don’t understand the visceral reaction that causes people to look for excuses to despise him. Sure, pull him up when he missteps. But why pull him up when he’s sincerely trying to do the right thing? Unless people really would prefer stars who think the world is worthy neither of engagement nor improvement. In which case, that’s your loss.
https://www.theguardian.com/music/20...l-lay-off-bono
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Old 12-29-2018, 03:17 AM   #2
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The second-to-last paragraph nails it.

Safe to say that if almost any other rockstar of Bono's stature joined in on the busking, the only bile would be about how his or her music sucks. And a lot of people who otherwise don't care about the star would chirp up with an "oh cool look at Rockstar So-and-so doing some busking, neat" rather than "look at the dude who doesn't pay tax".

Also it's kinda weird the response has been so virulent this year when Bono has busked on most Christmas Eves in recent years.

Nobody on this forum would mistake me for someone who rides into battle for Bono often, but holy hell there are some really unhinged reckons about him online, held with a regularity and a vehemence well beyond that for other comparable people. Sometimes they reach the level of bile that, at least in the corners of Australian social media I frequent, seems to usually be reserved only for Rupert Murdoch and the obvious political figures.
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Old 12-29-2018, 08:21 AM   #3
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Most entrepreneur's get wealthy first. Then build a hospital, donate several million to a charity, etc.

They get applause.

Bono (and the band), championed the underprivileged and spoke out for social causes from the very beginning. Before they ever turned a profit.

But as they years went on Bono (and the band) grew in wealth simultaneously.

For some reason that annoys people.
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Old 12-29-2018, 09:41 AM   #4
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I don’t even pay attention to the public’s opinion of U2 anymore. When the SOI scandal blew up, I was the one dispelling all the crazy things people were saying. But it became overwhelming, and I finally realized that it doesn’t matter. People love to hate Bono for some reason. As recently as 2006 he was on top. Sometime between HTDAAB and NLOTH, the public turned on him.

It doesn’t really matter to me anymore. I just enjoy the music, and the pleasant feeling I get when I see that the “most hated band in America” is filling stadiums and arenas. I know that for U2 haters, it’s a huge thorn in their side when they see that U2 are still successful, despite their smear campaign.
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Old 12-29-2018, 10:50 AM   #5
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Missed opportunity in this article to point out that while the tax haven isn't a good look, the band members pour a considerable amount of money into Dublin and Ireland in general, it's just that they choose where it goes and don't make a big deal out of it.

The argument that they avoid paying taxes and don't contribute to the society they live in has always been a crock of shit.
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Old 12-31-2018, 12:36 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by lazarus View Post
Missed opportunity in this article to point out that while the tax haven isn't a good look, the band members pour a considerable amount of money into Dublin and Ireland in general, it's just that they choose where it goes and don't make a big deal out of it.

The argument that they avoid paying taxes and don't contribute to the society they live in has always been a crock of shit.
Exactly. And there’s always someone out there in Comment Land who says that U2 should reveal how much they’ve given to charity to prove that they’re actually doing any good. If they did that, then these same people would just say “That’s all?! What a bunch of greedy jerks! Why don’t they give more if they really care?”
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Old 12-31-2018, 01:50 PM   #7
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I am self employed. While my annual gross is probably still less than what U2 earn annually from “October”, you better believe I do whatever I can to keep my tax bill lower. There’s nothing wrong with being “tax smart”. But as somebody previously said, once you try to show people you’re doing something good, you’ll never be good enough.

But then again, I’m not out there trying to raise money for the homeless either. Just trying to keep myself from becoming homeless.
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Old 12-31-2018, 04:12 PM   #8
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I think we can all agree that “Pious Plonker” sounds like a Harry Potter character.
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Old 12-31-2018, 04:44 PM   #9
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But then again, I’m not out there trying to raise money for the homeless either. Just trying to keep myself from becoming homeless.
Whenever I hear someone complain about something Bono is doing to help the underprivileged I always turn and ask the question, "oh yeah, well what are you doing to help them?"

It has never failed to bring the conversation to a grinding halt.
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Old 12-31-2018, 09:29 PM   #10
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I think the issue is the point of taxes. By moving their taxes, they are taking away money from services that the government provides. The government (flawed as it is) is accountable to all the citizens of a country, private charities are not, not to mention the effectiveness of Bono's ONE Campaign have raised questions. I am not saying that government is perfect and of course the tax code could be fixed. But avoiding paying them isn't exactly a moral position in my book. Yes, plenty of people do it, not just U2, but that doesn't exactly make it noble (but that's just me).

I'm not denying the good he's done, but I have my skepticism regarding the Davos class saving us from poverty too. Bono is one of the elites now and it's harder for him to pass off as a guy who speaks for the rest of us. Also his shilling for Clinton and his friendship with them and Bush doesn't leave a great taste in my mouth. I'm sure he accomplished a lot of good with Bush, but by praising him so much, he provides cover for him and for all the bad he did (and boy did he commit a lot of it). I mean, this is the guy who wrote Bullet the Blue Sky, he seriously can't be the naive can he?

That said, I do think the hatred he gets is a bit unwarranted, given that rockstars who committed statutory rape are still revered.
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Old 12-31-2018, 10:18 PM   #11
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I think the issue is the point of taxes. By moving their taxes, they are taking away money from services that the government provides. The government (flawed as it is) is accountable to all the citizens of a country, private charities are not, not to mention the effectiveness of Bono's ONE Campaign have raised questions. I am not saying that government is perfect and of course the tax code could be fixed. But avoiding paying them isn't exactly a moral position in my book. Yes, plenty of people do it, not just U2, but that doesn't exactly make it noble (but that's just me).
But again, if they are putting money into local and national infrastructure, in one way or another, it winds up being the same as paying taxes, no? It's just that they direct it where they see fit. It may be arrogant, but it's the benefit of success.
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Old 12-31-2018, 10:37 PM   #12
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But again, if they are putting money into local and national infrastructure, in one way or another, it winds up being the same as paying taxes, no? It's just that they direct it where they see fit. It may be arrogant, but it's the benefit of success.
I suppose that's fair. I guess U2 are in just in a tricky position as Bono lobbies governments to give aid meanwhile he is not paying his own government in taxes. I suppose the other issue is that they individually do all do pay taxes, but U2's business is another matter, which is what is based in the Netherlands if I am correct about that?

It's a bit more gray than black and white, but I guess it just looks bad from a PR perspective. Still, I think Bono's heart is in the right place, but the execution is murky. I find his shilling with world leaders a bit more off-putting and nauseating, so I think I'm with Larry Mullen, Jr. on that one.
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Old 12-31-2018, 11:57 PM   #13
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They should’ve realized that avoiding paying taxes I’m Ireland was going to be a PR nightmare.

Taxes and the Apple scandal have done a lot of damage to their image. Both issues could’ve been easily avoided with a little foresight.
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Old 01-01-2019, 12:55 AM   #14
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Bono: Pious Plonker or Useful Idiot For Late Stage Neoliberalism

Our panel debates this and more at 11.
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Old 01-01-2019, 01:48 AM   #15
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