My friend Caleb works for Live Nation Entertainment and has spent the last few years of his life touring the world with U2 and other top-grossing musical acts. Caleb’s a God-fearing, tax-paying, gun-supporting American in his twenties whose values and worldview don’t necessarily comport with those of the people he works for and/or with, but the guy does the job he enjoys very well and, in return, has been given a front-row seat to some unique experiences abroad.
I recently sat down and interviewed C-bone–a nick-name I just made up that no one has ever called Caleb–and I thought you might like to hear what life on World Tour is like for a young conservative.
Caleb’s duties on tour fall under what you might call “VIP Relations”–he’s the guy responsible for making sure that at each concert venue, those who have purchased or been given VIP credentials are given the royal treatment backstage, from start to finish. In each new city he’s assigned local young people who work either directly or indirectly for Live Nation, and because there is often a few hours of down-time before the show starts, Caleb has had the chance to have long conversations with native folks from Buenos Aires to Moscow about life in their country and his life back here in the States.
Not surprisingly, everywhere he went, people wanted to talk about America and were much more interested in asking questions about what life in Los Angeles/Hollywood is like than they were in talking about Helsinki or Montevideo. Caleb said that initially it was startling to realize how much everyone around the world knew about American pop culture. They love our TV shows. They line up to see our movies. They ravenously consume our music. In fact, in some of the poorer nations he visited, people told Caleb that they had saved up a month’s salary just to attend a U2 concert.
Think of the impact we’re having on other cultures! Now, given the lackluster state of much of the pop culture and entertainment we’re producing, think about what that impact actually is.
For all you NBA fans–especially my fellow “Chicago Bulls circa 1997” fans–you’ll be happy to know that Michael Jordan is still one of the first names that foreigners mention when they learn that you’re from America. Certainly soccer is the world’s most overall popular sport, but you don’t have to be from the Hoosier State to appreciate basketball and you don’t have to be from the Windy City to have enjoyed the larger-than-life persona of His Airness.
Speaking of sports, Caleb recounted how chilling it was to be working in the national stadium in Chile (the nation’s only venue that could accommodate such a large crowd) after learning more about the tragic history of the place. In 1974, the dictator Augusto Pinochet came to power; during his reign of terror, thousands of people were either interned, tortured, or murdered at the Chilean national stadium. As my friend put it to me, “Think about that–would any American want to set foot in Madison Square Garden for a concert or the Rose Bowl for a football game if they knew previous generations had been tortured and executed there?”
A sobering reminder for those who like to find the mud-color lining in every cloud when it comes to the United States!
Of course, there is so much more to tell about Caleb’s time on the road. The way that Russian people refuse to smile, even for a photo, because they worry it will be perceived as a sign of frivolousness. (Thanks, Stalin!) Or, the fact that Finnish folks are obsessed with telling Americans how bad our education system is. (Thanks, teachers unions!) And not to be out-done, the Brits won’t stop talking about how much they love President Obama and hate any white Republican. (Thanks, Jon Stewart!)
A group of buddies you meet at a bar in Berlin or Frankfurt openly apologize for that “nasty business” in the first half of the last century. College graduates in South Africa, who have what appear to be good jobs in architecture, beg you to take their e-mail information and help them find a job in America. Norwegians in that country’s largest city (Oslo–the size of Memphis) lecture you about how much better major U.S. cities and states would be if they adopted top-down socialism.
Caleb says he has thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to see the world and gain more perspective on the real diversity that exists in and among the countries he’s visited. Pop culture is a language nearly all people around the world speak. Music and movies matter if for no other reason than because so many millions consume them.
One thing my friend C-bone heard wherever he went should cause us to reflect on what we as individuals are doing to help keep this great little experiment in republican democracy going:
“You’re from America? You’re so lucky! It is my dream to move there one day!”