Bono spoke out on politics long before it became the popular pose for elite celebrities.
The U2 rocker’s songs did some of the talking for him. Recall U2 tracks that referenced international events, such as “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (the “Bloody Sunday” massacre in Northern Ireland) and “Bullet the Blue Sky” (America’s involvement in El Salvador’s civil war during the late 1980s).
In recent years Bono has implored western governments to do more, and give more, to countries that need a hand. He’s championed debt relief for the poorest of the poor nations and his ONE campaign is all about stamping out poverty and eradicating diseases across the globe. Those efforts come with a hefty price tag, often picked up by tax payers. And that’s where Bono’s rock star cool collapses under the weight of his personal hypocrisy.
The trouble started more than a decade ago when word leaked about Bono’s penchant for tax shelters. As The Guardian reported:
U2 sparked a wave of criticism in 2006 by shifting parts of its business affairs from Ireland to the Netherlands in response to a cap on tax breaks for artists in the republic—the move that inspired the protest at the 2011 Glastonbury festival.
The band members’ responses at the time were less than convincing. Here’s Bono’s awkward tap dance:
And we pay a fortune in tax. Just so people know, we pay a fortune in tax; and we’re happy to pay a fortune in tax, people should. But that doesn’t mean, because you’re good at philanthropy and because I’m an activist, people think you should be stupid in business and I don’t run with that.
The issue came up again recently when a report known as the Paradise Papers named Bono as the beneficiary of yet more tax shelters:
Bono was among the notable people named in the recent Paradise Paper leaks as having invested in a Lithuanian shopping mall via a company based in low-tax Malta as a way to evade taxes. He’s now told The Guardian that he would be “extremely distressed if even as a passive minority investor … anything less than exemplary was done with my name anywhere near it.”
The former Paul Hewson claimed he was unaware of the mall matter but is glad the information is out there now, and perhaps he was, but given his past enthusiasm for avoiding paying taxes, it doesn’t seem likely.
And Bono isn’t alone in his celebrity hypocrisy. Consider Sting, the former Police front man who regularly warns us about the perils of climate change. He even dedicated a song on his latest album, a track entitled “One Fine Day,” to the issue. Yet the singer doesn’t exactly practice what he preaches.
One of his band’s previous tours was granted the dubious honor of begin named the “dirtiest” tour of the year for its negative environmental impact. At least that was his day job. His personal excesses are legendary, making his eco-alarmism sound even weaker. It’s a similar situation with Leonardo DiCaprio, who used his 2016 Oscar victory speech to warn the world about climate change. Only, he can’t quite give up his habit of hanging out on private jets and luxurious yachts. And Avatar director James Cameron once said he supports eco-terrorism as a way to protect Mother Nature yet uses his personal wealth to create a massive carbon footprint.
Such celebrity hypocrisy, whether about paying taxes or greenhouse gasses is nothing new, of course. It extends to the politics of sexual harassment and assault as well. Earlier this year, Meryl Streep blasted President Donald Trump for allegedly mocking a physically challenged reporter and demeaning women. This is the very same Streep who once led a standing ovation for Roman Polanski when the admitted child rapist won Best Director for The Pianist. The same celebrities who marched on Washington earlier this year to protest President Trump’s alleged sexual abuse have yet to hit the streets over the abuse stories rampant in their own industry.
Few people would deny celebrities the chance to enjoy their fame and fortune. Becoming a rock star or A-list actor takes hard work, luck and oodles of talent. Some celebrities use that bully pulpit for noble purposes, like the need for clean water globally, part of Matt Damon’s off-screen mission. But if you’re going to use your celebrity to scold others about their behavior, or demand that they donate their hard-earned money to your pet cause, you better be sure you’re practicing what you preach.
Image: By Peter Neill (Flickr: u2-1 CC BY License) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons