Play On - Harvard Political Review

This article in the undergraduate Harvard Political Review critiques some aspects of the political section of the 360 show. Excerpt:
It's unclear what good it does to have Nobel laureate and real hero, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, tell the audience, while name-dropping the tour, that the "same people who marched for civil rights are the same people who protest Apartheid in South Africa ... are the same beautiful people when I look around this place tonight in 360°." In all likelihood, we are not the ones who fought against apartheid or for debt relief. Praising us for having done nothing seems counterproductive, even duplicitous, but for me or any concertgoer, it is a hard deal to resist. We pay for a concert ticket, listen to our favorite music, and get lavish moral praise for struggles we never participated in.
Most people reading here will immediately object that the article seems to evidence almost complete ignorance of the role political involvement has played year after year in U2's history (claiming that the phone calls to politicians in ZooTV proved the band thought music and politics incompatible, suggesting a new impetus to social justice sprang from a depressed post-Popmart Bono casting about for "side projects" and landing on Jubilee 2000, and describing U2's status as musicians who care about politics as "a phenomenon only the 21st century could have created.")

Now of course that is so indefensible that I presume that the only way such howlers could have appeared in print is that the writer for this undergraduate magazine is, in fact, an undergraduate, who therefore was barely in elementary school when U2 did the Sarajevo uplinks or brought the Mothers on in Chile, and who was not even born when -- oh, insert your favorites of all those 80s political actions here. Remember back before cell phones, when all the then-undergraduates joined Amnesty because of U2? Remember when Bono was name-dropping that same beautiful Bishop 20+ years ago onstage when apartheid was still in force? Anybody?

But. The guy is on to something, I think, and it chimes with one of several reasons I've been hesitant to describe the 360 tour as having succeeded as well as previous tours in being real leitourgia. (I just sent in my essay for possible inclusion in the U2 conference book, so I've been thinking about this again even though the essay doesn't address 360 head on.) Now of course, U2 themselves could actually claim to have been involved in one way or another in that whole series of causes Tutu cites in the show. But - and here is where this article really has a point - the other 79,996 people in the stadium almost certainly were not, and the majority, surely, will not have taken part in activism on even one of them. Rather like this author's, my reaction the first time I heard the Tutu speech was "Stop lying to us."

Of course it won't work to claim that what is new in U2 this tour is the interest in social justice itself, but is it perhaps useful to say that this feel-good, celebratory way of addressing justice/wholeness, as something that's well on the way thanks to us, as another upbeat moment in the night's festivities, is an innovation? (I welcome contrary past examples!) If so, this mode is, I think, not as honest, not as successful and certainly not as liturgical as the way U2 have previously done it, which is to take the audience to a dark place of injustice/sin and then bring them out. Liturgical theologian Aidan Kavanagh writes of how in order to arrive at the Banquet of the Lamb, humans first need to face into a "dark and murderous transaction with reality... because we are a bloody bunch who have made the world a bloody place both for ourselves and for every other creature we have named." There wasn't much darkness in the 360 Tour, and when you don't see your face reflected in an inarguable darkness where we're all implicated, you're perhaps not as likely to transact with reality, and therefore also not as likely to take responsibility afterwards -- not as likely to be forced to make, as Kavanagh puts it, "an adjustment to deep change caused in the assembly by its having been brought to the brink of chaos in the presence of the living God."

I have no reason to think the author of the article is conversant with leitourgia, but had that journey to the brink of chaos occurred, it would be interesting to hear how his critique might have been different.


dave said...

Thanks so much for this. Your thinking again has helped me..
do you think there;s any hope for
a fuller leitourgia next leg?

I also quoted you on my blog from your post above.., and noticed I have (or you have added) a new feature..when I paste in a quote from your blog, it now automatically adds a url..(like in my post linked below) That is awesome...I cannot believe how often people quote you with no link or credit! Is this an app you added to your blog?

Great Christmas in the Israelite to you and yours..

dave said...

oops, the link

U2 Sermons said...

Thanks Dave. I don't know what I think about next leg, to be honest! We're seeing them in Montreal.

Yes, it's an app. It's called Tynt Insight. I got tired of people taking things from here without attribution -- and also there are so many sites that just scrape content in general, this gives you a way to make sure you're being linked back to.

Anthony said...

I don't think anyone is trying to say that the people at the concerts had actually been a part of those movements. I think the message was that we have the same human spirit and potential for greatness as those people. U2 and Desmond Tutu wouldn't lie like that I don't think.

U2 Sermons said...

I agree that that's the only meaning that would make sense, Anthony. If that's what they intend, I wish the text would just say that more clearly, instead of "the people who... are the same people who... are the same people who... we are those people." You could easily say "it was ordinary people who... and it was ordinary people who... and we are all ordinary people."

Anonymous said...

i read tutu's comments as a theology of imago dei - the possibility that humans can act for justice. i link it with the sequence in vertigo
- running to stand still as prayer for love ones
- the human bill of rights, read
- seque footnoting Luther King and into Pride

i.e. people in the past have worked for justice, now let it continue to roll,

in 360 there is a more overt sj response possible in the red(zone) paying cash to help in social justice. perhaps tutu is speaking to them.


U2 Sermons said...

As with Anthony, I agree that Steve's reading would make good sense of the gesture, but again, it's not what is actually said. "Because our voices were heard, millions more of our brothers and sisters are alive thanks to the miracle of AIDS drugs and malaria drugs" seems to pretty clearly attribute a particular past lobbying action to the crowd.

I think Steve is right to point out that the tack taken with that section of the show (and specifically the new "upbeat" way of leading into Streets, which is a major structural decision and strategic change) resembles the hopeful way the Africa theme was handled on the Vertigo tour, but a large SJ section in that show was very dark and even frightening (LAPOE, SBS, Bullet).

And that's my main point here -- not so much to echo the original article's critique of the text of the Tutu speech, but to comment on the more experiential absence of the audience's being led into a confrontation with darkness in this show.