Lennon vs. Bono

By William Easterly | Published November 24, 2010

I watched last night a remarkable documentary on the life of John Lennon called “Imagine.” For my generation, it’s pretty much automatic that Lennon is our hero, and I am no different.

But then I thought, do I have a double standard? I criticize celebrity musicians today like Bono for taking on a role like “Africa expert,” because we would never put rock stars in charge of say, Federal Reserve Policy. Yet Lennon was also a politically active celebrity rock star – why shouldn’t I make the same criticism of his career?

Well, I still think there is a big difference between Lennon and Bono. Lennon’s anti-war activities courageously challenged the power of the status quo, so much so that he was frequently harassed by the police and FBI.  Bono’s support of aid to Africa and the MDGs is more like a feel-good consensus that does NOT challenge Power. Celebrity counter-weight to established power seems much more constructive than celebrity expert.

Bono did photo ops with George W. Bush; Lennon doing a photo op with Richard Nixon would have been inconceivable.

Lennon had a real impact protesting the Viet Nam war. Where are Bono and today’s other celebrity activists on the injustices and human rights violations of the War on Terror, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay?

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