12Jul Why Bono is the focus of begrudgery in Ireland

In 1882 a young man of just 17 years of age left his village in East Mayo and, like so many before him, headed for America. He had little education and few prospects but, a highly intelligent and creative individual, he found a successful niche for himself in the new World. He became an insurance salesman and a few years later, by dint of application, personality and ability, a millionaire.

When he returned around 1898 to visit his native village, he stayed in the hotel in the local town and word spread about his success and his generosity. As anyone who knows anything about Irish life could predict, the hangers-on listened attentively to him (as long as he was buying drink) and the local big-wig came to resent the diminution in his own status.

Later he was cheered off at the local train station but no sooner was he out of sight than a campaign of vilification started – questioning his motives, spreading false rumours about the source of his wealth and, effectively, defaming him.

He felt compelled to return and defend himself, threatened legal action against the big-wig who defamed him and settled the business out of court by forcing his opponent to contribute a huge cheque to the building of a local church.

You could write the script. Drink and envy, two deadly Irish components of life.

There’s something in the Irish character that insists on taking down anyone who makes a success of life, if they give any appearance at all that they relish their success. Isn’t he full of himself? I knew him when he hadn’t tuppence to rub together. Who does she think she is? Far from grandeur she was reared – and all the rest of it. A definitive Irish characteristic is our resentment of people ‘getting notions’. We wish others to do well but not too well in case their success might reflect on our own comparable lack of success.

It’s a peculiar characteristic. Envy, of course, is a natural human response and it’s not confined to Ireland but there is a distinctive Irish version, a virus that eats away at us and that corrodes our minds and spirits and ends up warping us into embittered versions of our original selves.

We have our ways in Ireland. The most popular person in Ireland can very quickly become the most unpopular.

The examples are legion. Some years ago the Sunday Independent, an astute institution that has its finger on the pulse of Irish life, recognised early on the Irish passion for envy and seemed almost to raise to a policy level the task of taking down the most popular people in Ireland. Eamon Dunphy, in a period of his journalistic career he has since publicly regretted, famously gave Pat Kenny, the Sunday Independent treatment. And John Hume, a political saint if ever there was one, was often unfairly criticised in the same way. It was unfair, scurrilous and unacceptable but it successfully mined the envy seam at the heart of Irish life and, as a result, it sold newspapers.

Now, Bono is the latest victim. Harry Browne has written a new book, The Frontman, which is effectively a hatchet-job on Bono, blaming him for everything except the rain. Much is made of Bono’s and U2’s tax-exemption status, his penchant for mixing with the great and the good, his signature shades (or sun-glasses to you and me) and his almost cult-like status in Ireland.

The book was written before Bono had lunch with the daughters of Barak Obama in Dublin on their recent visit but that publicity stunt, an effort to maximise press coverage of the visit in the USA with a view to encouraging tourism, would have been grist to Browne’s mill. Browne’s point is that Bono is a self-publicist who has allowed himself become the acceptable face of capitalism and that he’s either an ego-tripper or deluded.

It could be, of course, that unlike other millionaire pop-stars, instead of skulking away in a private world counting his millions and opting for a life of drugs, sex and rock-and-roll, Bono decided that he had responsibilities to do what he could to focus on important issues (like world hunger, poverty, etc) by using his celebrity status.

The only thing I don’t like about Bono is his music. Apart from that, no one could reasonably expect him to give up his business; or to clean the streets; or go on the missions. But despite the fact that he clearly has a social conscience, is a practising Christian, has a sense of humour and is a good egg to boot, he admirably fits the description of someone who could be presented as a likely target for the definitive begrudgery at the heart of the Irish psyche. J-o-e D-u-f-f-y, this should keep you going for weeks.

Adi Roche, whose Chernobyl project has helped so many sick children and whose charity has been financially the recipient of Bono’s generosity and his wife’s commitment, suggests that the public should not buy Browne’s book. It is an admirable though naive response in that there isn’t an author in the world who doesn’t want someone to tell the world NOT to buy their book. Bestsellers have been created out of less.

Envy is a joke God plays on us, testing us to see if we are able to allow others their success without turning into miserable, crabbed and bitter people. And everyone is susceptible to it. Traditionally clergy have an unenviable reputation for being envious.

There’s even been, for centuries past, a Latin phrase to describe it – invidia clericalis (clerical envy). And, like human nature, clergy tend not to change from century to century. Earthen vessels and envious as well with the possibility that, as old age creeps up on us, we can end up twisted and bitter, because we imagine others are stealing the limelight from us. Sad.

 

4 Responses

  1. Eddie Finnegan

    “Adi Roche, whose Chernobyl project has helped so many sick children and whose charity has been financially the recipient of Bono’s generosity and his wife’s commitment, suggests that the public should not buy Browne’s book. It is an admirable though naive response in that there isn’t an author in the world who doesn’t want someone to tell the world NOT to buy their book. Bestsellers have been created out of less.”
    .
    Do yez all see that strapline ad at the top of every page: “Who will break the Bread for us?” Well, ignore it. DON’T RUSH OUT TO BUY THE PRODUCT! BLOCKBUSTERS HAVE BEEN CREATED OUT OF LESS! After 40 years of priesthood, we can’t have Brendan Bono becoming the focus of the begrudgers, now can we? He’ll be off to some westerly tax-haven on Achill or Inishturk.

    [thinks: ‘Maybe that’ll finally get a few of the PPs of Ireland to post a (grudging) response or two.’]

  2. Pól Ó Duibhir

    The book is over the top, but Bono is a bad example for the above homily.
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    There are legitimate criticisms which Browne has so overstated as to allow them to be summarily dismissed. In this he has done the rest of us no service.
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    I have reviewed the book here:
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/review/R2LUCF8QADU7PZ/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm
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    If Eddie’s comment doesn’t get the PPs posting, this will surely bring the roof in.
    .

  3. Sean O'Conaill

    “It could be, of course, that unlike other millionaire pop-stars, instead of skulking away in a private world counting his millions and opting for a life of drugs, sex and rock-and-roll, Bono decided that he had responsibilities to do what he could to focus on important issues (like world hunger, poverty, etc) by using his celebrity status.”
    .
    That’s true – and it could equally be that Paul Hewson calculated that his own celebrity status as ‘Bono’ would not suffer in the least if he became globally known as a benefactor of Africa.
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    That’s the trouble with ostentatious philanthropy. Not even the person in question may be able to be sure of his own motives. And the ‘begrudgers’ can have a field day every day. Isn’t that why Jesus insisted that alms-giving should not be ostentatious, because otherwise, in the mere applause of the multitude, we ‘receive our reward’?
    .
    Surely we need to question our use of that word ‘success’ in relation to celebrity. Are all non-celebrities failures? What exactly is the church trying to teach when it says we are all exactly equal in dignity? Doesn’t that mean that actually Paul Hewson and Harry Browne are always precisely equal in worth also? If Paul Hewson believes that he is more important than Harry Browne, and Harry Browne is resentful for the same reason, don’t we need simply to say clearly and loudly that both are equally mistaken?
    .
    Again I ask why it is that we cannot ever hear our clergy questioning the crazy celebrity culture that envelops our young people daily. The Tablet reported last week that a poll of 1004 British teenagers indicates that ‘most young people consider religion a force for evil in the world and are more influenced by celebrities than church leaders’. Aren’t Irish teenagers heading that way too? If every celebrity in the world became an ostentatious philanthropist would that stop people buying the absurdly expensive Rolex watches and Louis Vuitton handbags that celebrities also ostentatiously own – instead of using the same money to save African children from starvation?
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    The pursuit of celebrity is the pursuit of status, superiority. That’s what drives all needless consumption and all school, digital and workplace bullying. Spiritually and in strict reality it’s a hopeless cause. If our clergy could simply see and say this, would our churches be so empty of young people?
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    ‘Bono’ is a creation and creature of the media. We don’t actually know Paul Hewson. I feel sorry for him: to have to wear sunglasses every day of your life must be exactly the same as Chinese water torture – let alone those awful routines of horrendously noisy arenas, soulless airports and claustrophobic flying tubes. If he thinks that his value depends upon everyone thinking he’s marvellous he needs our prayers also. That’s the awful prison we all need to be released from – and it’s time our church started saying that with passionate conviction. The pursuit of celebrity is surely what Jesus called risking your soul to gain the world.

  4. Pól Ó Duibhir

    @Eddie
    .
    Thought we’d be lacerated by a clutch of Bono fans.
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    Must be the wrong age group here. :)
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