The Greatest Dictator


December 1, 2012 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas


Most RPG video games end with the character having to choose between saving the world or condemning it to ruin.  This concept is incredibly seductive, the power to impose your own will on the entire world I think qualifies a greatness, a sense of influence that some of us would love to attain.  You look at history though and you’ll see that the world has been full of these people who have made the world a better or worse place.  More often than not these individuals had the capacity to do both.

Look at George Washington, if he wasn’t as great as he was, he could have become a king and abused his power.  To a lesser man, the temptation to become a despot would prove too much.   Imagine the situation, here he’s the face of a new nation, is unanimously elected to be the first leader, and then is implored not to resign after two terms.  The people were eager and wanting to give him more power to continue his rule.  There was no guideline to the presidency; many precedents were established by him before they became law.  To be able to say “no” to gratuitous power, power that was given freely by the people, proved to save a fledgling nation from potential tyranny.

I’m just gonna jump to it, I think Bono is one of these people.  If he really tried, Bono could save or damn the entire world.  Well, he’s been trying to save the world for the past thirty years now, but if he really wanted to I’m pretty sure he could rule us all with an iron fist.  All the proof you need to think this, lies with The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby.  Both are amazing albums, but they’re total opposites of each other that reflect this savior/condemner mentality of Bono.  The Joshua Tree showed us that he wanted to save the world, while Achtung Baby showed us that he had the desire to maybe rule it, or indulge a bit in imposing his will.

As we all know Bono has been championing every noble cause under the sun, whether it’s world poverty, world hunger, AIDS in Africa or hurricane relief aid, Bono is there.  Best case (and most likely) scenario Bono is actually a good person, however the very least we can assume is that he wants to change the world, to influence it in a way that he sees fit.  It just so happens that his idea of influence is to make it a better place.  So if he’s able to make the world a better place, with that same potential of influencing the world, Bono can by all accounts make the world a shittier place if he wanted to.  What dictates this though is two-fold: being able to exert one’s will over a large enough audience, and the desire or intent to see that exertion of the will through.  We all want to be able to throw our weight around, but most of us don’t have the capacity to do it on a larger enough scale.  Bono, by virtue of being a celebrity has no such restrictions.

Anyway, back to the main point of the two aforementioned albums being indicative of Bono’s potential to save or damn the world.  The Joshua Tree is the sincere culmination of everything U2 stood for up until that point.  That is the Bono and the band trying their hardest to save the world and champion noble causes.  Songs such as “Running to Stand Still”, “Bullet the Blue Sky”, and “Mother’s of the Disappeared” are reflective of the destructive nature of Ireland’s underground heroin culture, the U.S.’s destructive attitude towards Latin America, and those disappeared by the dictatorships of the southern cone, respectively.  Here they try to shed light on injustices that need to be rectified the only way they can: via mainstream music.  On The Joshua Tree their music serves as a socio-political PSA to introduce listeners to the troubles of the world so that they may be remedied.  Remember knowledge is power and by bearing this knowledge to the masses Bono hoped to empower them to do something.  Also on a side note, this was back in the day where Bono would go on half-hour long diatribes against apartheid and Irish civil strife.[1]  The point though is that never had Bono tried harder to save the world than on The Joshua Tree, and never had he received more criticism for it.

No one, especially us Americans like it when someone blatantly tries to save the world; we think they’re just being self-righteous egomaniacal pricks.  So once everyone felt like U2 had become a little too overt in their crusades, we let them know that we had grown sick of it.  It’s interesting to note that a common theme of history and myth alike is what happens to a good person confronted by the masses.  One of two things will happen, the masses will try to bring this person down to their level, or if they can’t do that then they’ll just kill the person.  Instead of letting us kill them, U2 came down to our level….or so we thought.

In this interview, Bono basically states that the Zoo TV tour was a way for him to indulge in that rock star excess that he had always wanted to, but couldn’t for the sake of what U2 represented at the time.  But since no one wanted that U2 anymore, the coast was clear for him to wet his beak a little bit.  If he can give in to that temptation well then I’m sure he could rule the world with a brutal iron fist inside a velvet glove.  That’s exactly what a Bono dictatorship would look like.  We’d hate him but be captivated by his charisma at the same time.  Achtung Baby proved that he could loosen up and partake in something that he had previously denied himself, which is that rock and roll persona complete with the fame and arrogance.  It’s in this precise way that presidents become dictators.  Things start off well enough, but then there is the abuse of power that comes from indulging in the position that they are in.  Zoo TV was Bono indulging in the position that he was in.  Thank God though he had enough restraint to not take over the world.

In all seriousness though, Zoo TV was as much about the image as it was about the message.  And the message was that it’s ok to have fun, but you can’t lose sight of the things that matter.  In U2 land that means doing the right thing and making the world a better place.  I mean if Zoo TV was devoid of all meaning they would link up with Sarajevo and upload videos of destruction, or speak with survivors of the civil war.  These things still mattered; it’s just that Bono was both more lax and more militant about it than ever.  That’s what I meant when I said Bono’s dictatorship would be an iron fist inside a velvet glove.  Good things would come about, but they would be forced upon everyone.  If he ruled the world it would be a weird benevolent/enforced dictatorship where people would be forced to help out others and do the right thing.  Also there’s no doubt in my mind that Bono could sustain a cult of personality with a legion of devoted followers.

The point of Achtung Baby was to not be The Joshua Tree.  It’s with that in mind that Bono said that “The Fly is the sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree”.  The idea was to go from trying to blatantly save the world to indulging in the repressed desire of being the star.  However, they never lost sight of trying the save the world, instead they became what we wanted them to be: superficially arrogant with a veneer of insincerity.  They in turn recruited way more people to their causes and it’s because of the success of Zoo TV and Achtung Baby that Bono can pursue all these endeavors today.  It’s the dictator effect.  If you want people to do what you want of them you can’t overtly order them around, you have to pretend to be what they want you to be so that they can more easily accept what it is you want of them.  They won’t think they’re being told what to do if it comes from a smiling face.  Bono knows what he’s doing, and to be frank I wouldn’t mind living in a world run by him.  He looks like a guy who can get things done.

[1] He still does this, but he’s toned it down to about a five minute speech now.

One thought on “The Greatest Dictator

  1. Brandon Berk says:

    I think it should be Donald H. Rumsfeld.
    “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” – Donald H. Rumsfeld.

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