“Ecce Bono: Celebrity Status After 33” Presentation at Fandom and Religion Conference, July 28-30, 2015

I’ve been looking forward to attending the Fandom and Religion Conference at the University of Leicester for months, and in a few more weeks I’ll be finally be there from July 28-30, taking in a great program of speakers and seminars, all organized by Dr. Clive Marsh as a part of the Theology, Religion, and Popular Culture Network at U of Leicester. I’ll be learning from everyone on the program and surely I’ll strike up some new friendships; I’ll even be presenting a paper and chairing a session too.

As a major gathering of leading theorists, scholars, practitioners, and students, the conference will explore interactions between religion and popular culture. How does fandom work? What is happening to fans as they express their enthusiasms and allegiances? Has fandom replaced or become a form of religion? What can the study of religion learn from explorations of fandom?

I’ll be presenting Wednesday, July 29, in a session with two papers on U2. One will be from my colleague Dr. Chris Wales, of NLA Høgskolen, who presented at the 2013 U2 Conference and published “Collaborative Transactions: Making Sense (Again) for U2’s Achtung Baby” in U2 Above, Across, and Beyond (Lexington, 2014). Dr. Wales’ presentation is “F is for Fans … J is for Jesus: Making Sense of Bono’s Big Year.”

My presentation is titled “Ecce Bono: Celebrity Status After 33.”  Here’s the abstract for my presentation:

“Dressing like your sister / Living like a tart /
They don’t know what you’re doing / Babe it must be art / ….
They want you to play Jesus / They’ll go down on one knee /
But they’ll want their money back if you’re alive at 33 /
And you’re turning tricks / With your crucifix / You’re a star”

“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,” U2 (1993/95)

When Bono was 33 in 1993, he had already disappointed many of the devout U2 fans the band had acquired in the 1980s. Having taken to heart the Irish poet Brendan Kennelly’s Judas-haunted aphorism, “If you want to serve the age, betray it,” Bono had “tarted up” the persona he had developed in the previous decade for U2’s revolutionary Zoo TV tour, and he was well on his way to disappointing more fans in the future with a vigorous commitment to avoiding the trap of typecasting. Now at the un-messianic age of 55, Bono has become expert at attracting, exciting, and repelling the masses, forcing the fan-celebrity dynamic into an ever evolving process of redefinition as both he and U2’s fandom ages. Behold Bono! I will examine Bono’s public acts as a singer, performer, and advocate as they have become intertwined with his status as a rock star for what they reveal as running through the heart of U2 fandom when evaluated against some fans’ specific expectations of celebrity-leadership, particularly among those who identify as having strong religious commitments. Paradoxically, as Bono has successfully avoided typecasting, he has moved closer to archetypes, most obviously the rock star-humanitarian. But in light of Bono’s overarching role as an artist, and especially since he is self-identifying as an artist on U2’s current tour, I will argue for our attention to be focused on his arguably greater feat of successfully enacting a palate of multiple and contradictory types to become, himself, a work of art that resists easy, monological interpretation, eschewing fans’ singular devotion to himself. In doing so, he is not only closer to the archetypal artist fulfilling the archetypal function of art, but is, ironically, performing a primary role of the archetypal savior by reorienting the adoration of fans who would follow him and frustrating them into synthesizing an authentic, liberating fandom of their own, imbued with a more realized sense of self and a more realized sense of the other. Behold Bono indeed. He’s a star.

If you’re still awake and want a little more detail on my talk, as I conduct my examination and argument, I’ll cover these topics:

  • A brief survey of types Bono performed in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s
  • monologism vs. dialogism
  • Fandom formation and appropriation theories
  • Complicating factors in U2 fandom within the American Evangelical Christian community, starting with the 2003 critique called “Bono’s Thin Ecclesiology” up to U2’s recent support of civil marriage rights for same-sex couples in Ireland and the United States
  • The functions and conditions of art and archetypes

And finally, the session I’m chairing is music focused and looks great with these presentations:

  • Len Cazaly: “’You got a lotta nerve to say you are my friend’: Dylan v. The Fans”
  • Dr. Wendy Fonarow: “The Purists: How Indie Music Expresses Puritan Dogma”
  • Felix Papenhagen: “Jewish Religiosity in the Context of Popular Music in Israel”

I’d love to see you at the conference. You can register here.

U2 Concerts and Community Publications by Michael Williams

My name is Michael Williams, and I am a long-time U2 fan (since 1982). Currently, I am also a doctoral candidate, researching rock music events, focusing on U2’s 360° tour. The aim of my research is to develop a better understanding of the concept of spectacle in the context of a rock music event. 

The following two publications relate to my research project and may be of interest to fellow researchers and fans:

Williams, M. (2015) ‘One but not the same: U2 Concerts, Community and Cultural Identity’ in Merkel, U. (ed.) Identity Discourses and Communities in International Events, Festivals and Celebrations. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 242-259.

Williams, M. (2014) ‘Politics as spectacle: U2’s 360° tour (2009-11)’, in Merkel, U. (ed.) Power, Politics and International Events: Socio-cultural Analyses of Festivals and Spectacles. London: Routledge, 174-190.

 You can find out more about my research project at www.U2360spectacle.net

Music Events as Spectacle: U2’s Union of Rock and Resistance

My name is Michael Williams, and I am a long-time U2 fan (since 1982). Currently, I am also a doctoral candidate. My research project focuses on the concept and phenomenon of spectacle and the process of spectacularization in the specific context of U2’s ‘360°’ tour (2009-2011). In particular, it concerns the contribution of spectators to the creation of the spectacle and the meaning they attach to this. Spectacle is a frequently used term but it is not yet fully understood in the event context. The project focuses on the relationship between rock music events, politics and audiences. The research uses a multi-method case study, which includes analysis of online content and semi-structured interviews with fans and attendees of U2’s ‘360°’ concerts and analysis of concert documentary material.

I am keen to interview people with varying experiences of U2’s 360° shows in Dublin, Istanbul, Moscow and Pittsburgh.

If you are interested in participating, please contact me by emailing me at mw146@brighton.ac.uk. You can find out more about my research project by visiting my website at www.u2360spectacle.net

 

Research query on U2 and Krautrock, and new MA dissertation on U2 and James Joyce

Hello. My name is Helena Torres and I wrote an MA dissertation in Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool on U2 and Joyce, titled “Nicely-polished looking glasses: A comparative study of U2 and Joyce’s Dublin in ‘Eveline’ and ‘Running to Stand Still.’” You can read my work here.

I would like to develop a new research project focused on Achtung Baby and the influence of krautrock for this album. However, I think sources regading U2 and krautrock are scarce. I have Rock and Popular Music in Ireland: Before and After U2 by Noel McLaughlin and Martin McLoone to provide me a starting point, but I’d like to know if there are more options. Thanks a lot.

 

 

 

New book: The World and U2: One Band’s Remaking of Global Activism

I am happy to announce the publication of my new book, The World and U2: One Band’s Remaking of Global Activism. It’s a history of the band’s evolution as activists–what made them engaged, how they changed, and the impact they’ve had both on their causes and on the world of activism. Rowman & Littlefield is the publisher. It’s a short book, great for students, and you can see more here at the publisher’s page. It’s available at Amazon too.

Alan McPherson

College Course on U2, Spiritual Engagement & Activism

WE GET TO CARRY EACH OTHER: USING THE MUSICAL ACTIVISM OF U2 AS A FRAMEWORK FOR AN ENGAGED SPIRITUALITY & COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT COURSE

Marshall Welch
Saint Mary’s College of California
Engaging Pedagogies in Catholic Higher Education, Vol. 1: Iss. 1, Article 4, 2015

logoThis article describes a January-term community engagement service-learning college course that used the musical and spiritually-based activism of U2 as an example of engaged spirituality using activism and advocacy. In addition to learning about the history, music, and activism of the band, students were taught a specific set of skills for developing and implementing action plans, and coordinating logistics for advocacy-based events on campus.  Students were assigned to apply these skills as the service-learning component of the course.  These activities were conceptualized as indirect service that reflected activism and advocacy as a form of engaged spirituality.  The article concludes by describing its impact and how learning objectives were met.

Click here to download the article.

 

 

Social Justice and Pop Culture: U2 as a non-traditional Christian voice

On June 5, 2015, I delivered the closing address for a gathering of the North American Association of Christians in Social Work (California chapter) at Fresno Pacific University. In my talk, “Social Justice and Pop Culture: U2 as a non-traditional Christian voice,” I suggest the thesis that “U2 models a non-traditional Christian witness by engaging the world — especially in areas of social concern — not by remaining isolated from it.”

After giving a brief survey of Ireland, The Troubles and U2’s own adolescence, I address the changing social commentary that “Sunday Bloody Sunday” provides across four decades of live performances, including the dirge-like presentation on the current Innocence + Experience tour. I finish by reflecting on Bono’s own words about engagement with the culture, especially as faith prompts him to speak about social issues.

I captured a live Persicope stream of the presentation and edited in some of my visuals (including concert footage).

Video is on YouTube here.

My blog post about it is here.

 

U2: Made in Dublin at The Little Museum of Dublin

U2MadeInDublinLogoI was honored to be asked to help curate the permanent exhibit U2: Made in Dublin for The Little Museum of Dublin. The exhibit opened in 2013 and continues to grow.

Charting the story of the band from 1976 all the way up to the present day, this fan-curated exhibition features musical rarities, signed albums and some great photography, alongside items such as a Trabant car, a Gibson Explorer, a life-size sculpture of MacPhisto and even a pack of U2 condoms.

The exhibition was curated by fans of the band alongside some of Ireland’s best photographers and artists, as a tribute to the achievements of U2 and a celebration of their roots in the local music scene of the 1970s. A soundtrack narrated by Tom Dunne tells the story of the band with rare live recordings from the Dandelion Market all the way through to Croke Park. It’s already proving hugely popular with fans of Ireland’s most famous musical export.

 

The U2 Conference logo and site design by Beth Nabi.