Papers love simple slogans. Geldof provides

His Bobliness has attained 'untouchable' status, which makes the media so positive about Live8, and produces preposterous headlines
Click to follow
The Independent Online

I met Bob Geldof just once. We spent an hour or so talking in a pub in north London. The circumstances were sad; we had both been to the funeral of the revered foreign correspondent David Blundy, who had been killed by a stray bullet in San Salvador. He had accompanied Geldof to Ethiopia during the Live Aid era and Sir Bob turned up at the funeral, with no ceremony, just one of the many, to pay his respects.

I met Bob Geldof just once. We spent an hour or so talking in a pub in north London. The circumstances were sad; we had both been to the funeral of the revered foreign correspondent David Blundy, who had been killed by a stray bullet in San Salvador. He had accompanied Geldof to Ethiopia during the Live Aid era and Sir Bob turned up at the funeral, with no ceremony, just one of the many, to pay his respects.

He was engaging, entertaining, utterly natural and had none of the self-conscious self-obsession of so many celebrities. He was friendly and easy towards the people who inevitably came up to him wanting a word or an autograph. At that time he was a mediocre pop star with a brain, a facility with words, a network comparable with Railtrack and a relentless ability to get things done. He also deployed - I am not sure if it is real or contrived - a large streak of naivety which allowed him to ask the simple questions, be baffled by the complex answers and get away, particularly when talking to politicians, with the well-known Irish expression "I wouldn't have started from here."

Now His Bobliness is back on the front pages with Live8, different from Live Aid because this time it is on the streets as well as the stage. The politicians, those in G8, are being fronted up. It is a measure of the degree to which Geldof has achieved the status of "untouchable" that the media and the politicians have been so positive about Live8. It makes for a fascinating case study into media, politics, communication and youth, where Geldof, 50, represents the idealism of supposedly non-ideological youth, offering simple answers to complex questions.

It produces the preposterously absurd headline on a Daily Mirror leader, "One voice can beat poverty", the ludicrous line in the Daily Mail, Daily Express and the Daily Star, "The greatest show on earth", and the crass (rhetorical?) headline in the Daily Telegraph, yes the Telegraph, "Can this benighted continent (Africa) be saved by the G8, Geldof and friends?"

Such unintelligent hyperbole tells us more about the dislocation between the political/media classes and the people, particularly the young, than it does about the politics of poverty. The politicians know they do not connect any longer. They are held in disregard, election turnouts are embarrassingly low, and the young voters say, "A curse on all your parties." The media, particularly the newspapers, are held in disregard, see falling circulations, and fail to attract young readers. They worry that they connect no longer.

So neither group dare do other than praise His Bobship. Politicians like simple slogans and solutions; Bob provides them. Newspapers like simple headlines and solutions, with a touch of celebrity. Bob provides. Even the newspaper of the Asbo, the hoodies and the feckless, the Daily Mail, writes: "There is no escaping the moral passion, awesome commitment and spectacular organisational skills [Geldof] brings to his cause."

The Guardian and The Independent devoted several pages each to detailed and impressive analysis of the crisis in Africa, but otherwise scepticism tended to come only from the general public. The Radio Five Live phone-ins were littered with the crusties talking about Geldof encouraging people to bunk off work to demonstrate, and about yesterday's pop acts trying to reignite careers. Radio 4's PM audience produced the usual killjoys, saying that there was no way our failed transport system could ever move a million people to Edinburgh, and anyway the money spent getting there would be of more use given straight to aid charities.

In the press only the occasional columnist dared depart from the consensus view. Paradoxically, it was the self-styled patron of eternal youth, Janet Street-Porter, writing in The Independent under the headline "Why Geldof makes me want to scream", who tiraded against the music business and the early list of acts who would be appearing in the concerts: "a roll call of the bland, the acceptable and the old pals." Only the politicians could do something about Africa. "A bunch of pop stars impressed with their own self-importance will have less impact."

Bruce Anderson wrote in The Times of the "profound shallowness" of Geldof. Live8 was "good news for Parisian couturiers, German carmakers and Swiss bankers. For Africans it is a delusion and a deception." Otherwise the mood was summed up by The Sun's leader message to Sir Bob: "Good luck mate!" Again, with an ability to connect that is an example to the political spinmeisters, he got the column inches. The forgotten continent is on the front pages.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield

Comments