Sunday, December 24, 2006

Bono the Knight

The Irish musician Bono (whose real name is Paul Hewson), a member of the band U2, is shortly to be created a Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE).

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire was established in 1917 by King George V, grandfather of the present Queen. Not unnaturally, as it was created by a King-Emperor who died asking "How is the Empire ?" -- the Order's motto is: “For God and the Empire.” Seems like an odd Order indeed for an Irishman to want to join. The British monarch is Sovereign of the Order, and the Wikipedia article linked above contains a good general discussion of the Order's history and structure.

Members of the Order are appointed by the Queen, which really means by the Government. According to the British newspaper Daily Mail, Prime Minister Blair delivered the “official notification” of Bono’s appointment in an e-mail beginning “Hi folks.” What a world we live in: For God and the Empire -- Hi folks !

Prime Minister Blair is under a lot of fire in Britain for using the honors system as a means of rewarding his friends and persons to whom he otherwise wishes to show favor. Some other notable recipients of a KBE in the past include Bill Gates (who made it possible for you to read this) and Rudy Giuliani. But Bono ?
“Hi folks” certainly will not do much for the general reputation of the honors system. The cynic in me suspects that some high folks in high places in Britain might not care so much if the honors system is cheapened by gongs for rock stars, or not.

The Order was founded, the Wikipedia piece tells us, to “fill gaps” in the existing British honors system, which was skewed towards recognition of military distinction, and distinguished service by civil servants and politicians. Wikipedia says that the Order of the British Empire has “. . .a more democratic character than the exclusive orders of the Bath or Saint Michael and Saint George, and in its early days was not held in high esteem.” Allegedly, this has changed, although one wonders if the author has confused high esteem with becoming modern.

Not everyone approves of Bono’s knighthood. The Mail quotes a member of parliament: “My town has lost many servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Mr. Blair is more concerned about handing baubles to rock stars." Peter Hitchens doesn't like this either, and writes, also in the Mail:
A whole generation, which likes to tell itself that it is devoted to equality and rejects the hierarchies of the past, falls to its knees and licks the shoes of the new aristocracy of fame and cool.
Is there any real distinction between the old bowing and simpering to landed gentry, and the new deference paid to the nobles of rock?
The interesting thing is, who is supposed to benefit from this parody of honour? Who is sucking up to whom?
Who indeed ? Is the British Crown honoring "Sir Dog Biscuit" as Mr. Hitchens calls him, or is Tony Blair sucking up to Bono -- of whom, Her Majesty's First Minister says, he is a "huge fan."
It's a bigger deal now to be a rock star than it is to be the plain old Queen of Great Britain, much less said Queen's Prime Minister. Sir Dog Biscuit is what society really values now, more than it does that MP's constiutents killed in Iraq or in Afghanistan, because we think we can afford to be; because most of us are so far removed from the grubby business of survival (until somebody crashes a few planes into a skyscraper or two) and reminds us things can change in a real hurry. To be fair, Bono the rock star wants us to look after Africa, and he has also used his celebrity to campaign to cancel Third World debts, which some people think is a good thing.
What a strange world, indeed. Given the choice of oligarchs to rule over us -- the bad old landed gentry, ruthless soldiers and robber-barons -- or rock stars, media personalities and blow-dried looking politicos, I'll take the old-line bosses every time. Bye folks.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This post reminds me of what G. K. Chesterton wrote long ago:

OPPRESSION BY OPTIMISM

But we are not here concerned with the nature and existence of the aristocracy, but with the origin of its peculiar power, why is it the last of the true oligarchies of Europe; and why does there seem no very immediate prospect of our seeing the end of it? The explanation is simple though it remains strangely unnoticed. The friends of aristocracy often praise it for preserving ancient and gracious traditions. The enemies of aristocracy often blame it for clinging to cruel or antiquated customs. Both its enemies and its friends are wrong. Generally speaking the aristocracy does not preserve either good or bad traditions; it does not preserve anything except game. Who would dream of looking among aristocrats anywhere for an old custom? One might as well look for an old costume! The god of the aristocrats is not tradition, but fashion, which is the opposite of tradition. If you wanted to find an old-world Norwegian head-dress, would you look for it in the Scandinavian Smart Set? No; the aristocrats never have customs; at the best they have habits, like the animals. Only the mob has customs.

The real power of the English aristocrats has lain in exactly the opposite of tradition. The simple key to the power of our upper classes is this: that they have always kept carefully on the side of what is called Progress. They have always been up to date, and this comes quite easy to an aristocracy. For the aristocracy are the supreme instances of that frame of mind of which we spoke just now. Novelty is to them a luxury verging on a necessity. They, above all, are so bored with the past and with the present, that they gape, with a horrible hunger, for the future.

G. K. Chesterton; Whats Wrong With The World, 1910

louielouie said...

i hope this means bobo (not a typo) will start bleeding the british treasury of donations to the ungrateful and leave the US alone for a bit.
not be out done, i wonder what bush is going to come up with to give him. maybe let him address congress? maybe his choice of jenna or babs for a night.?