Politics & Policy

Dead on Arrival

Not a lot of life at Live Earth.

“If you want to save the planet, I want you to start jumping up and down. Come on, mother-[bleepers]!” Madonna railed from the stage at London’s Live Earth concert Saturday. “If you want to save the planet, let me see you jump!”

You just can’t beat that. What else could capture the canned juvenilia of a 48-year-old centimillionaire — who owns nine homes and has a “carbon footprint” nearly 100 times larger than the norm — hectoring a bunch of well-off, aging hipsters to show their Earth-love by jumping up and down like children? I suppose she could have said, “Now put your right foot in / Take your right foot out / Right foot in / Then you shake it all about…. That’s what climate change is all about.”

Actually, I think the “Hokey Pokey” makes more sense.

But, hey, I don’t want to bash Live Earth, which is not to be confused with Live Aid (1985, dedicated to eradicating African famine) or Live 8 (2005, promising to relieve African nations’ debts). So with the African continent so well-fed — and debt-free! — who can blame the Celebrity Concern Industry for moving on to its next big success?

The avowed point of Live Earth was to … can you guess? That’s right: raise awareness about global warming. Considering the energy required to put on the show, the nine Live Earth concerts doubtlessly raised more CO2 than awareness. NBC’s three-hour televised version got trounced by “Cops” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” Moreover, surely most of the people who attended or tuned in already knew about global warming before they saw the video tutorial about Ed Begley Jr.’s eco-friendly home and sanctimony-powered go-cart.

Still, if fans had somehow missed the global-warming story entirely, imagine how befuddled they must have felt while listening to Dave Matthews sing the glories of cloth diapers. And, assuming they didn’t hit the mute button when Czech supermodel Petra Nemcova came to the stage, one wonders what any climate-change ingenues might have made of her remarks. The model, who nearly was killed in Thailand by the 2004 tsunami, explained that she “didn’t feel hate toward nature” because of the tsunami. “I felt nature was screaming for help.”

It’s nice that Nemcova didn’t want to blame the messenger, but it’s hard to feel a similar reluctance about Live Earth’s impresario in chief. Former Vice President Al Gore recently penned a book in which he rails against the current “assault on reason” by the evil forces of Earth-hating right-wingery. He repeatedly invokes science as if it’s his exclusive property. But the soft paganism on display in Nemcova’s faith-based assertion that a suboceanic earthquake was the result of Mother Nature sending us a message is typical of greenhouse gasbaggery.

Gore talks about the dysfunction of political discourse today. But when it comes to global warming, he and his acolytes insist that the time for debate is over. In other words, Gore’s ideal discourse would involve only discussion about how best to follow through on his prescriptions.

But such high-minded objections sail over the chief source of Live Earth’s lameness. The acts were mostly fine. But the outrage and passion felt so prepackaged, you almost expected Ludacris (who rapped about the evils of SUVs) to say, “This moral outrage is brought to you by GE’s Ecomagination.” One could say Live Earth is proof that global warming has jumped the shark, except for the fact that the phrase “jumped the shark” has jumped the shark.

Madonna, Genesis, UB40, the Police, Cat Stevens (now Yusuf Islam), Crowded House, Duran Duran — these were among the headliners for this supposedly cutting-edge extravaganza. I listened to these acts in high school more than 20 years ago, and some of them were already going gray by then. Phil Collins is 56. Sting is 55. Cat Stevens is pushing 60. The Rolling Stones didn’t play Live Earth, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was because Mick Jagger needed a hip replacement.

Like the Rolling Stones, who define “graceful retirement” as drags on the oxygen tank between sets, these acts hawk youthful-activism nostalgia for the fans rich enough to pay for it.

Some argue that environmentalism has become a secular religion. Buying carbon offsets, they say, is the modern equivalent of purchasing indulgences for your sins from the Catholic Church. Live Earth certainly fit into that vision. The concerts seemed like Baptist hoedowns of yore, except now Gore is the Billy Sunday for the baby-boomer booboisie.

Maybe that’s in the works, too. But more likely, these were simply concerts by and for people who need to salt their sanctimony with platitudes about raising awareness. The music industry always has played fans for saps. In 1968, Columbia Records peddled the slogan “The Man Can’t Bust Our Music!” Now global warming is a brilliant way to market aging rockers too rich and famous to pass as rebels against anything save their refusal to retire with some dignity.

© 2007 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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