“U2 is their religion, Bono their God”: Religious Dimensions of Rock and Pop Music as Illustrated by U2 in the light of Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory
Postmodern schools of thought have removed the onus of governing people’s lives and ideologies from organized religions and placed an increasing amount of control in the hands of popular culture. This article examines the worldwide phenomenon of the rock band U2 using the lens of Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory. This Mimetic Theory is based largely on the concept of mankind’s mimetic desire, or the desire to imitate.
The bulk of this article is dedicated to extrapolating on Girard’s mimetic theory and while it provides a more than satisfactory overview, this attention to Girard over U2 ultimately weakens the article and takes away some of the intensity of the weighty quote used in the article’s title. The author does well to establish U2 as a subject worthy of study in the mimetic theory, but ultimately falls a bit short for lack of evidence. Bono is established as a deified character and some of the implications of this phenomenon are discussed, but the exposition felt far more important than the topic that seemed to be the meat of the article.
In short, this article discusses mimetic desire among equals (where there is little mediation) and between mediated subjects (i.e. fans and Bono). Often the tensions that arise because of mimetic rivalries require a scapegoat who is simultaneously ostracised as the source of a problem and deified as a saviour when eliminated. This scapegoat mechanism, a central theory of mimesis can be seen in many archaic religions- the Oedipus myth and ritual sacrifice are used as examples. Christianity, however marks a shift in the scapegoat mechanism wherein the Deity became the scapegoat willingly and forgave His persecutors. In Christianity, Jesus’ divinity does not come from man’s deification of Him, but rather from his nature as the son of God.
Rock and roll and pop culture in general cannot boast this sort of deity, but seem to have reverted to a more archaic system of worship. The fans idolize and deify their stars, but can’t reach the strata that they so badly wish to in order to join their deity. As a result of this disparity, the fans can develop a love-hate relationship with the star creating a joint deity-scapegoat. Under Girard’s theory, there is a definite distinction between myth and religion and popular culture falls in the realm of myth.
The second major topic of discussion in this article is a treatment on song lyrics. The author examines the idea of “theopoetry”- poetry that has its roots in theological and existential concerns. The author compares Bono’s lyrics to metaphysical poetry which was notable for marrying sacred concepts with details of human life and effectively establishes not only Bono’s lyrics, but many popular lyrics as a sort of metaphysical text.
In the final section of the article, the author examines U2 in the light of the theory that was established over the course of the article. U2’s incredible fame and popularity easily fit the mimetic mould and U2 does share certain commonalities with religious institutions. The author finds U2 noteworthy for their positive example of social justice which draws from their Christian roots and shows a compelling case for mimesis as a potential force for good noting that many fans of U2 joined social justice organizations or took interest in causes because of the band’s influence.
Overall, this article makes the mimetic theory understandable and accessible and demonstrates the power of mimesis, particularly in postmodern society, but seems to lose his or her way a bit as far as the focus on U2.
Review of “Wars that Never Take Place: Non-events, 9/11 and Wars on Terrorism”
In this article, Binoy Kampmark uses theories developed by Jean Baudrillard to examine the infamous terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the ensuing Wars on Terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq. Baudrillard’s controversial works are noteworthy for their explanation of “simulacra” and non-events and this article begins with a discussion of the Baudrillardian non-event that was the Gulf War.
Baudrillard gained a good deal of notoriety when he asserted that the Gulf War had not happened. Kampmark suggest that a Baudrillardian analysis is an important tool when attempting “to account for the peculiarities of postmodern war”. In short, after the sheer violence of World War II followed by the “balance of terror’ in the Cold war, any “event” arising from postmodern war is impossible due to the idea of restraint. Kampmark explains that under this Baudrillardian system, restraint is a key feature of the “non-event”- as such, since a lack of restraint in warfare would lead to mutually assured destruction, a “Hot War” was impossible.
In the mediated, postmodern, global society, real events seemed to be impossibility. Baudrillard had ruled out the idea of a “prodigious” event: “The prodigious event, the event which was measured neither by its causes nor consequences, but creates its own image and its own dramatic effect no longer exists”. 9/11 called for Baudrillard to re-examine his previous statements.
A real issue that this article encountered was unravelling the constant contradictions that arise from the complexity of Baudrillard’s theories, many of which he admitted were more or less self-contradictory. While it was not at all difficult for Kampmark to establish the Wars on Terror as Baudrillardian “non-events” citing the mediated hunt for Osama Bin Laden and Weapons of Mass Destruction as prominent simulacra, Kampmark acknowledged that not even Baudrillard could satisfactorily encompass 9/11 within his theories. 9/11 stands firmly as what Baudrillard called a “prodigious event”, but he also notes that 9/11 became a model of extreme violence for the simulacra that followed in the wars on terror. Further, 9/11 stands as an event so far outside the system of media and power that it cannot even exist in that system.
Kampmarks’ analysis of current events using Baudrillardian theory was well written and compellingly argued. The article’s shortcomings, however can be found in an overreliance on technical jargon that make it somewhat inaccessible and the author’s readiness to forgive and even embrace some obvious and troubling self-contradictions in Baudrillard’s work as necessary or even helpful to understanding the events.
Review: “Terrorists We Like and Terrorists We Don’t Like”
Deni Elliott’s article “Terrorists We Like and Terrorists We Don’t Like” is, at its core, an appeal for fair-mindedness and intelligence when Americans consider terrorism. September 11th, 2001 was a polarizing event that threw terrorism to the forefront of the American mind. Elliot examines, however how, for decades before 9/11, Arabs were depicted as fanatic terrorists.
Aspects of Elliott’s succinct and compelling article were quite thought provoking. One instance of poor-policy regarding terrorism is the fact that the United States government has a very vague definition of terrorism and that so called “collateral damages” ultimately differ only from terrorism in terms of the target. The phrase “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” is certainly at play in this article. At one point, Elliott notes, the United States recruited Osama Bin Laden as a leader of a jihad against the Soviets in the cold War. At the time, Bin Laden’s terrorist tactics were the actions of a patriotic freedom fighter while the orchestration of 9/11 was a flagrant act of terrorism.
This article does not condone terrorism, but rather encourages the government, the media, and perhaps most importantly, the public to understand what terrorism actually is and not to blindly persecute an entire people for crimes that they did not commit.