The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



An inconvenient truth

Andrew Nesi | Thursday, September 27, 2007

In true Notre Dame form, I spent one Saturday this summer belting out the resilient melodies of Jon Bon Jovi. For once, though, I wasn’t “Livin’ on a Prayer” during the throes of Catholic passion that are Morrissey Manor SYRs. No, I was singing along to Bon Jovi live from the very last row of Giants Stadium.

Live Earth was a great show. I spent 10 epic hours of my Saturday at the U.S. version of the 24-hour concert series meant to promote environmental awareness. Global mega-concert events, though, are bound to fail. Simply put, they don’t take seriously enough the causes they supposedly promote.

I’ll remember the Live Earth concert for years to come. But I’ll remember it for the “Live” – not the “Earth.” I’ll remember Bon Jovi and Roger Waters. I’ll remember John Mayer, The Police and, yes, Kanye West all combining for a bring-down-the-house version of “Message in a Bottle” to which I’m still listening on repeat.

Ultimately, though, the showmanship of the concert overshadowed the cause.

Case in point: Midway through the concert, Al Gore came out to announce the “Seven Point pledge” he wanted the audience to make that day. It was easy to confirm your commitment to the pledge. All I had to do was text – yes, text – “SOS” to 82004. Standard text messaging rates apply.

Like the loyal soldier I am, I promptly texted the number. After all, I get 50 free texts a month. Two minutes later, Live Earth texted me back:

“Thx, U have answered the call! U’ll get wkly Live Earth news, artist schedules & green tips. More info at www.liveearth.org. Reply STOP 2 end.”

How very hip of them.

I can’t remember six of the pledges. I do, however, remember that I pledged to “plant a tree.”

The text message pledge phenomenon – and the concert in general – demonstrate a fundamental problem with how so many causes try to spread their message today. They try too hard to be “in touch” with our generation. And, in doing so, they couldn’t be less in touch. Think about it – pledging to a cause via text message? A cause that gets no more than an hour of publicity in ten hours of concert? By trying to integrate the political messages subtly into everyday college-y things like concert-going and text-messaging, the causes dumb down political dialogue to the point that it becomes useless and forgettable.

It’s the same notion that causes the Clinton campaign to think it’s essential that Hillary has a MySpace profile that asks you to tell everyone “I am not only voting for Hillary, SHE’S MY FRIEND.” Meanwhile, John McCain – yes, 71-year-old John McCain – has a Facebook account. Apparently, he really likes “24” and “Seinfeld.”

The political forces behind these causes are saying, “Hey young people: look how cool we are – how well we speak your language.” They think we can only process political information if they dress it up in what they perceive as our language. Candidates with Facebooks. Cute txt 4 pledges. Political messages hidden in a ten – hour rock-fest. It all serves to dumb down our political dialogue and, worse, it simply doesn’t work.

More revealing than the forgotten pledges was a walk around Giants Stadium post-concert. The ground was littered with Pepsi cans and the plastic from six-packs, notorious for its duck-killing abilities. Fans, probably still drunk or high, pulled out of the chaotic parking lots in their Hummers.

By over-simplifying their messages for the sake of hipness, they promote a disconnect between excitement about an idea and action based on the idea. LiveEarth made going green a fad. It encouraged young people to think that environmentalism is a worthwhile issue. It may have even created some rebellious self-righteousness.

But the self-righteousness is, by and large, temporary. And the pro-environment feelings and excitement are temporary or, at least, ineffective. They don’t turn into action. When a cause hides itself behind a concert, text message, or Facebook account, it can’t encourage fans to translate their support for the cause into political or personal change.

Two years ago, the world talked about another global concert for a cause – Live 8, the baby of the anti-poverty movement headlined by Bono. While the concert had some immediate effect – debt relief pledges within the first week – the popularity of the cause has, by and large, slipped among our generation. Like any other fad, the movement to relieve debt slowly faded, lost behind Tom and Katie’s wedding and Paris and Nicole’s on-again, off-again friendship.

Live Earth is bound to die the same slow death. We’re still likely to see political change towards the environment, but it won’t be traced back to the impact of the concert. Change will happen when politicians realize the current system is unsustainable because the facts of global warming are undeniable.

The pro-environment side will win because it has the most compelling argument with the most compelling information, not because Kanye West and Kelly Clarkson happen to agree.

Andrew Nesi is a junior American Studies major from Fairfield, Conn. As a tribute to our best young kick returner, he believes the dining halls should begin serving “Golden Taters.” He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.