A reflection of our times: It may well go down in our history that the largest public advocacy event for human rights ever held in the Philippines was a jam-packed rock concert.I’m referring to the U2 concert held Dec. 11. In a sense, it was a captive audience, because many of those who went were probably not aware the concert would be so political, or that U2, especially Bono, has always been so outspoken. (I sometimes think that just as non-Korean youth happily sing Korean pop songs without knowing what they mean, we Filipinos, supposedly comfortable with English, also sing many American and British songs not fully grasping their meanings, especially those related to politics and… sex.)
The performance in Manila was part of U2’s global Joshua Tree tour, featuring some 30 years of U2 songs, many revolving around human rights. An example is “Mothers of the Disappeared,” dedicated to women (mothers and grandmothers) in Argentina and Chile (and by extension, the Philippines) who persisted with rallies and protests in behalf of their disappeared loved ones during dictatorships.
Another song in praise of courageous women, “Ultra Violet (Light My Way),” was performed in Manila against a screen that flashed photographs of notable Filipino women, from Melchora Aquino (Tandang Sora) and Corazon Aquino to Lidy Nacpil and Maria Ressa.
The U2 concert got me thinking about the current controversies around “boomers,” a term used as an insult against those born after World War II (more or less, 1946 to 1964), and who are now being mocked in the West as apolitical or even reactionary, with the name “boomer” used as an insult. I find that boomer-as-insult phenomenon strange, because in the Philippines, I hear more boomers complaining about apathetic generations X, Y and Z. It’s all a matter of perception.
Also, a lack of a sense of history. Just look at U2, which reflects a very political generation identified with many causes from the 1960 onward, but which may have lost steam through the decades.
U2 reminds us that the boomer generation did leave its mark on progressive politics. I was reminded two years ago about this while talking with one of our students (now graduated), Coby Lim, who had been putting in volunteer time and resources to repair the electronic circuits of the UP Carillon. Marcos’ remains had just been transferred to the Libingan ng mga Bayani, and I told him the Carillon should join church bells in protest. We had “Bayan Ko,” but I thought we needed other tunes as well, and he actually suggested “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” which was composed many years earlier by U2 to commemorate the massacre of civil rights rallyists in Northern Ireland in 1972.
“Human rights” remains a controversial term in the Philippines, despite our many years of suffering, into the present, from leaders and politicians who still reject its very concept, and who tag as communist anyone who espouses the defense of these rights.U2 reminds us that the advocacy for human rights takes many forms, and that songs are powerful media for political causes.
Beyond the concert, Bono made waves in media interviews. One article, featured in the Inquirer last Monday, caught my attention with this quote from him: “This country is a miracle of a place. But we should be careful because with a blink of an eye, even the most beautiful landscapes can turn ugly if we don’t watch out.”
I thought of how boomers took up many different forms of activism, and what may have persisted were the antiwar sentiments, as shown by Bono’s remarks about being a “miracle of a place.” Older boomers protested the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but younger “boomers,” including U2 members, still had to battle other wars.
In 1984, U2 and other rock artists organized Band Aid, a concert to raise public awareness and funds for famine victims in war-torn Ethiopia. I still hear the hit single from Band Aid, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, sometimes blaring in malls, the crowds oblivious to its lyrics (“Feed the world, let them know it’s Christmas time”).
Band Aid was not without criticism, a “band aid” being a temporary stopgap measure. But you have to start somewhere, and, fast forward more than 30 years later, it’s easy for both the young and the not so young to set aside issues of peace and justice and inconvenient truths.
Who are the ones who get impatient more quickly — the Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y or Generation Z?
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