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June 2000
Editorial: Who Wants To Be A Rock Star?

By Catherine Clyne



"Everybody dreams of being a rock star," the omnipotent narrator observes, "What do rock stars dream of?" According to a recent television commercial, the rock star known as Sting dreams of reclining in the back of a luxurious Jaguar (with the obligatory sunglasses), being chauffeured along at high speed, and waking occasionally to lip-synch to a song. One can say that commercials are generally obnoxious and ego-centric when celebrities are involved—so what?

Many consider Sting to be a respectable environmentalist and political activist. In 1989 Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, founded the Rainforest Foundation in response to a moving encounter they had with Chief Raoni of the Menkragnoti Kayapó people in the Amazonian rainforest (see As with many indigenous people the world over, the homelands, culture and existence of the Menkragnoti Kayapó tribe is threatened by encroaching development and the destruction of the Brazilian rainforest. Moreover, the flagrant disregard by the government for their rights to preserve their culture and land diminishes the legitimacy of their concerns, a major problem faced by most indigenous people. However, Sting and Trudie made a promise to bring Chief Raoni’s message to the world, and through performances and their celebrity status, they brought the ecological and cultural crisis faced by indigenous people and the entire planet to the attention of millions. As a result, in 1993 they made good on their promise to Chief Raoni: the Rainforest Foundation funded the legal demarcation of the territory of the Menkragnoti Kayapó people.

Granted, Sting and his wife are responsible for some very important consciousness-raising with regard to the depletion and pollution of rainforests and how the people who live there are affected. But I can’t remember the last time the subject was seriously addressed on national primetime television. Moreover, aside from those who attend the performances or have their eco-friendly radar tuned in, the general public may not even be aware of Sting’s concern for rainforests and indigenous people. Yet, a commercial shown in prime spots tells us that Sting likes his Jaguar. Through the ad, Sting’s message is something like, "Be cool like me, buy a Jaguar, hire a chauffeur and live the luxurious dream of a rock star." It’s an invitation to buy your way into the ultra-elite club of the wealthy and pooh-pooh international efforts to cut down the use of cars.

The consumption of fossil fuels by automobiles is arguably the number one pollutant of this planet. Carcinogenic exhaust fumes contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming, suffocating plants, people and animals alike; not to mention creating hazardous smog, monstrous traffic jams and causing respiratory and other diseases.

As if the polluting effects of exhaust weren’t bad enough, what is amazing is how Sting’s endorsement of a luxurious car reflects an astounding disregard for the plight of the indigenous people for whom he cares. After all, cars run on oil, the procurement of which plays a major role in the invasion and destruction of the lands and cultures of people worldwide. Remember Ken Saro-Wiwa (see Satya, January, 1996 and December, 1997)? Saro-Wiwa brought international attention to the ravaging effects of oil extraction through his efforts to protect the Ogoni people and their environment from Royal Dutch/Shell. For their nonviolent commitment to truth, he and eight other activists were sentenced to death by the Nigerian government in 1995.

Massive companies in collusion with governments of host countries desecrate vast territories in search of oil, cutting into the countryside to pump oil and installing oil drills and hundreds of miles of pipelines. Private "security" firms serve as a third party for the corporate and government control of dissidents. Such control involves the displacement of thousands of people with no compensation, while those who protest are harassed and beaten, often detained without due process and sometimes executed.

According to the Human Rights Watch World Report 2000, two primary issues continue to plague the oil industry: "the use of revenues generated by energy projects to bolster abusive governments and situations of corporate complicity in human rights violations when companies [rely] on abusive state forces for the protection of company facilities, personnel, and prerogatives." (see for full report) And if we thought that rising oil prices in 1999 might have made business more politically correct, the report observes: "Despite efforts by some companies to address human rights, the overall performance of the industry was poor." Last year, the major hotspots for human rights violations by oil companies and host governments included places as diverse as Chad, India and Nigeria. In January of last year at least five protesters were killed when attacked by soldiers using helicopters owned by Chevron oil in the Nigerian Delta region where Saro-Wiwa once lived. The costs of oil are far higher than what we whine about when confronted by the rising prices at the pump. Given all of this, Sting’s support of wAmnesty International, a human rights organization, and advocacy against the death penalty exaggerates further the irony in his promotion of luxury cars. Surely, he’s not that strapped for cash.

I’ll admit to the rare escapist day-dream of being a rock star, but expensive cars rarely enter my mind and owning one certainly doesn’t. I have no license and don’t know how to drive. I have little interest in what Sting dreams of, but it is difficult to seriously consider his concern for the environment and human rights as genuine when he is lining his pockets with money from the automobile industry. Given his international status as an artist, he is in a position to influence millions of people. Rather than hyping the superficial lifestyle of the rich and famous and encouraging people to buy and drive cars without concern for the consequences, Sting could make a public service announcement, raising consciousness about the issues he apparently holds dear to his heart. Now, that’s the kind of rock star I could dream of being.


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