Opinion

Jason Mattera’s Bono boner

Mark Judge Journalist and filmmaker

Let’s address the most important fact first.

Conservative activist and journalist Jason Mattera didn’t get fooled by a Bono impersonator.

Jason Mattera got fooled by a bad Bono impersonator.

And in doing so, he set back the cause of us conservatives who love popular culture and are attempting to write and speak about it with some intelligence. To mistake the doofus who was pretending to be Bono with the real one is like thinking Pat Robertson is Jesus. And frankly, I am sick and tired of conservative antipathy towards and ignorance of popular culture. Who wants to be part of a movement that neither knows nor cares about art?

For those who didn’t see it: Jason Mattera is a funny and brave conservative journalist who specializes in getting close to powerful liberal celebrities and politicians and asking them the questions that the media will not. He cornered blockhead Joe Biden about Biden’s claim that conservative budgets cause rape, and got in Chris Rock’s face to challenge Rock’s charge that the tea party is racist.

Last week, Mattera got close to a man he thought was Bono, the lead singer of U2 and a man with a messiah complex. From the first frame of the video I thought, “Who’s that dude dressing up as Bono?” I watched in disbelief as Mattera pressed ahead, accusing Bono of tax evasion and hypocrisy. Wait, I wanted to shout — ask this guy if he is indeed the lead singer for U2. Because he isn’t.

Mattera looks like a fool now, but there is a deeper problem. For the past several years I have been trying to get conservatives to pay attention to the art of rock and roll and popular culture more generally. I think we should be writing about records the way Rolling Stone does, and have our own version of Entertainment Weekly (the new website Acculturated, which I write for, is attempting to do just this). For a group that claims to care a lot about the masses, conservatives — especially conservative elites — seem to care very little about popular culture. Perhaps there is something to the contention, first made by Martha Bayles, that conservatives’ distrust of pop culture stems from the modern neoconservative movement’s origins in Marxism. (Marxists disapprove of popular art, which they believe to be tainted by commerce.)

Time to get over it, guys. Marxism lost. We can love popular culture. At this point I would rather read anybody with a degree of intelligence writing about something vibrant — Radiohead, Florence and the Machine, even “The Hunger Games” — than another Mark Steyn stem-winder calling George Clooney a fraud. If we claim to care about the soul, we will — to use a phrase from the real Bono — abandon ourselves to the glory of great popular art (as well as the classics). Honestly, who would you rather watch act, Alec Baldwin, a ferocious lion, or his halfwit brother, CPAC regular Stephen Baldwin? I became a conservative years ago not only because it made sense, but because the right always seemed to be having more fun. Not for nothing did Andrew Breitbart love ’80s pop.

After watching the Bono debacle, I thought of my friend Stephen Catanzarite. How wonderful it would have been had Catanzarite been the one talking to Bono.

Catanzarite is the author of “U2’s Achtung Baby: Meditations on Love in the Shadow of the Fall.” He’s a U2 nut, and has met the real Bono. Writing about “Achtung Baby,” he sums up the album this way:

It is all there: our infinite potential for dreaming, discovering, and building, and the trouble we cause by confusing our liberty with license; our wanderings through streets both named and unnamed in search of peace or escape, enlightenment or forgetfulness, love or domination; the longing in our hearts for unity between and among God and man, man and woman, brother and sister, parent and child, and the restlessness, pride, larceny and fear in our heads that disturbs even the happiest of homes; our reveling in the fact that we truly are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and the sad acceptance of our brokenness; the excellence of fidelity; and the appeal of seduction; the glamour of evil, and the disaster of sin; the paradox of being rooted in time but destined for eternity; the God shaped hole at the center of our being, and our vain attempts to fill it with something, everything, anything other than God.

Catanzarite juxtaposes the melancholy elegy of the song “One” with St. Paul’s writings about the nature of love — and the analogy doesn’t just seem to fit, it seems obvious. “Until the End of the World” shows Jesus going to hell to confront Judas, and yet showing mercy at the end. T.S. Eliot, G.K. Chesterton, William Butler Yeats and Fulton Sheen are cited in the exploration of other songs, and the connection is seamless. Catanzarite’s prose is assured, clear and at times pithy: “Free love is neither,” he declares at the opening of a chapter on the disasters of the sexual revolution.

Stephen Catanzarite’s writing is not featured in The Weekly Standard, First Things or National Review. He is not invited to speak at CPAC. He doesn’t get great book deals like Jason Mattera. But he needs to be there when Mattera interviews Madonna.

Or, we can just look like idiots.

Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.