Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I'm gonna play Sun City

In Riverside County, California, in the Perris-Hemet area, there's a retirement community called Sun City. And whenever I think of said retirement community, I think of protesting '80s rockers declaring how they're not gonna play there.

I thought of this when I read this comment from Dan Soschin, in reply to a blog post about Makkal Osai and the Malaysian Indian Congress (the "Jesus cigarette" incident), which was in turn partially sourced by this Dan Soschin post.

Anyway, back to Dan's comment to my post. Here's part of the comment:

No one seems to care either, as Beyonce and Gwen Stefani don't seem to mind compromising their artistic shows to appease an oppressive government. I don't necessarily fault Gwen or [M]iss Knowles, as they probably were unaware of these issues until the last minute, but sometimes the p[u]rsuit of cash is far greater than one's beliefs.

This got me to thinking about Sun City. Was it an effective boycott? Here's what The Christopher Currie said in 1998 about this and other '80s projects:

It's difficult to say how future music historians will consider the "group protest ensembles" of the mid-1980s. While most of the causes were well-intentioned, their actual impact on the problems which they were addressing was often minimal. Despite having gained the highest degree of publicity (by far), the various attempts at providing relief to the famine-afflicted regions Ethiopia were perhaps the least successful of all such projects. Some reports after 1985 place the greatest part of the blame on Ethiopia's revolutionary government, which was frequently hostile to any relief efforts (perhaps because they were using starvation as a strategy of war against enemy groups). The lack of any long term success on the part of most of these projects has greatly contributed to the public perception that they were little more than cheap publicity for the artists involved. This is a sad legacy, but there's more than a bit of truth to it....

This does not mean that all such projects should be dismissed as a decade-old fad, however.

In terms of..."long-term success"..., Sun City compares quite well against other such projects. The project had a specific goal (establishing a boycott of Sun City from the entertainment industry) and a long-term goal (eliminating apartheid from South Africa). While it would be beyond presumptuous to attribute the success of both causes to Little Steven's single, the fact nevertheless remains that growing international pressure did eventually force the government of South Africa to abandon its policies of apartheid in the early 1990s. Whatever South Africa's problems today, its constitutional state is much healthier now than it was ten years ago.

Fast-forward to 2005 and the post-apartheid Sun City, as viewed by Daniel Howden:

The entrance to Sun City is a sharp right-hand turn both from the main road – and reality. The dusty highways beyond are manned by weary young men hawking anything from mobile phones to fruit and nuts. The border, as that's what it feels like, is a set of well-guarded booths and barriers where only paying customers are welcome to pass. The night guard scowls at my driver with the suspicion reserved for someone seeking an undeserved entrance to the promised land. The tickets reluctantly issued are a passport into a different world, not so much at odds with the one outside as wilfully oblivious to it....

By now Sun City welcomes all the colours of the rainbow nation, but the majority of the non-white faces I saw belonged to the legion of workers who keep the resort running....

I'm reminded of the stock excuse rolled out by everyone from Elton John to Queen when asked why they had chosen to shrug off the boycott of South Africa at the height of apartheid and play the resort. They had always done so on the understanding that Sun City wasn't really South Africa anyway. As the towers of the Palace loom large and thoughts turn to the drive back to Johannesburg, I feel I can agree with that much at least.

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Dan Soschin said...

This is a great point and brings up many interesting facets of business versus morals/ethics. What were the motives to play/not play? Potlitical? Financial? Publicity? I can say only one thing:

Each of us has to go to sleep at night with the weight of our decisions on our mind. If you can rest peacefully knowing you compromised your morals and/or ethics - no matter how insubstantial they are - then that is fine. (I'm not saying that is what you are advocating, I'm just playing neutral advocate). In other words, by ourselves we may not affect measurable change, but the sum of the will of many can achieve change. That's what happened in South Africa - it took the will of many. Perhaps of more of us lost sleep at night fretting some of the other ongoing issues in the world, we'd affect more change. If Gwen, Beyonce and everyone else decided not to play, maybe that would snowball into something larger, maybe it would just be publicity... maybe it would be forgotten and related to the blogs...