So, What Are We to Make of Neil Young’s Honour The Treaties Tour?
Good question, if I do say so myself. I’m going to gloss over the rehash of where and when he played, what he said at the news conferences that preceded every show, which of those comments were over the top, and which ones weren’t. If you’ve been following the news even a little over the last several days, you’ll be up to speed on all that.
Instead, I want to focus on the reactions. The reactions say more about the issue of the oil sands than Neil himself did, I think, and they also say a lot about us.
I’m not really concerned about those who blindly, unquestioningly accepted every word Neil Young uttered. Some people are seduced by celebrity. Others were hearing confirmation of what they already believe. Others have been pushing a near-identical message for several years, so it’s no surprise they supported him. I’m more troubled by the reactions of Neil Young’s opponents. In almost every case that I could see, they attacked the critic, not the criticism.
They attacked Neil Young for being a celebrity, a rock star, a geezer, a lightweight. For living out of the country. For being irresponsible, for trash-talking. For being a hypocrite. For having a carbon footprint of his own.
Hands up, everyone in the audience without a carbon footprint. (Pause) As I suspected, no hands.
My point is not that we are all hypocrites. Although we are. Although a more accurate description would be to say we are all compromised. We may not all be celebrity rock stars, but we will all eventually become “geezers”, should we live so long, and, being human, at many points in our lives we will be lightweights. As geezerhood creeps closer, a surprising number of loyal Canadians opt to live outside the country for as much of the winter as they can financially manage. And we all make carbon footprints, no matter how much effort we make to minimize them. Some people, at least, make the effort — and some do not.
Yet here’s the thing. We all get to speak our mind. It says so, right there in the Charter of Rights. There’s no condition on the right to free speech or freedom of assembly that restricts those rights only to those with unblemished lives, with whose lifestyles we agree, or whose opinions don’t make us squirm a little.
You sell a bunch of records, have a hit TV show, or make a blockbuster movie and people will listen to what you say, whether you know what you’re talking about or not. Hell yeah, it’s unfair! But that’s just the way it is. So we would be well advised to get on with the job of crafting a knock-it-out-of-the-park message with which to counter the next celebrity who claims the oil sands are ruining the planet. Because we haven’t developed such a message yet.
I wrote on NewsTalk 770’s website when the Honour The Treaties tour began that if Neil Young’s comments do Alberta harm, it will only be because neither the federal nor provincial governments seem able or willing to do something demonstrable to show the world we’re serious about protecting the environment.
The critics paint a picture of environmental devastation. We respond with talk of jobs created and money made. We call the critics names. And we wonder why our message isn’t getting any traction.