About a decade ago I hosted a public interview with the film-maker Julien Temple about his Joe Strummer documentary. Obeying article 5 of the EU Rockumentary directive, Temple had made sure to include the obligatory talking heads with Bono in the film.
The first time the U2 singer was mentioned, there was a mutter. At the second reference, the mob's hubbub was sufficiently aggressive to suggest flaming torches were in preparation. "God, you really hate this guy here. Don't you?" the English director said. "What the hell is the problem?"
Let's not pretend this is all to do with the largely imagined Irish taste for "begrudgery". Nobody would have muttered much at the mention of Seamus Heaney or Saoirse Ronan.
There is just something in particular about this spec-wearing, doggerel-spouting rock dinosaur that aggravates the masses. Bono is so righteous. He is so baroque. Even his efforts at self-parody (U2’s giant-lemon era springs to mind) play out on a scale that suggests an unstoppable addiction to the messianic gesture.
Endless foreign adulation further irritates the home crowd. Queen Elizabeth awarded him an honorary knighthood. He has shared Time's Person of the Year gong. Now, he has been made a woman of the year. The Fields Medal for mathematics must surely be next. I wouldn't rule out a win at Crufts. Category errors mean nothing to attendees at the court of Lord Bono.
First man of the year
Let us clarify. The specific entry in Glamour magazine announces that Bono has become the magazine's "first man of the year". But the heading remains unaltered from previous years. It says: "Glamour Women of the Year". So, their first man of the year is among their women of the year. A glance at Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus should clarify any apparent ambiguities.
Disappointingly for the campaign to make the Finglas dynamo an intergalactic laughingstock, the magazine is not suggesting that Bono is among the most glamorous women of the year. That would be too delicious.
Though he has moved on from the mullet atrocities of the mid-1980s and the Eurotrash pimp experiments of the Achtung Baby era, nobody is likely to confuse Bono with Alicia Vikander. (Or do I mean Tom Ford? This is just so confusing.) The current look is no more glamorous than that of senior attendees at Birmingham's Annual Adhesive Convention.
The citation recognises achievements on behalf of women throughout the world. Other honourees include a young Iraqi woman who was kidnapped by Isis, the athlete Simone Biles, the anonymous victim in the Stanford rape case, and three founders of the #blacklivesmatter movement.
Bono has received the nod for various campaigns aimed at lifting women from poverty and forwarding gender equality. "He's one of the most outspoken and effective advocates for women and girls I know," explained Melinda Gates, the tireless philanthropist.
“I’m sure I don’t deserve it,” Bono responded. “But I’m grateful for this award as a chance to say the battle for gender equality can’t be won unless men lead it along with women.”
Worked his arse off
In all such conversations, it is essential to clarify that Bono deserves proper respect for his efforts on behalf of good causes. Once he became a rock star, he could easily have bought a trout farm, taken up cocaine abuse and spent his evenings driving Aston Martins into swimming pools. Instead, he has stayed married to the same woman, helped raise four children and worked his arse off for people less fortunate than himself.
True, most of us have not forced every iTunes user to download our latest dreary dad-rock LP. But I’m betting we have done less to alleviate Third World debt.
None of this solves the problem here. How can I put this delicately? Bono is not a woman. He’s a man. We have come to view gender more flexibly in recent decades, but when somebody is born as a bloody man and identifies as a bloody man then we can say, without much fear of contradiction, that he’s a bloody man.
Glamour has unleashed a cheap gimmick that columns such as this have swallowed unquestioningly (until this sentence, at least). In no previous year has anybody paid much attention to these awards. Now idiotic Men's Rights Activists have a precedent whenever they argue that female-skewed awards and events are as sexist as things that are actually sexist.
Bono deserves no blame for this. He said he didn’t deserve the thing and it would have been rude to turn it down. Sadly for him, the story will become another arrow in the quiver of those who so enjoy assaulting the public persona.
"What the hell is the problem?" Julien Temple might ask again today. "He thinks he's a bleeding woman now!" the mob shouts back.
He doesn’t really.