In a crowd of Trekkies, gamers, cosplayers, and people who think The Dark Knight deserves an Oscar, there's not much you can say to incur loss of dignity. "I'm a U2 fan" might work, though.
See, U2 occupy a strange valence these days: Likely the most popular music group in the world, they also might be the most derided. They make too much money (a charge usually leveled at them by upper-middle-class bloggers who've had air-conditioning their whole lives and have never driven anything worse than a Honda Accord); they play shows for tens of thousands of people, which proves they're not "authentic" (rock'n'roll should only be played in small, dirty clubs with shitty equipment, as Elvis and the Beatles intended); and their lead singer won't shut up about how we should help poor people, most of whom aren't white (gross).
Science-fiction fans, however, should love the shit out of U2. Here's why:
They've put on the trippiest, future-shockiest, most technologically advanced rock concerts to date. The U2 most people make fun of seems to be the U2 of the 1980s, when Bono first started shouting about Africa, or the U2 of the 2000s, when he started actually working directly with high-ranking politicians on solving third-world poverty. The U2 of the '90s, arguably their artistically richest period to date, is conveniently forgotten. But find a DVD of 1993's Zoo TV show in Sydney — the concept of which was inspired in part by William Gibson's Neuromancer, as well as Marshall McLuhan and other futurists — and then tell me today's other musicians, a decade and a half later, couldn't be a teensy bit more adventurous when it comes to the concert experience. Beyond all the bells and whistles, the band also took advantage of satellite link-ups to broadcast live footage of war victims trapped in Sarajevo speaking to the rest of Europe in the middle of some shows; it was a controversial move — "like throwing a bucket of cold water over everybody," as drummer Larry Mullen Jr. put it — but a courageous one, and it presaged the present phenomenon of bloggers in war zones getting the word out about what's really happening in their countries.
(Their next tour, the PopMart show in '97-'98, was almost as techy, and featured a 40-foot-tall disco-ball lemon — from which the band emerged, UFO-style — rolling out at the start of the encore. A few times, the lemon didn't, uh, work.)
They make great science-fiction music. Hey, I love Queen as much as the next guy, assuming the next guy is, like, an average-level Queen fan and not someone who owns their entire discography. And the soundtracks to Flash Gordon and Highlander are inimitable and fitting. But they're campy, too, and tough to take seriously removed from the video they accompany.
Not so with U2's contribution to the SF canon: "Until the End of the World," an Achtung Baby song that appears in a different, possibly better mix on the soundtrack of the Wim Wenders film of the same name. The Tomb Raider remix of "Elevation." "Alex Descends Into Hell for a Bottle of Milk/Korova 1," a B-side that is the only piece of work to surface from the opera of A Clockwork Orange that Bono and the Edge were commissioned to write. And the whole album the band wrote with Brian Eno as a soundtrack to films that didn't exist. Not to mention the Edge's theme to the WB's The Batman cartoon, which was better than a lot of the actual episodes; and of course, "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me," the only good thing, some would say, to come out of Batman Forever. (The animated video is fucking marvelous.) That song manages to be both take-seriouslyable and campy, and if U2 can approach its quality with the upcoming Spider-Man musical — well, that bodes well for those of us who'd like to see Peter Parker redeemed after the last movie.
They, like, believe in shit. "Of science and the human heart," Bono sings on "Miracle Drug," "there is no limit...Love and logic keep us clear / Reason is on our side." So many SF stories, even the darkest ones, hinge on the notion that slowly but surely, we can do better, as individuals and as a species. Yep, it's corny, and Bono and the rest of the band's problem is that it's even cornier in real life than it is when, say, Captain Kirk or Picard says it. But the corniness, I submit, is an illogical response: We hear about so many failed plans and failed people — not because they're the norm, but because they're not — that our knee-jerk response is to assume that no one, especially not a multimillionaire rock star, could actually be genuinely committed to making the world a better place.
Yet all of us, I bet, know some people — and may even be those people — who really do want to leave things better than we found them. Statistically, how could there not be some celebrities like that, too? And the facts available indicate that, while they're far from perfect (and readily admit as much), U2 truly do try to use their powers for good.
And they will keep you in schwag forever. I bitched about all the schwag at Comic Con last week, but the truth is that if you replaced Martian Manhunter action figures and Halo Wars postcards with old 45s and posters, I'd look like a terrible hypocrite. Yes, I've dropped a lot of money I didn't have on U2 vinyl LPs. And vinyl EPs. And cassingles. And promo CDs. And foreign versions of albums I already owned. And remastered reissues of albums I already owned. And at least one comic book. No, two. And maybe a Pez dispenser.
And I have barely begun to scratch the surface. There are fans out there whose collections would destroy mine, who probably have entire rooms devoted to U2, instead of just a box in my parents' basement. And this is something my wife needs to understand when she is on the verge of stabbing me just because I spent $70 on a simple super-deluxe limited-edition box set version of their new album. It could be worse, honey — there are people out there who are buying all five versions.
So, anyway, if you need more shit in your life that you can't take out of the box or touch, and may or may not be able to move on eBay for what you paid for it, should your child ever need expensive surgery, there's that, too.
Commenter Moff's real name is Josh Wimmer, and he can usually be found at scribblescribblescribble.com/blog.