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Neil Young and the problem with celebrity

By in Opinions


Whether you love or hate Neil Young, over the past few weeks the Canadian musician has undoubtedly completed his goal of raising awareness for both the environment and First Nations treaty rights. Even so, I disagree with some of his commentary.

Young’s well-intentioned but misguided Honour the Treaties concert tour has experienced sold out shows and unbridled media attention. It has once again brought the controversial topic of the oilsands to the forefront of the Canadian psyche, as well as to the front page of national newspapers.

There are very few topics unique to Canada that are as divisive as the development of the oilsands. It seems that every Canadian has an opinion — whether the development of the oilsands should be permitted, to what degree they should be developed and whether or not the companies or governmental bodies in charge of regulating these areas have done their due diligence to name a few.

At the moment, no individual has the nation’s attention quite like Young. But all of the music awards he has won mean nothing when compared to his criticism of the oilsands.

I have great respect for Young, but I cannot support his position on the oilsands. Though Young may argue that he is not on an “anti-tar-sands crusade,” his hyperbolic statements prove otherwise.

His most recent and most controversial statement compared the oilsands area of Fort McMurray, Alta. to the remnants of Hiroshima after the explosion of the Little-Boy atomic bomb. This stance not only gave his critics more fuel to fight his statements but also discredited any type of rational argument he may have presented.

Well-intentioned as he may be, Young’s statements are at best controversial propaganda for a movement which has been gaining traction over the last few years and at worst are an affront to any reasonable Canadian.

As an oilsands development area, Fort McMurray is a project which has many pros and many cons. To say that the oilsands have had no negative effects on the environment is false. However, to compare an environmental disturbance to an event which took the lives of 135,000 people is not just poisonous to Young’s campaign but also hurts any valid criticism of the oilsands that he may present.

His comments have not hurt his movement, however, and have likely drawn more followers and attention to the cause. Young’s celebrity has given him an embedded audience which will believe what he says no matter how hyperbolic his comments may be.

Parallels can be drawn to celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, who claims that childhood vaccinations cause autism and other medical disorders despite having been disproven by scientific research.

McCarthy has her own following of fervent supporters and she has made outlandish statements which would discount her claims to any reasonable person. Nonetheless, it appears as if support for her movement has grown larger in recent years.

Celebrities are great mouthpieces for ideological views and bringing attention to social issues, but they are not always correct.

Young is one such celebrity. His belief and faith in his movement are admirable, but his arguments are invalidated by the audacity of some of his more outlandish statements.

The oilsands are undoubtedly a project which needs to be discussed, but it’s crucial that the conversation remains civil.

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