Tom Petty and the Super Bowl: Rock & Roll Rebellion Gone Flat?
An Open Letter to Tom Petty
by Paul Dean / February 1st, 2008
Dear Tom Petty folks,
I am a musician, writer and political activist, and a longtime Tom Petty fan. I am writing to tell you that I am very distressed by the fact that Tom is planning to perform at the Super Bowl this Sunday. The biggest cause of this distress is the fact that the main sponsor of the half-time event is, as I am sure you are aware, Bridgestone/Firestone. Perhaps you are unaware that Bridgestone/Firestone operates the largest rubber plantation in the world in Liberia, where it has employed child labor for much, if not all, of the past 82 years. Currently, workers there receive as pay the equivalent of $3.19 per day. Most live in company housing with no running water, in buildings that have not been renovated since they were constructed in 1926. The workers (and their families) are routinely exposed to toxic chemicals. Recent attempts at unionization have been brutally suppressed by police, in violation of internationally recognized labor and human rights.
Of course, Bridgestone/Firestone, the largest tire manufacturer in the world, is looking to raise its visibility and improve its image with the American public. I can hardly believe that Mr. Petty would participate in this effort by lending his name and talent in support of this despicable corporate misbehavior if he were to be made aware of the issues involved.
Mr. Petty has been (to this point) associated in my mind with rebels, rock and roll, and also loosely with a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood that emerged from the activism and camaraderie of the global peace, justice and solidarity movement of the 1960s and ’70s. But his association with Bridgestone/Firestone and scheduled participation in this Super Bowl is giving me a new impression.
I know there is a great deal of money to be made from exposure to such a mass audience, but at what cost? I am willing to assume that lending tacit support to the brutal exploitation of the labor of desperate people trying to make a decent life for themselves is not something that Mr. Petty would support were he to be made aware of the extensively documented antisocial and brutal behavior of his corporate sponsor.
Here are just a couple of links. Please take a moment to review this material:
* “Super Bowl of Shame” (by Jamie Menutis, Foreign Policy in Focus, 1/28/08)
* “Stopping Firestone: Getting Rubber to Meet the Road” (by Roxanne Lawson and Tim Newman, Foreign Policy in Focus, 12/7/06)
I would very much appreciate it if you would pass this message, these links, or a synopsis of this plea to Mr. Petty.
Actions, they say, always speak louder than words, or song lyrics, or images of rock and roll rebellion. I really don’t want to believe that Mr. Petty values money and career advancement over the lives and welfare of children in Liberia, or of working people anywhere. That is why I have taken the time to try and make Tom Petty and your entire organization aware of the harsh realities that these desperate workers and their families face at the hands of the folks at Bridgestone/Firestone.
To my way of thinking, a rock and roll hero that knowingly lends a hand (or his good name) to corporate abusers is no hero at all, and deserves to have his image adjusted accordingly.
Unquestionably, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers would receive a career boost from exposure to a huge Super Bowl audience. I cannot help thinking, though, that their legacy would be better served if Petty were to announce his intention to back out of participation in the Super Bowl in order to better stand for principle over profit. That would be my idea of an action worthy of a respectable rock icon.
Thanks for your time and consideration,
Paul Dean is a composer and bassist with the band Blusion, whose music is described as “a remarkably unmarketable blend of jazz, funk, hip-hop, blues, salsa, rock, vocal and instrumental music.” Blusion exists “to serve as a warning to all those who would perhaps otherwise be tempted to attempt something new and different. We starve so that others may live.” Paul can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.