Elton John wears many hats (and wigs). He's a musician, philanthropist, celebrity, and husband. But he's never been a father, even when he was married to a woman.
The pianist, known as "Sharon" to his mates, has achieved absurd fame and obscene wealth – but he has never changed a nappy at 5am, soothed a toddler's nightmare-addled mind, or had morning sex interrupted by an off-key rendition of Eensy-Weensy Spider.
What a surprise, then, to read this morning's headlines: "Ukrainian orphan steals Elton's heart". Performing for an HIV/AIDS charity at an orphanage in Ukraine, Elton met Lev, a 14-month-old boy. The superstar had always thought his age and performer's lifestyle precluded parenthood. "But having seen Lev today, I would love to adopt him," Elton later told a press conference. "I don't know how we do that, but he has stolen my heart."
For many, this might smack of exploitation or conceit: another rich, white celebrity shopping for kids in poor countries. While without the obvious post-colonial pathologies of Africa, Ukraine is certainly not a first-world state. According to the World Bank, its 2008 GNI per capita was $US3210, compared to $US45,390 in Elton's UK. The Ukrainians suffered extensively under Stalin, and significant parts of the country were poisoned by the Chernobyl disaster. Men's life expectancy is only 62 – Elton's age. It's a weakened nation, where financial influence and media clout go a long way. Elton might not be exchanging Lev for an iPod a la Bruno, but he's certainly swapping platinum albums for power.
Yet this is equally an argument for adoption; for power put to good ends. Even if riddled with ignorance or arrogance, it's more than many Australians do for the far-away, invisible kids of the world. For one boy, it's a precious, potent chance to avoid poverty and dispossession. A triumph, perhaps – but a small one.
And this is precisely why superstar adoptions should grate on us. Not because of Elton's sexuality, or profligacy with expensive toupees. It's because they expose life's obscene tangle of opportunity and deprivation. They reveal our own complicity. Even as we lament overseas squalor, we benefit from it: from cheap labour and resources, and "flexible" environmental laws. With their poisoned soil and failing hospitals, the Ukraines of the world keep our infrastructure strong, our bushland pristine.
When we see celebrities like Elton John planning adoption, it should prick us with this sharp reality: next to Ukraine, we're all Elton. We might not have his £75 million, but we've money, goods and chances most Ukrainians can't fathom.
This is why I've no grand condemnation of Elton's announcement, particularly so early. His parenthood plans might be muddled – but everyone's are, before sweet insomnia and marvelous insanity. I'm less worried about this self-described "talentless old queen who can't sing", and more about my own privilege. Who have I helped? What have I sacrificed? I'll not allow celebrity to distract me from my own hypocrisy.
Dr Damon Young is a philosopher and author of Distraction: A Philosopher's Guide to Being Free.
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