Mark Tapson

In 2007, singer Nelly Furtado collected a cool $1 million for crooning at a private function for family members of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Last week, with the lunatic Gaddafi making daily headlines for brutally repressing his own people and with Obama finally condemning him, Furtado no doubt felt it best to publicly distance herself from the Libyan megalomaniac, and she donated the whopping fee to charity.

In the immediate wake of Furtado’s self-imposed penance, megastar Beyoncé announced that she too has washed her hands of the $1 million she earned while strutting her bootylicious stuff for the Gaddafis at a 2009 party in St. Barts. Her publicist claims that the singer quietly donated the money over a year ago for earthquake relief in Haiti, after learning of the Gaddafis’ involvement. I take her at her word, but considering the timing of the announcement, it’s tempting to wonder if Beyoncé isn’t simply hastily covering her tracks to avoid embarrassment.

In any case, Mariah Carey, Usher, Lionel Richie and apparently more artists also performed for Gaddafi and/or his sons in recent years, but have not yet offered to divest themselves of the massive fees they received (although Carey now has announced that she “feels horrible and embarrassed” and plans to donate royalties from an upcoming song). Some in the entertainment biz are saying they shouldn’t even have to; Randy Phillips, the CEO of AEG Live, says giving up the tainted megabucks from the Gaddafi gigs sends the wrong message: it would be “as if they were admitting to doing something wrong.”

Except that they were doing something wrong. It is quite simply willful blindness to claim that there is no moral dimension in the choice to perform privately for a monster like Gaddafi, and in being paid exorbitantly from funds no doubt stolen from his own people, or misappropriated from foreign aid or dirty deals. What sends the wrong message, to paraphrase Phillips, is when obscenely wealthy superstars like Lionel Richie, who certainly don’t need the money, don’t take a public and moral stand against the enemies of America.

Dennis Arfa, president of Artists Group International, might acknowledge that point but still reaches for excuses. Referring to criticism of past private performances, he says, “You can't use today's current events to say what you should or shouldn't have done six months ago. That's not a fair rule.”

Mark Tapson

Mark Tapson is a screenwriter who writes about the intersection of Hollywood and terrorism.