/ 16 April 2013

Bieber’s ‘belieber’ comment not worth the fuss

Bieber's 'belieber' Comment Not Worth The Fuss

Justin Bieber continued his Paparazzi, Good Decisions and Monkey Shenanigans European tour in fine style this weekend, when he visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. His note in the visitor book – made public by the museum's Facebook team, as they have done with other famous visitors such as, um, Kelly Osbourne – was succinct, and however you slice it, truly heartfelt: "Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber." Wait, what? Yes, really. Oh, Justin, what have ye wrought?

Inevitably, the world has wound its neck all the way out on this "issue". Fact-checkers are still unsure, but many have said this is one of the more self-serving episodes in recent celebrity history. Perez Hilton, purveyor of only the classiest cuts of celebrity meat, has called the note "SHOCKING" (his caps, for emphasis, not mine), "obnoxious" and "disrespectful". In an impeccable bit of branding, the Sun labels it "bizarre" and the New York Daily News sticks with "Unbeliebable!". A spokesperson from Anne Frank House has generously said: "He's a 19-year-old boy taking the effort to come and see the museum, and we'd like to point that out and I think it's quite innocent what he put down." I'm inclined to agree.

Let's look at this in some more detail. The story of Anne Frank is a solemn and sobering one, for sure. Her diary, which she called Kitty, simply and poignantly documents a period of almost unutterable darkness, made all the more terrible when one considers the age of the writer; a 13-year-old girl, at the beginning of what should have been a happy, carefree period. But even in the surrounding horror that marked their time in those cramped quarters, Anne found the time and headspace to write about her crush on a boy, a boy she dreamed about.

Anne wrote of Peter Schiff (sometimes nicknamed "Petel" in her journal): "All day long I've been repeating to myself, 'Oh Petel, my darling, darling Petel' and 'Where can I find help?' I simply have to go on living and praying to God that, if we ever get out of here, Peter's path will cross mine. Once, when father and I were talking about sex, he said I was too young to understand that kind of desire. But I thought I did understand it, and now I'm sure I do. Nothing is as dear to me now as my darling Petel!" Teenagers have changed a hell of a lot in the past 70 years, but some things stay the same: attraction to other young, beautiful people.

Bieber, who started his career as a swoop-haired poppet of 13, sings almost exclusively of these feelings. And relatively smart, engaged, 13-year-old girls from around the world love him for it. Is it outside of the realms of time-travelling possibility that Anne Frank – a smart, inquisitive, ultimately tragic historical figure and, crucially, young – would have enjoyed the musical and sartorial stylings of Justin Bieber? I shouldn't have thought so.

Was Bieber's note at the very least, somewhat inappropriate? Maybe. Could he have written a more grave response, something more in keeping with the seriousness of Anne's fate? Possibly. Was there an adult who could have foreseen the likely backlash such a comment would receive? Undoubtedly (his manager, Scooter Braun, is Jewish). Should you, a megastar, have to be told to be a little thoughtful in your comments, because the world is watching? But Bieber is a teenage pop star, who has lived in a bubble of entitlement since he became a teenager.

Moreover, he's hardly an intellectual heavyweight, filling lulls in his stadium performances with readings from Primo Levi or bell hooks. Remember when he was 16, and Rolling Stone asked him about abortion? His reply: "I really don't believe in abortion. It's like killing a baby." How about in the case of a rape resulting in pregnancy? "Well, I think that's really sad, but everything happens for a reason. I guess I haven't been in that position, so I wouldn't be able to judge that." Yes, 16 is a long way away from 19, but I guess that amounts to three weeks in celeb-land?

Is he too old to be this stupid and insensitive? No doubt. But this is not nearly as bad as some people are making it out to be. I imagine most 19-year-olds would produce surprisingly stupid comments on a daily basis, they're just not recording them in museum guestbooks. "I'm young and I make mistakes," Bieber told US Weekly last month. No shit, Sherlock.© Guardian News and Media 2013