Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a Belieber. (Justin Bieber – Anne Frank museum – April 2013)
I will confess that the initial response to this latest Bieberism was one of cheap moral opprobrium. And any disdainful comment would just become a drop in an ocean of scorn. And some are far more talented and practiced at Juvenalian satire than I. However, as witty and psychological satisfying as satire can be, it very rarely persuades. It merely confirms and hardens pre-existing biases of partisans.
I have written on the lad before. I don’t dislike him. For, how prudent is it to form opinions about another without actually face-to-face off camera encounters? However, in that piece, my resentment is less about him, but what he represents; the extreme dumbing down of mass culture. This brings us to the present topic. Why is Justin Bieber so hated?
As a curmudgeonly middle-aged man, I might be following the traditions of generations of curmudgeonly middle-aged men before me, who complain about the callow fecklessness of contemporary youth. The ‘when I was young syndrome…’ Sometimes however, these complaints are valid. Psyche and sociology professionals, who have a measure for everything, Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) included, suggest a statistically significant increase of measured protagorean self-regard and self-indulgence, over the last quarter century or so. The percentage of those engaging in academic cheating at college/university levels has doubled since first surveys were taken around WW2 to today’s epidemic proportions (80% of students admit). And either store owners have become pathologically paranoiac. Or there is valid reason for them to insist that all high school students park their duffle packs at the front of the store; something unheard of in my youth.
The story of Justin Bieber’s visit to Anne Frank House in Amsterdam follows with stories of widespread ignorance about Anne Frank amongst the teeny-bopper set: to which a witty but harsh tweet was contributed by a local comic, Jason Filiatrault. “Look, say what you want, but Justin Bieber just made 3 million idiots Google ‘Anne Frank’.” The fearful thing is that this ignorance about significant matters is frighteningly evident. In a Japanese car plant, I worked temporarily last year; the Japanese plant manager became flummoxed by one late teen-ager when she didn’t know who won the 2nd World War. There is pervasive evidence and complaint of cultural ignorance, moral reasoning, logic and common sense. What are parents and these public schools teaching nowadays?
The problem with the superficiality and ignorance of this upcoming entitlement generation is that it is unprepared as North America enters into a far more tumultuous period of its history. The economic decline, which has been ongoing for at least 20 years, albeit disguised by a debt-inducing, asset-inflating artificial economy, can no longer be masked or sustained. The extremes of economic disparity, decline in hope of socioeconomic mobility and steady economic, intellectual, moral and social disintegration of the lower classes, is certain to destroy the Horatio Alger mythology that has hitherto sustained the American civil peace. And in America, class war has taken on racial dimensions in these last two federal elections; as an overwhelming white European vote against the reigning President was trumped by an even greater Black, Hispanic and Asian vote.
And it is a fool’s wet dream to believe that the culture wars are going to be quieted. The logic and vitriolic folly of both wings of the philosophical divide ever widens. The sociopolitical schism becomes more disrespectful, uncivil, arrogantly contemptuous, vehement and militant. Add to that the first inklings of a new generational divide as the upcoming youth face the generational theft of their self-centered parents and grandparents. Or the Newtonian counter-reaction of bottom-up masculinism against the prevailing feminist sentiments, which dominate in law, family courts and that culturally gated community, which currently dominates the Commanding Heights of society. The existing gender friction is sure to exacerbate.
It is not national problems, traumas and disasters that bring nations down. Republican Rome endured the Pyrrhic military disasters and decade-long trampling by Hannibal, while the late Empire was easily swarmed by uncouth barbarians, with far less population and resources. It is the moral fortitude, intellectual creativity and wisdom of the people that face these threats that determines the outcome.
And Justin Bieber is the pretty face representative of the intellectual and moral caliber of this upcoming Glee generation.
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The other element of Bieberism lies in the corporate desacralization of our expressions of deepest human yearnings in art and culture. Bieber represents artistic expression as unabashed, undisguised manufactured product with inane ditties, scrupulous attention to snazzy packaging and self-promotion, usually geared toward making adolescent boys hard and adolescent girls wet, for the quick sell.
(A similar desacralization extends into American Churchianity, with industrial strength commoditization of souls through Altar Call assembly lines and their Sinner’s Prayers, Seeker-Sensitive churches and theological debasement of the Christian product in order to disperse it more widely.)
Ultimately, the rage is directed towards these soulless corporate wraiths, who mastermind the cynical exploitation and manipulation of callow, shallow and gullible humanity; in which the message and the medium are tailored by marketing surveys.
A business, its products and modus operandi are invariably extensions of the personality of those who govern it. This is more evident in proprietorships than the diffused corporate structures of large corporations. And although it is more than feasible for a corporate leader to develop a deep and wide array of interests; a super singular dedication, at the expense of all other facets of life, is often required of those who best succeed. In this singular devotion, having undeveloped sensitivities in other aspects, these Babbitts are disinclined to esteem true culture at the expense of basic material considerations.
Thus, plastic wrap personas are prized and promoted. Such who volunteer are highly orchestrated and choreographed flesh and blood holograms, whose every motion and syllable is geared towards maximizing the greatest acclaim. Such hesitate to take on controversial subjects or unpopular positions for fear alienation their market. Such become cultural descendents of Peter Sellers, whose hollow and chameleonic personalities are beholden and transformed to the external environ of shifting opinion.
If there is one strong cultural message that these merchandized cultural icons promulgate, it will be that rags-to-riches story of capitalist success. Bieber is ideal candidate; being raised by a troubled single parent; and who through brilliant personal social media promotion, was able to garner a captive cut of the world market. He represents the face of capitalism; the perversion of the American Dream of 18th Century (and earlier) dreamers; from the good society with concerns for the overall common good to that capitalist bastardization of rags-to-riches individual success.
For many like me, our souls vomit at the inauthenticity and sawdust inanity which occurs when capitalism ceases to be thought of as a, but not exclusive, useful tool for improving the economic lot; and becomes its cultural motif, celebrating itself.
These complaints might be deemed cultural elitism in normal times. However, when the pop productions of this era are significantly debasements from the pop productions of prior eras; at what point, will we call rubbish, rubbish. The aspersion of cultural elitism loses credibility.
However, it should not be thought that statist culturalism is any improvement over its capitalist variant. I have suffered through environmentalist campsite productions, which reduced artistic expression to a public service message and morality play; the type of utility that Plato would place art under in his Republic. I have ruminated on the grandiose sterility of modernist Nazi and Soviet architecture and propagations.
It becomes evident that true culture emanates from those from outside, often from the toiling masses and the suffering. The sophisticated culturati vampires merely embellish with stylistic flourish, the heart-felt longings of those closer to existential realities. The late 19th Century composers, scouring their countryside for nationalist musical motifs, are best example of this dynamic. Or if an artist emerges from the obscurity, he/she finds his/her creative vitality quickly hollowed out and deadened by schmoozing with the vacuous desolation that is our celebrated culturati.
Justin Bieber is hated for what he represents and for what he signifies for our future.