Distraction Campby Brandon Edmonds / 08.05.2013
Tellingly, the Beliebers hoping for a glimpse of their corporate-vetted orgasmic construct, their own swoonsome King Joffrey, the tween emperor Justinian, outside the eye-wateringly expensive One & Only hotel at the V&A waterfront, get the lyrics wrong. The song they get wrong is ‘Beauty & A Beat’, the third single off Believe, Bieber’s I’m-a-big-boy-now 2012 release, post-high school graduation nogal, which proves his maturing gravitas by letting slip he’s into post-coital fondue, like Gene Hackman in the great, downbeat 70s thriller “Night Moves” – a movie that introduces us to a dangerously nubile Melanie Griffiths, playing sixteen, who casually sleeps around. She’s too broken and precociously wise to have ever been a Belieber. Anne Frank, on the other hand, terrified, bewildered, hounded by genocidal SS, is far more likely to have given herself to the cult of Baby, Baby. You need never to have known a man to worship a boy. Bieber infamously, hilariously wrote in the guestbook of Anne Frank House in Amsterdam recently: boy she sure seemed like “a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.”
There are two reasons a kid would say a dumb, showy, hubristic thing like that. One, they’re living with a very limited relation to reality, exclusively their own, wherein nothing that affords perspective or objectivity is allowed to burst the bubble. This is called being very famous. You lose touch with stuff like other people’s feelings, restraint, the social present, and the public past. It really is all about you all the time. That’s why so many celebrity reality-shows feel redundant and claustrophobic and off-putting. You long for someone to open the curtains and say wow get over yourself. There is nothing healthy about the loss of normalcy. Ask Faust. With an infinite sense of entitlement sustained by a lifestyle peopled by assent, adoration and consent, it is very difficult to ‘get real’ – so you sing about just that, real moments, real connections, real love endlessly. It is precisely what success takes from you: authenticity, the person you remember you were before anyone really gave a fuck about you. Celebrity is tragic. It’s why we tolerate it.
The second reason is the kid knows he’s right. The numbers prove it. Outsized sales, hits, downloads, covers and fans. There is nobody bigger his age. The entertainment-industrial complex has hoisted him onto its shoulders and keeps on dancing him around the globe in triumph. Bieber Reich. Until time passes and we can luxuriate in his inevitable Britney breakdown and decline. The fame monster is as unerring and relentless as the Nazis. Anne Frank, had she been a tween alive today, would most likely have been a Belieber. That’s how exposure works. You get infected.
“I wanna show you all the finer things in life /
So let’s forget about the world beyond tonight”
Is what the local Beliebers outside the One & Only sing.
When the actual lyrics are:
“I wanna show you all the finer things in life /
So just forget about the world we young tonight”
The lyrical re-do reveals that Beliebers are making up the fantasy as they go along. Reality isn’t allowed to interfere with the scenario in their heads. “We young tonight” is too close, for them, as young girls with very little agency or independence, still beholden to the discipline of school and the arbitrary rules of their parents, to the facts, they are too young to really do anything. The passive relationship they have with their idol is the passive relationship they have with their world. Everything, work, love, sex, is deferred to them. As deferred as Bieber himself. The glimpse in the hotel window stands in for all the things that have not yet happened to them. They want to jumpstart their own lives by passing beyond fantasy into reality and actually lay eyes on the physical person of Justin Bieber.
It’s all very touching and beautiful in a way and it’s been happening since the first young woman gave her heart to Jesus or whatever stirring pagan Sun god came before him. Devotion is a way of saying well I don’t care about what I’ve never known or experienced, I’m going to make this being, person, belief, the only thing that matters right now. It can stand-in for all the things I don’t yet know. That way you can pretend you’re not inexperienced by turning the fetish into the only experience worth having. Anne Frank did exactly the same thing by describing and transcribing her immediate reality in the attic. She turned the everyday into a world worth recording. It was a way of disavowing what she would never know: adult life, the ocean, summers with her own children. She was soon discovered and murdered in a concentration camp.
If you really look closely at the ‘Beauty & A Beat’ video, you get a sense of a contemporary concentration camp, a distraction camp, one engineered to capture and hold the attention of Youtube kids Anne’s age. The strain leaches all the fun out of it. It is grim. See how the dancing is strictly choreographed. How events are co-ordinated. It turns a water-park in California into a place of work. A music video gets shot there. This costs money. Everybody from the leads (Minaj & Bieber) to the crew and the extras (rent-a-teen video hotties) are on company time, paid by the hour. What you are watching is work being done. ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ was a chilling sign above the entrance to Auschwitz: labour makes you free.
When the Beliebers changed the lyrics to “so let’s forget about the world beyond tonight” they were labouring to rewrite the script of their own lives, to imagine sleeping with him, to imagine a utopia where they could be together, but they are doing this as white bodies in an actual place, situated in an actual country, with massive social problems, in a world with a complex history of pain and suffering. There is nothing harmless about willing the world away to imagine gratifications that will never come. It is capitalism at work. Not-seeing is Beliebing.