I’ve spent a lot of time defending Justin Bieber over the past few years. Not because I particularly like his music, and not even because my kids are fans (they aren’t): I defended him because he was a kid, and all kids make mistakes. It’s just that most of them don’t have to make their mistakes with the world watching. The mother in me wanted to protect him.
Then this morning, a Toronto radio station played some clips of his deposition in the lawsuit filed against him after his security allegedly beat up a photographer in Florida. The clips are available on TMZ, if you really want to hear them.
When I heard the clips, I was angry: he was mouthy, belligerent, and just plain bratty. I was driving along, steam coming out of my ears as my train of thought continued. I thought of the videos I’ve seen of him before fame hit, busking on the steps of Stratford’s Avon Theatre. I thought of a segment on “Ellen” several years ago where he went to an elementary school in one of the poorest sections of LA to bring a massive donation of school supplies. No doubt the supplies were sponsored, but what struck me was that he could have gone in, done his good deed and left, but he didn’t: he stayed there with those kids, listened to them, and told them his story. He was visibly moved by that visit.
I thought about a fourteen-year-old kid who put videos of himself singing on YouTube: a kid like a lot of kids, who just wanted to perform, and then I really got angry.
All I could think about was how this child was exploited. The entertainment industry takes people, chews them up and spits them out on a regular basis. It’s a horrible thing for even adults to deal with, but we let them do this to children, and then have the gall to insult those same children when they break down from the pressure.
In those clips that I heard, on top of sounding arrogant, it was fairly clear to me that he was on… something, and a scenario emerged in my mind. A kid, full of energy, explodes into the stratosphere of teen idoldom. This kid, trying to please everyone exhausts himself. Except that now he’s not just a person, he’s an industry: dozens of people’s livelihoods depend on this kid performing concerts, appearing on radio and TV shows and events, being everywhere, and being everything to everyone. His parents, who should be protecting him, are now on his payroll. Are you able to tell your boss to go to his room?
The kid is tired, needs a break, but that can’t happen, because people will lose money. So someone says to him, “Here, just take this to get through this next concert, and then you can have a break.” But there’s always a “just this next” and so the kid keeps taking whatever it is, until he needs something else. Meanwhile, the kid is still being told that they’re the greatest entertainer ever, because as long as the kid believes that, they’re more willing to keep going, so as not to “disappoint the fans.” Lack of judgement, from youth, and from the “something” he’s constantly being handed, makes his ego explode, and he starts acting out, because really, who’s going to stop him?
I’m not saying that this is what happened to Justin Bieber. I have no inside knowledge of his life or career. But really, is it that far-fetched of a scenario? If it didn’t happen to him, it could have happened to Lindsay Lohan, or any other child star whose name later becomes the butt of jokes, a cautionary tale. Apparently we didn’t learn anything from the life and death of Judy Garland.
But we don’t care. We want our pop culture, our entertainment. You can’t have a family movie without the cute kids in it! Preteen girls need the sweet face of their favourite singer to swoon over!
At what point, though, do we say “enough is enough”? When does society as a whole decide that it’s not okay to put a kid on a “worst dressed list” or to stalk them for a picture of them kissing a new girlfriend or boyfriend? When do we say that it’s not okay for a kid to be the sole support for their entire family?
I don’t know the answer, but I wish we’d at least start the conversation.