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Small Talk: Justin Bieber is pop culture’s latest victim

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Justin Bieber’s DUI sparked nearly universal anger, but the reaction sounds like an old story with a new protagonist


Small Talk with James Wendt

By Opinions Editor James Wendt

Let me preface by stating that I did not give a rip about Justin Bieber until earlier this week. While my concern for his well-being is about as strong as it would be for a hamster, it is stronger than I suspect it will be at any other time in my life.

An interesting double standard exists in Americans’ tendency to protect from media fire true abusers like Chris Brown, R. Kelly, Woody Allen and others like them, but then leap at the throats of the individuals in the limelight who display self-destructive qualities.

I chose to investigate the latter. The generally aggressive reaction to Bieber’s recent DUI is very telling about the climate of our popular culture. We love to build celebrities up and cheer for them in their success. Then, we sadistically slash them down and watch them burn.

Celebrity idolization is engrained in the way Americans consume media. We place celebrities on pedestals. We grant them popularity and subsequently connect ourselves to well-known individuals and derive our sense of purpose through them. Then, those millions of dollars, iTunes downloads, and ticket sales communicate to the famous individual that he is superior to the masses: because the masses themselves believe it. Being repeatedly told that he is the best, Bieber’s psyche became inflated with overconfidence. His reckless actions reflected his sense of invincibility. He acted the way we conditioned him to — as if he were untouchable. Growing up like that can be devastating to development. Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes, and arguably Miley Cryus are some of those whose adolescences fell victim to Fame.

Not to mention, we demand perfection and inhuman poise in our media heroes.  Despite the elevated status afforded to celebrities, they are people and humans the same as we are. As such, they make mistakes. One of the differences between the famous and the general public is the standard to which they are held. We champion people in the public eye, but only as long as they behave like the demigods we expect them to. Unlike regular people, they are not allowed to display humanity. Additionally, their mishaps are subject to universal scrutiny. The mistakes that we imagine celebrities are incapable of are further amplified by global visibility. 

Finally, we tear them down and complete the cycle of celebrity idolization. As a society, when we discover that the people we have come to value are actually imperfect, we waste no time reminding the world of it. We crucify the celebrities we built because of the perceived power over these individuals that we once celebrated. While I absolutely do not condone drunk driving, the public shaming of Justin Bieber is grotesque. When he displayed true humanness, we condemned him. The reality is, everyone makes mistakes. Even terrible ones. Criticizing someone else doesn’t absolve you of your sins. Unless you are perfect, how can you criticize someone else’s imperfections?

Justin Bieber is a perfect example of how Americans consume pop culture. We build heroes to tear them down. We manufacture success and dominate the market in destruction. We proclaim power over the very gods we helped create and deliver ourselves artificial power. I’m afraid breaking the idols we create is simply the American way.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Small Talk: Justin Bieber is pop culture’s latest victim”

  1. Hannah Novak on March 11th, 2014 9:50 pm

    While I also don’t care at all about Bieber, I agree that America needs to change its attitude towards celebrities. I think if we paid them less attention in the first place, everyone would be better off.


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Small Talk: Justin Bieber is pop culture’s latest victim