Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Belieb it or not

As Amsterdam tourists do,  Justin Bieber paid a visit to the Anne Frank House on his recent trip to that city.

In the House’s guestbook, Bieber famously – since everything Master Bieber does is done famously – wrote:

“Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber."

Generally, what people write in guestbooks stays in guestbook, and are read only by the folks who put their comments on the same page, and/or by obsessives who flip through a bunch of pages to see a) where guestbook signers are from, and b) whether it’s possible that anyone ever wrote anything interesting in a guestbook.

I’ve been to the Anne Frank House, and I suppose I signed the guestbook – maybe just my name and “Boston”, maybe with something fascinating, profound, revealing. Like “lest we forget.” Or “never again.” Or “I am moved beyond words.” Which I was: The airless rooms. The thin curtains. The thought of these families locked in together, in fear, in danger for so many years. The picture still tacked to the wall – was it of a movie star? I’ve forgotten. But I do remember that Anne avidly read movie magazines.

My first thought on reading Bieber’s note was ‘what a vacuous, narcissistic twit.’ Hey, I’m at the house of Anne Frank – whoever she was; some girl who kept a diary that my fans read? – because my peeps thought it would be good publicity. Might as well make the most of it.

Callow youth, I told myself. Shallow youth.

What would you expect from someone with little by way of education, surrounded by handlers, unlikely to have any true friends or many people who want to be with him “for himself” – whatever “himself” means beyond being a mega-bucked teen idol who likes $$$ cars and has millions of fans – 37 Twitter followers! – for whom hallowed be his name.

The rest of the world, of course, heaped right on: callow, shallow, narcissist, twit…

But then I started to think about just what Bieber had written, and to ask myself just what was so terrible about it.

“Truly inspiring to be able to come here.”

So maybe he wasn’t the one who initiated the visit. Maybe it wasn’t his idea. Maybe it’s all part of crafting his image.

But maybe before he was discovered, he actually read the book. Or at least saw the movie.

Let’s face it. Except for the hardest of hard-hearts, the Anne Frank House is – well, maybe I would have used the word moving, or heart-breaking – inspiring.

“Anne was a great girl.”

Okay, “great” may seem a bit breezy, but, from what I can tell, she was a great girl, with a lively mind and a good heart. She was also a real girl. She fought with her sister. She had a crush on Peter. She was moody. She didn’t get along with her mother. She liked her father a lot better. She hated being cooped up. She got her period. She had a sense of humor. She had hopes for a better world.

What is it that most of us say about the kids we know and love?

I don’t know about you, but there’s been plenty of times when I’ve said she’s a great girl, or guy, or kid, about someone.

“Hopefully she would have been a belieber."

Admittedly, this is a tad sell-centered and, thus, somewhat clumsy. Maybe he should have written: how awful that she didn’t get to experience what other girls her age did. Or how tragic that she and so many other great girls and boys never got to grow up. But what’s wrong with wishing that a kid who should have been able to be just a kid actually got to be just a kid?

Who doesn’t want a world where kids get to be kids, and not worried about being hunted down by Nazis (or blown up by terrorists)?

Maybe she would have been a belieber of her day, the Dutch equivalent of a Frank Sinatra-swooning bobby-soxer. Maybe she would have been a snob, looking down her nose at pop-culture and rolling her eyes when her friends went nuts over the Dutch equivalent of the Tommy Dorsey Band, while secretly admitting that Benny Goodman played a mean clarinet.

“It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

That’s Anne Frank, by the way, not Justin Bieber.

I’m not a belieber, but, belieb it or not, I’m giving him a pass on this one.

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