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February 21, 2011
What Justin Bieber and General McChrystal Have in Common
Well, Justin Bieber has lost his political virginity. And it was taken by, of all people, the stoners at Rolling Stone magazine.
Excerpts released from an upcoming interview with the teen star included political statements that, as some reading this will know, have earned him criticism in conservative circles. What fewer in the right-blogosphere may realize, however, is that they also brought him lashing from the left. Attacked from the right, attacked from the left...yikes. Just call him Bill O'Reilly, Jr.
Conservatives noted Bieber's negative comments about the US healthcare system, but is such an opinion really notable? Remember, we're talking about a 16-year-old Canadian pop star here. Far more notable is what raised the ire of the womyn on The (wrong) View and the capons at The New York Times: the singer's views on the left's sacred cow, abortion. As to this, Rolling Stone writes:
Demonstrating an inerrant grasp of the obvious, The New York Times' John Caramanica observes that Bieber's "reply wasn't the clearest or most sophisticated distillation of that position." Well, John, you may have to wait till his voices finishes changing for that.
Now, I'll note that a "sophisticated distillation" of the pro-life position never seems to make it onto the Times' pages, and Caramanica's objection to any distillation of it was apparent in his commentary. He asks, "[W]hat has Mr. Bieber done for [his] fans apart from inspire crushes? Does his music speak to their needs and interests as young girls?" Here's a clue, John: These tweens and barely teens don't have much idea what their needs are as young girls. They just know what they want. And you have no idea about either.
More blunt was The View's very dull Joy Behar, who may be even less qualified to discuss adult matters than Bieber himself. She said that his views were "insulting to people who have been raped" and that she was concerned because he is "influencing young girls." Well, better him than the government schools, anyway.
While I may seem like an unlikely candidate to defend Justin Bieber -- my tastes in music tend more toward Gregorian chants than modern pop -- I find this criticism, both from the left and right, a bit much. Remember that we're talking here about someone who also gave Rolling Stone a quotation worthy of Kids Say the Darndest Things. When asked about what party he'd support were he of voting age, the singer offered a true common-ground reply: "I'm not sure about the parties. But whatever they have in Korea, that's bad." Well, can't argue with that.
Really, one of my first thoughts when I heard about the Stoners' interview with Bieber was, "Where were his handlers?" After all, wading into the stormy waters of politics isn't exactly the best way to sell records.
As for why the Stoners asked a boy not far removed from puberty about hot-button political issues, the interviewer, Vanessa Grigoriadis, insisted that a kid who "has control over a large population should be asked all questions." Well, I'd have to be stoned to believe that. I think Grigoriadis just wanted to capture headlines and attention. And she succeeded.
This is in much the way the Stoners succeeded with their story on General Stanley McChrystal. As you may remember, the general had to resign last year from his position as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after scathing comments he and some of his aides made about the Obama administration appeared in Rolling Stone magazine. (And he deserved it, too. McChrystal is no 16-year-old pop star, but he acted like one. I mean, what kind of naiveté does it take to allow a Stoner reporter to embed with you? Answer: The kind you don't want in a leader of the armed forces.)
But while both Justin and the General fell victim to Stoner ambush, the difference is that Bieber will survive. Caramanica titled his article "Twilight of a Pop Star" and concluded with, "By taking a stand against abortion, Mr. Bieber risks finding out how frail and tenuous that bond [between him and his fans] might be." This is nonsense. Baby-killing isn't generally a top priority with tween girls -- women have to get a bit more "sophisticated" before embracing such ethereal pursuits. Besides, unless Bieber says he likes kicking cats and eating puppies, his 10 to 14-year-old fans will accept whatever he may say.
As for what he said about healthcare, yes, it was silly. And many of the points made in relation to it are valid. It's ridiculous that the Stoners would ask such a person about matters so beyond his depth (of course, it's equally ridiculous that the Stoners are writing about matters so beyond their depth). And we're definitely heading toward Idiocracy when the opinions of Stoners and Behars are treated like they matter. But then there is something else.
Like most politics wonks, when I hear a singer make an inane political statement, one of my first emotional reactions is, "Stick to singing"; this is in the same way that, when seeing biologist Richard Dawkins campaign against religion, one may think, "Stick to science and leave philosophy to philosophers." But it's an unreasonable idea.
When the Illustrated London News hired G.K. Chesterton as a columnist in 1905, the paper said that he could treat anything he wanted except religion and politics. His response was that there was nothing else worth writing about. What he meant was, it may be that singing is just for music lovers, art just for art aficionados and biology just for biologists, but morality/philosophy -- which is at the heart of religion and politics -- isn't just for moral philosophers. Whether our craft is music, science, medicine, law or plumbing, we cannot do it and our fellow man justice unless we are moral people. And we cannot become a moral society by avoiding discussion of morality.
This is why we can never get away from the only two issues worth talking about. We have the injunction, "Never discuss religion or politics," but it is a prescription for superficiality. Properly interpreted, it means "Never discuss anything of importance."
So my advice to the Justin Biebers of the world is, by all means, concern yourselves with what really matters. But as ancient sage Confucius said, "Wisdom is, when you know something, knowing that you know it, and when you do not know something, knowing that you do not know it." Seek Truth before seeking an audience.