In spite of everything, I still believe that Justin Bieber is truly good at heart
Bieber might be better at singing songs and making girls swoon than in penning meaningful impressions at the Anne Frank house. But let's give him some credit for going there in the first place.
What has become known as “Biebergate” began when the museum put up a photo of the 19-year old Canadian pop star on its Facebook page with this news flash.
"Yesterday night Justin Bieber visited the Anne Frank House, together with his friends and guards. Fans were waiting outside to see a glimpse of him. He stayed more than an hour in the museum. In our guestbook he wrote: "Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber."
For those of you who have had no contact whatsoever with a pre-teen girl over the past five years, “Belieber” is the code name for a die-hard fan of the boy-faced music sensation, who got his start on YouTube.
Justin wrote in the book after a private visit to Anne Frank house in the middle of a European tour. He stopped by the Anne Frank House between his concert in Antwerp, Belgium, and his performance in Arnhem, Netherlands.
It was only minutes before the Facebook post exploded across the Internet with some really nasty criticism and commentary on the insensitive and egomaniacal qualities that would have led someone to come away from a visit with such an observation.
Here's a sample of the comments on the Anne Frank House page:
• "What a self-indulgent little prick."
• "Oh no! Anne Frank is way too smart, to get brainwashed by Bieber's FAKE fame and arrogance. He's nothing but a talentless, egotistical, puker!"
• "I suppose his next stop is Berlin where he will re-enact JFK's famous "Ich bin ein Belieber" speech!"
• "Really? Putting in your own trivialized moniker belieber on one of most important figures of the 1940's. Someone needs to teach this kid to properly address certain topics with a professional attitude."
• "How does he manage to think about his own fame and success attending a historical place of such tragedy and injustice[?]"
• "I bet Anne Frank is rolling in her grave right now. Such a disrespect to her."
I must confess, when I first heard about what pop idol Justin Bieber wrote in the guest book at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, I, like the other denizens of the Internet who heard about it, reacted with shock and disdain and let the world know how disgusted I was on social media.
But following my initial eye rolling and sniping, after giving it some thought, I’ve decided that fun as it is to indulge in some nasty ridicule and Bieber-bashing, I don’t really have the heart to go into full outrage mode over what he wrote.
My tendency now is to cut Justin a break. Here are the reasons I forgive him, and why many Israelis, Jews – or anyone – for that matter, might consider doing the same.
1. He went to Anne Frank House in the first place.
Let’s face it. When you are a 19-year-old musical icon making your way across Europe and you have a day off in Amsterdam, there are a lot of things you can do with your time. Visiting the place where a young girl hid from the Nazis during the Holocaust is not at the top of the list. It takes a modicum of awareness, sensitivity and respect on Bieber’s part – or at least on the part of those whom he entrusts with his travel plans – to even bother to stop by. One can’t discount the number of young girls who worshipfully follow his every move. You can bet that by making such a visit, many of these girls will hear about Anne Frank and the Holocaust for the first time, and might even be moved to learn more about her, read her diary, or visit the house if they ever travel to Amsterdam.
2. He may have been clueless, but he clearly meant well.
OK, so Justin didn’t phrase it well at all and if you take his remark literally, the chronology makes no sense. Anne Frank died 68 years ago. He obviously didn’t exist back then, and if she had been alive today, she would have been a great-grandmother of a Belieber, not one herself. But I get what he meant.
One of the reasons that Anne Frank grabbed hold of the international consciousness through her diary – and the reason it became one of the ways young people are first introduced to the Holocaust – is that she is a figure to whom everyone can relate. She was a teenager with typical hopes, dreams, and yes, obsessions with celebrities and pop stars. One of the details that made her so endearing to youth is the collage of movie stars she kept in her tiny corner of her family's hiding place. True, most of her Hollywood idols were leading leadies, movie star role models Anne fantasized of becoming one day – Greta Garbo, Ginger Rogers, Deanna Durbin, and Merle Oberon.
I’m willing to give Justin the benefit of the doubt and interpret his words to mean that Anne Frank reminded him of the millions of typical teenager girls who make up his following and that this was not an orgy of stroking his own ego that he is being charged with.
3. He’s built up some cred as far as Israel and Holocaust sensitivity goes.
In April 2011, Justin Bieber came to Israel and played to 35,000 ecstatic local teenage fans. Some countries can take this for granted; Israel shouldn’t. There’s a clear tendency of many artists to only include Israel in their third or fourth round of world tours, often when they are past their prime, and there are many who wait to do it until they are senior citizens – Leonard Cohen, Paul McCartney, and coming soon, Barbra Streisand and Cliff Richard. While we’re happy that they come at all, we also ask, “what took you so long?”
Like any artist who plays Israel, Bieber ignored the calls for him to boycott. And during his concert, he gave a special shout-out to the Israeli grandmother of his manager Scooter Braun onstage and introduced her to his fans. (One can pretty much assume that it was the influence of Braun that brought Bieber to the Anne Frank House in the first place.)
4. We should listen to Anne Frank, who kept faith that people are truly good at heart.
Okay, so maybe not ALL people. Anne’s fate wouldn’t have been so tragic if there weren’t some thoroughly evil people in the world. But maybe precisely because we live in a world where there is a lot of true antagonism and hatred, including plenty of hatred towards Jews, who am I to come down hard on a 19-year-old kid who said something stupid while attempting to do a good thing? Yes, Bieber lives in a crazy bubble that is the result of his dizzying success at such a young age. Yes, he said something that wasn’t the smartest or most perceptive or sensitive of remarks. But implying that the Holocaust icon would have had Bieber Fever if she had been a teenage girl today was not made with any intention to cause harm or hurt anybody, either. He is one of the people who, I think, as Anne believed – is truly good at heart.