Oh, the perils of transitioning from a teenybopper pop idol, to a renegade RnB-lite heartthrob: a lesson Justin Bieber is learning, overlooking and, subsequently, re-learning every day at present.
In Bieber’s defence (a phrase I never imagined I would ever employ except if under duress) it’s no mean feat to be embroiled in seemingly every scandal going – from Bart Simpson-esque egging, alleged assault and brothel-creeping, to stripper-nipple-nibbling and drink-and-drug-fuelled drag races – and still have the time to release a new music video, just to cement one’s place as an idol of the Internet-Age.
Nay, it’s no mean feat – nor easy task – to be, quite simply, an idol in the Internet-Age.
In spite of all the splendid perks (fame, fortune, freebies and enough eggs to cause approximately $20,000-worth of damage), what Bieber’s recent transgressions highlight are the sordid lows and high stakes that come with being a latter-day object of idolatry, in tandem with the effects the Internet-Age has come to have on the idolist, as well as on the idolised.
Contrary to many a social-media-spun report, at the time of his now infamous drag race induced arrest, Bieber’s blood-alcohol content was below .08% i.e. too low to classify him as intoxicated, officially. However, the fact still remains that marijuana and Xanax were both found in his system. Whereas many would gleefully zero in on the ganja, I’m far more interested in the latter drug.
XANAX is a psychoactive prescription drug, normally taken to alleviate anxiety. Bieber, at just-turned twenty, is almost as old (or just as young) as the digital medium (blogging) that helped instate him as part of a pantheon to today’s hormonal pre-teens. Bieber is also, evidently, just as susceptible to the psychological and social pressures connoted with the average citizen his age, as any other average citizen his age. In the US, one in four adults suffer from a mental illness over the course of any given year, with anxiety disorders being the most common and affecting almost one-fifth of the US’ adult population. Having millions in the bank, and enough rabid fans to invade a small nation, does not alter this fact.
A few of the many things Bieber needs most right now do not include an incessant outpouring of frenzied admiration and blind support from his Beliebers; they do, however, include a sizeable dose of tough-love, support from those who actually know him (and care about his health and wellbeing, not his wealth and hell-raising) and some time away from the media circus. But respites aren’t even in the small print of the figurative job description of Internet-Age Idol; we idolists are insatiable, and our inability to be sated is only fomented by the constant slew of information, ideas and images the Internet exposes us to. Consequently, we are becoming more detached and divided as we become, apparently, more connected: fandoms are becoming more fractured; trolls no longer reside under bridges in fairytales; girls and boys, some barely into their teenage years, are taking their lives after being immersed in a “toxic” quasi-world laden with cyber bullying and self-harm.
And so it seems the Internet – formerly a “place” to escape to – is turning into a place to escape from.
My older sister has pictures of her rather unlikely trinity of idols – Nelson Mandela, Columbo and Roger The Alien (à la American Dad) – plastered across her bedroom wall, just above her desk. My older sister is twenty-seven going on seven. My older sister is, ostensibly, insane. But I think she may be on to something.
The Internet is a beautiful, brilliant, bonkers thing, but to free ourselves – idols and idolists, alike – from the cyclic oppression of the Internet-Age, we must learn to respect the boundaries between the real, the fantastical, the virtual and the digital. For us idolists, it’s no good to believe the absolute blurring of the bounds between Reddit and real-life can ever be a good thing; it’s no good to invest so much of one’s hopes and dreams into another just as flawed, to the point where they are merely a projection of one’s biased belief of who they should be. And for the idols, it’s no good to believe that such a degree of celebrity is in any way, shape or form normal and does not have repercussions or resonance beyond one’s own inner circle.
My sister hasn’t sent irate death threats to those who have maligned and mocked the late South African freedom-fighter – let alone those who interned and abused him; she hasn’t learnt the plotlines of the super-sleuth’s series by rote; and she hasn’t set up a Tumblr to celebrate the unabashed lunacy of an animated extraterrestrial – nor has she any plans to do any of the aforesaid. As much as she loves the trio, my sister has also learnt to love and inhabit her own world, not forge one solely around them.
Bieber may have a lot of learning to do, but he isn’t the only one.
Words and Illustration by Tara Okeke