What the Bieb Means, or Embrace Pop Culture
Earlier this year I gave a talk entitled Skill Building for Design Innovators. One of the “muscles” I encouraged people to develop was embracing pop culture. This led to a fascinating discussion when one person dissented and others jumped in with their own perspective. And of course, Justin Bieber was our placeholder example of pop culture. So I was gratified to see this article in the New York Times: Justin Bieber and Today’s Youth.
One reason Mr. Bieber has captivated our attention, beyond his talent and charisma, is that, alongside Mark Zuckerberg, he is the paragon of the millennial celebrity. Born in 1994, he has hardly known a world without broadband Internet, smartphones, social media and digital imagery (and, yes, public apologies by celebrities through those same conduits). He has exploited – and been exploited by – these tools to great effect, currently ruling the Twitter roost with more than 36 million followers. That’s a lot of people for anyone, let alone a teenager, to have direct access to with a thoughtless swipe of his iPhone.
And because Mr. Bieber is so ambitious and enterprising, he can also be considered an emblem of the overscheduled, future-oriented Generation Y striver. Instead of regimented piano lessons, soccer practice and SAT classes, the entertainer has committed himself to the steady, if largely self-directed, cultivation of singing, dancing and interview skills since he was 12.
Thus, the gleeful reaction by some to Mr. Bieber’s misbehavior may connect to two directives imposed upon children today: the need to overprepare for the demanding and perilous world of work, and the loss of innocence that preparation entails.
When we laugh at his “meltdown” – one that many of us would have suffered much sooner in our teenage years had the global press hounded us, had we put in 16-hour workdays, had millions of dollars rested on our shoulders – we are doing more than merely relishing the downfall of a formerly squeaky-clean (Tiger Woods) moral crusader (Eliot Spitzer) who has a few irksome personality traits (Anthony Weiner). We are channeling our cultural anxiety over the ways we have corrupted and effaced childhood.