Justin Bieber has a long and honoured history of saying idiotic things.
Unsurprisingly, his latest contribution to the treasure trove of stupid things has him in hot water: he wrote in the guest book at Anne Frank House that he hoped Frank would have been “a Belieber.” It’s not the kind of thing a person with much self-awareness puts on paper, being able to anticipate the reaction it would bring.
(Oh God. Pause. Breathe. Now go on.)
But though I’m ashamed to find myself in this position, I’ll take up half-hearted arms in defense of Bieber. Not because I think it was a smart thing to say, or because I think he’s not an insufferably self-centered person — all evidence I’ve read on this point typically points to “yes.” It’s just because I think there’s something worth reflecting on in this one, yet.
This is how I see it.
On the Anne Frank House’s Facebook page, one person chided Bieber, calling on him to show some respect for “‘an important historical figure.’” But the thing about Anne Frank is that she wasn’t important, historically. Which is why her story is.
See, we don’t read Anne Frank’s diary because it was written by her, Anne Frank. We read it because we can relate. The diary preserved the thoroughly normal musings of a normal teenage girl, about to be consumed by a savagely abnormal time. She wrote some on what was happening to her, yes. But she also vented about her cool relationship with her mother, she mused on the purpose of life, she was curious about boys and sex and growing up. She had dreams, she played games, she got bored.
Does anyone miss this point?
“The most amazing girl ever!” someone wrote on the Anne Frank House page.
Once again, she wasn’t. Frank was certainly bright, precocious and engaged, but she was not especially different in that way. It’s just that due to circumstance, her diary survived the war, and its publication became a stand-in for the countless girls and young women whose voice was lost in totality. The countless girls and women who, somewhere, wrote similar things, wrestled similar fears, and fell asleep to the same sort of dreams.
For those of us who came after, when the 1940s seemed ancient and oh-so-far-away, Anne Frank’s diary gave us a window to really feel the weight of history. Because she was normal. Because we read our thoughts in hers, and in doing so, heard the voices of millions also so destroyed.
Justin Bieber’s crime is only that he accurately took that message away.
He visited the house, and saw the posters of movie stars Anne Frank pegged on the walls, and looked at her the way he has learned to look at every teenage girl: as a fan, likely, or at least as a potential one, as someone he knows how to charm. He wrote that he hoped she would be a Belieber. He’s surely written this or something like it a million times before, to a million teenage girls.
In this setting it was a dumb thing to do, but oddly just shows that he saw the lesson in her diary true: she was just like every girl any of us have known, or knew. There’s a very good chance she would have loved him, too, and there’s something in that to take away — especially for Bieber’s young fans, who might find in this furor the wartime writings of a girl who they might have called a friend.
And that can only help them start to know, and understand.