The Common Good

Justin Bieber at the Anne Frank House: Our Addiction to Scandal

On Saturday, the pop culture icon Justin Bieber visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam while on a world tour. At the end of his visit to the museum, Bieber wrote a message in the guest book.

Justin Bieber performs on the Today Show at Rockefeller Plaza. Photo courtesy Debby Wong/shutterstock.com

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His three-sentence message has become Big News. Sunday afternoon I checked my Huffington Post app and discovered this headline on the homepage, “Fury Erupts over Bieber’s Obnoxious Anne Frank Comment.” On Monday morning, the scandal was front page news on Yahoo.com, “Justin Bieber Gets Blasted for Anne Frank Comment.” The New York Times reports that Bieber’s comment “set off a maelstrom of criticism.”

What did Bieber write in the guestbook? According to the Anne Frank House Facebook page, Bieber wrote:

Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.

It was that last comment that put people over the edge. If you click on the link above to the Anne Frank House Facebook page, you will see the comments in order of the most “likes.” The top 10 comments pile on severe judgment against Bieber. To wit:

“She would’ve been a WHAT? That little idiot is way too full of himself. She’s an important historical figure so show some respect.”

“…People hate on him (Bieber) because he does stupid crap like this.”

“Way to turn an inspiring moment into something about yourself.”

Yahoo’s article ends with this question, “What do you think? Did he step over the line?”

So here’s what I think: like all celebrity “scandals,” this incident says a lot more about us than it does about Justin Bieber.

Mimetic theory supposes that all people have a tendency to unconsciously imitate the culture that surrounds us. Part of our social nature as human beings is that both our individual and our cultural identities are alwaysformed in relationship to our fellow human beings.

This leads to a major problem for those of us who want to be “good” people. We gain a sense that we are “good” by our uniting with other “good” people. Tragically, that sense of goodness almost always comes at the expense of someone else who is labeled “bad.” This sense of our righteousness is false because it is developed over and against another.

This is scapegoating. Whenever we find ourselves feeling moral superiority over another person, whether it’s a celebrity or a neighbor, most likely we are scapegoating that individual.

A true sense of goodness is not achieved by uniting with each other against a scandalous other. Rather, true goodness comes when we seek to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

How might we practice that love with someone like Justin Bieber? Our culture seems to be addicted to these types of scandals. We love the sense of moral superiority and self-satisfaction that they bring. But if we truly want to embody goodness, then we need to become un-scandalized by these celebrity “news” stories. Becoming un-scandalized means refusing to participate in gossip and it means realizing that these types of scandals are always exaggerated.

Indeed, even the workers at the Anne Frank House seemed flummoxed by the scandal. Spokeswoman Annemarie Bekker made this statement, “He’s a 19-year-old boy taking the effort to come and see the museum, and we’d like to point that out, and I think it’s quite innocent what he put down.”

So, rather than engage in gossip and scapegoating, let’s do something different. Let’s live by the simple, and difficult, Golden Rule. Do to others — especially those others who are scapegoated by our culture — as you would have them do unto you.

Adam Ericksen blogs at the Raven Foundation, where he uses mimetic theory to provide social commentary on religion, politics, and pop culture. Follow Adam on Twitter @adamericksen.

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