Monday, April 15, 2013

Is Justin Bieber a wonky robot?

Ridicule and worse has greeted Justin Bieber’s apparent conviction that the highest compliment he might pay to Anne Frank is the hope that had she lived today she would have been one of his fans. Of course this is just the latest in a succession of PR pratfalls that have befallen the Canadian popster in recent weeks; there have been altercations with photographers, odd Twitter outbursts, fainting fits, that notorious two-hour delay in his O2 show and the ongoing legal spat over his monkey.

The simian-related brouhaha has of course prompted comparisons with another child star who had a troubled road to adulthood; indeed, some would argue that Bubbles’s owner never really completed the transition, even though he reached the chronological age of 50. There is a difference though; when Michael Jackson first strutted on the global stage, he appeared to be a normal – albeit preposterously talented – child. It was only later that he began to morph into what I described in my Noughties book as “a grotesque post-human, a parody of celebrity concocted by a cabal of publicists and plastic surgeons”.

But when Bieber appeared, he was already hyperreal. That absurd, androgynous smoothness to which Jackson began to aspire in his mid-20s was already Bieber’s default setting as a teenager, as if he yearned to be the ‘after’ shot in an acne cream commercial. It may be something to do with the new demands made by technological advances in visual media; not only are cameras everywhere but they can pick out and magnify flaws with infinitely greater cruelty than could have been managed when young Michael was first busting his moves. We don’t spot Bieber’s transformation into the other; he’s always been other, always been something beyond mere homo sapiens.

Yesterday, I jokingly raised the question of whether Bieber may be an android on Facebook and Twitter. I wasn’t thinking of any particular sci-fi reference; maybe Blade Runner (specifically the long-running controversy over whether Deckard is a replicant and whether he knows it) with a bit of the Doctor Who story The Robots of Death thrown in (because the metal beasts in that are smoothly beautiful and go mad and start strangling people). It was @curiousiguana on Twitter who identified the specific fictional creation that Bieber resembles; it’s David (Haley Joel Osment), the child-robot in Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, who has had the capacity for love – or the ones and zeroes that allow him to emulate love – programmed into him. It’s as if Bieber has been created to rehearse a specific range of pop star behaviours and he’s been doing OK up to this point, but as he gets into darker territory various bugs and glitches start to reveal themselves. Someone keyed in the code for going off the rails, expecting the 19-year-old maybe to throw a TV out of a hotel window, but something went wrong somewhere and he made a git of himself in a museum’s visitors’ book instead. If he’d been caught smoking a joint or biting the head off a bat, we would have just accepted it as phew, rock ‘n’ roll, but the Anne Frank thing doesn’t quite fit our parameters of misbehaviour. There’s something not quite right about this boy. Has he been found out?

My memories of A.I. are sketchy, but as I recall it, David’s two best friends are also robots, one a teddy bear, the other Jude Law as a gigolo. And he’s nearly torn to pieces by a wild anti-robot mob, but survives even as humanity itself perishes in an ecological meltdown and he carries on in his wide-eyed, pre-pubescent form for millions of years and Meryl Streep shows up as God or something.

So I guess Bieber’s got at least a couple of albums in him yet.


GreatSheElephant said...

Damn. Brave. Expect to be hunted down and ripped to shreds by hoards of outraged tweens in 3,2,1...

Gadjo Dilo said...

I barely know who this lad is, but I'm personally inclined to cut him some slack - many of us say stupid things when we're 19. And I seem to remember that Donny Osmond somehow eventually managed to 'normal-up' a bit after that adulation of his squeaky clean youthfulness. I still miss Amy Winehouse, though.

Sam said...

Do all child stars go mental though? It seems increasingly inevitable that high-profile kids become raging alcoholics by the age of 20.

At this rate Suri Cruise is going to end up staging a putsch in Colombia and try to take over South America.

People just need their childhoods.

Tim Footman said...

Adds new levels to "down with the kids", GSE.

Gadjo: I suppose Bieber co-opting Anne Frank is a bit like Mormons retrospectively converting their dead relatives, so the Donny comparison kinda works.

Is 19 still childhood, Sam? He seems to be getting more stupid as he gets older.