Thursday, 17 February 2011

Let's get serious

Whether you love him or loathe him (trust me, there's no middle ground) Justin Bieber is currently the world's most famous teenager, leaving one-time golden girl Miley Cyrus to sit back and wait for the inevitable Celebrity Rehab booking.

His songs may have all the depth of single-ply toilet paper, but he seems to have captured the zeitgeist for a generation of twitterific tweens. And the outpouring of vengeful fury over his recent Grammy snub in the 'best new artist' category, shows just how seriously his fans take his R&B-lite output.

So they'll be keen to snap up the new issue of Rolling Stone, which features an exclusive interview with 'super boy', and addresses a number of hot topics that don't usually come up in chats with celebrities who still have milk teeth. Ever wondered what Justin thinks of abortion or socialised healthcare? Your prayers are about to be answered.

For the record, the Canadian is not a fan of private medical insurance, commenting: "My bodyguard’s baby was premature, and now he has to pay for it. In Canada, if your baby’s premature, he stays in the hospital as long as he needs to, and then you go home." Hardly surprising that he's aware of the issues, given that it's not so long ago that he was released from the maternity ward.

However, Justin's wholesome Christian upbringing means that he's much less supportive of a woman's right to choose, arguing "I really don’t believe in abortion, It’s like killing a baby?” And let's be honest, no-one would advocate killing off their target audience.

OK, I'm being facetious. Most sixteen year olds would struggle to form any kind of political ideology, so the kid gets points for being even loosely aware of the global political landscape, even if it amounts to little more than “But whatever they have in Korea, that’s bad.”

Call it the Lady Gaga Effect. She's shown that you can be a commercially savvy purveyor of disposable pop music, and still be politically active. What other explanation is there for the fact that self-awareness vacuums Lindsay Lohan and Kim Kardashian recently took to twitter to proclaim their support for the oppressed people of Egypt?

Commentators were quick to express surprise that Kim and Lindsay had any awareness of Egypt, beyond listening to The Bangles greatest hits. After all, it's doubtful that Mubarak’s downfall was covered extensively in People magazine. What next - Paris Hilton leading a campaign against female circumcision in Northeast Africa?

It's easy to criticise these woefully underinformed celebrities for expressing their wafer-thin political perspectives. But there's a risk that we end up sounding like Laura Ingraham, the venomous right wing commentator who wrote a book called 'Shut Up And Sing' following the Dixie Chicks' criticism of George W Bush. Everyone has a right to their opinion, and by sharing it, they might even inspire their fans to read something other than Perez Hilton.

The more disturbing issue here though, is the criticism that Bieber's comments have already received - suggesting that he should wait until he's a little more worldly-wise before wading into a debate about nationalised healthcare.

Problem is, he didn't. He didn't volunteer the information, or bring up the subject during an off-the-record conversation. He was asked outright for his opinion by a Rolling Stone journalist. Even more unpleasant is the way his comments have been taken out of context.

Weirdly, the Huffington Post, usually a reliably balanced news source, leads its coverage of Biebergate with the headline: Justin Bieber On Health Care: U.S. System 'Evil'. In fact, Justin's "evil" comment seems to be in direct response to the interviewer attempting to draw out the teenager's opinion on the most divisive social issues in America today. He was probably expecting a few more questions about working with Usher and getting his homework done on time.

Maybe Bieber is too young to be expressing his opinions, and should wait until he's experienced a little more of the wider world. But interviewers also have a responsibility to remember that fact, before asking politically-loaded questions to which there are no right or wrong answers - just different points of view. 

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