You’re up on the screaming headlines Thursday: Justin Bieber arrested, caught DUI drag-racing.
Now, wipe that smirk off your face. Let’s talk about why we paid attention to him at all.
He had a little voice and a big hook: Way back when Justin Bieber was a mighty sensation on concert circuits, his marketing targets were CWM – Christians with money. He struck angelic poses while parents — happy to indulge their pre-teens with someone who seemed so wholesome — slapped down their credit cards for show tickets and iTunes downloads. His 2011 movie, “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never,” was promoted to pastors and faith-based groups.
Why do we buy into pop stars’ pubescent piety?
Perhaps, I’m just too jaded. A superb religion journalist, Cathleen Falsani, found a sincerity worth exploring in her book, “Belieber!: Fame, Faith and The Heart of Justin Bieber,” published when he was 17.
She set out to “peel back the veneer of celebrity and take a closer look at Justin as a person and as a cultural phenomenon…
“What I discovered by listening to him closely, reading thousands of Twitter and Facebook posts, scores of print and broadcast interviews from all over the world, was that the way Justin expresses his faith is consistent, authentic and heartfelt. But more unusual — for any evangelical Christian, and Justin most certainly is that — is the humility with which he communicates his beliefs and the boldness with which he expresses God’s love for everyone.”
Now, he’s 19 and peeling rubber in a rented yellow Lamborghini, drag racing in Miami Beach before dawn Thursday and flunking a street-side sobriety test, according to a police report.
Are his global followers, the Beliebers, still around to read this and weep? Do they even care or have they moved on to other idols of self-expression? (Miley, anyone?) Maybe they have found Bono, who once said, as Falsani noted: “There’s nothing worse than a rock star with a cause … But celebrity is currency and we want to spend it this way.”
It’s certainly not easy to be a celebrity in popular culture and still be taken seriously as a person who practices a religion — Christian or any other faith — in word and deed.
Former teen star Kirk Cameron, of “Growing Pains” fame, grew into adult faith, became vocal about his evangelical commitments and starred in many a Christian-market movie. Then he was blasted for remarks about homosexuality as “unnatural” and his views on the end of days. Cameron now calls himself “a Hollywood freak” for speaking out.
We evidently prefer believers to keep it simple: “Yay, God,” but no specifics. Even better: The appearance of faith.
Justin Bieber clearly gave up the appearance of faith long ago as he raced from pious teen to celeb-trash headliner. But that doesn’t mean there’s no imprint of belief in a heart no one can read on a police report.
He’s too young to drink and drive (and drag-race) but old enough to find a road to redemption – in or out of religion. Will he? Will we pay attention?
Did you ever choose a religion or change your religion or desert it because an entertainer led you to — or from — faith?