In the Venn diagram of fame I never expected pop star Justin Bieber’s circle to overlap with Anne Frank’s – but they did recently after Bieber’s visit to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. So moved by his experience, the singer wrote in the guest book, “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a Belieber.”
My first thought was some asshat signed the guest book as a joke in Bieber’s name; lots of dummies do this for kicks – I remember a kid in high school who sign petitions as faded 80s rock stars. It was his idea of a joke. “Imagine!” he said to me once laughing uproariously, “If someone’s looking through their petition to save the wetlands and they think, ‘Oh my god, Huey Lewis signed my petition!'” Obviously said kid and I are no longer close.
But so far Team Bieber has yet to release a statement refuting the ill-advised message.
It’s funny because the beginning of the message is quite nice – it is inspiring to visit the famous Annex – the small space in a warehouse attic that housed Frank, her family, another family and a family friend (a total of of 8 people) for two years. And by all accounts Anne was a great girl. Her diary – published more than 60 years ago – reveals an astonishingly intelligent, gifted young author who showed tremendous promise.
But it’s the “hopefully she would have been a Belieber” bit that has many understandably upset. In the moment of where one should remove any sense of self-involvement, Bieber’s seemingly entitled ego busted right in, intruding on any profundity the singer may have been experiencing.
The interesting thing about Frank’s legacy is that it’s about giving voice to millions of people whose voices were silenced – many of whom were young girls – like Bieber’s fans today. And many of those fans are going to be reading The Diary of a Young Girl in their junior high school classes. Many of those young girls will read Frank’s diary and have that moment of clarity, perspective, and kinship. Because as much as Frank’s book is about the Holocaust, it’s also about a young girl coming of age, entering young womanhood and dealing with many mundane issues like fighting with her sister, being exasperated with her mother, doting upon her dad, and crushing on a cute boy close by. These ordinary details are tantamount because they transcend the black and white photograph of Anne Frank – where she sits smiling, pen in hand – and make her into a human being, fully fleshed. She’s not perfect – she was capable of being cruel and petulant like every adolescent – but she was extraordinary because in the madness and chaos of her world, she was able to carefully (and beautifully) chronicle how she lived through it.
I don’t know if Bieber’s read The Diary of a Young Girl but if he has, I hope he’ll do so again. I also hope he visits the Anne Frank House again. And hopefully when he does, he’ll manage to step out of himself so that he can see just how large the world is – and just how out of control it can get. And maybe he’ll be humbled enough to realize just how silly and out-of-touch his message was.