On 23 January this year, Justin Bieber was arrested for driving under the influence, resisting police arrest without violence and driving with an expired license. According to the police report, an officer pulled Bieber over after noticing two Lamborghinis drag racing along a road in Miami. When Bieber began swearing at the policeman and refused to take his hands out of his pockets when asked, he was arrested and taken to jail. He made bail later that day, and a toxicology report confirmed that Bieber had marijuana and Xanax, a prescription drug he claims he takes for anxiety, in his blood.
Naturally, the internet responded by tweeting and generating memes like crazy. Some of these were quite funny; others, like a tweet from Ellen, expressed kind concern. The tweets that circulated most, though, were a bunch of pretty mean jokes about the arrest, made by other celebrities. ‘All jokes aside, Justin Bieber is a piece of shit,’ tweeted Seth Rogan. Bieber’s mistakes seemed like the excuse everyone needed to unleash their Bieber hate.
Within a week, over 220,000 people had signed a petition requesting that Justin Bieber be deported from the USA to his native Canada. The petition states:
We the people of the United States feel that we are being wrongly represented in the world of pop culture. We would like to see the dangerous, reckless, destructive and drug-abusing Justin Bieber deported and his green card revoked. He is not only threatening the safety of our people but he is also a terrible influence on our nation’s youth.
Since the petition has over 100,000 signatures, the White House staff actually has to consider the proposal. That’s right, the White House. Because a teenager got busted for driving after smoking some weed. (This rule last backfired for the US government when thousands of people petitioned to have the American national anthem changed to R Kelly’s ‘Ignition’ in March last year.)
I’m not saying that the offenses committed by Justin aren’t extremely irresponsible, unhealthy, or lacking in regard for others, and he certainly should be duly dealt with by the US justice system. But deporting a teenager for acting like…a teenager? I understand that some parents of fans may be disappointed with Bieber; I imagine many fans feel let down too. But I can’t believe anyone is actually surprised. Bieber is simply one more in a long line of stars to be arrested for these very offenses. He also joins the ranks of all the regular, non-famous teenagers who have ever been arrested for driving under the influence.
Bieber’s misdemeanors, while troubling, are also the least surprising moves of his career. Which is why I think this public backlash is so problematic. Few people have articulated the broader problem of celebrity idolisation, which probably contributes to offenses like Justin’s (singer/songwriter Amanda Palmer has done a great job here). Instead of recognising a destructive pattern amongst young celebrities and responding with compassion, grace, and ways of potentially supporting them so that they don’t hurt themselves or others, we are simultaneously incensed by, and revel in, their flaws. It’s a strange, unfair tendency to punish someone for being human after that person has been treated as though they’re superhuman.
Julia Tulloh lives in Melbourne. She’s a freelance writer and is undertaking a PhD in Literature at the University of Melbourne.