The Everyday Analysis article below treated Justin Bieber’s recent visit to the Amsterdam Anne Frank Museum, in which he now famously wrote in the guestbook: ‘Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.’ The article takes issue with what it sees as a particular facet of postmodern culture; the way that we imagine that completely distant and unconnected events can somehow be paralleled, so that that Anne Frank can be thought of in Justin Bieber’s terms. Part of the problem the article highlights is the imaginary way in which we see our world; if everything can be thought of in our terms then the otherness of the past is denied, and the way we think now appears to be inevitable. By extension the article shows that Bieber’s comment shows that our culture ‘doesn’t draw some sort of poetical thread through time’ by using Anne Frank for any political purpose. Instead it depoliticizes, by assimilating the past into the terms of the present.
These points are important ones, and yet, I want to suggest that there is perhaps something else that Bieber’s comment shows us about our culture, which is both more just to Bieber’s misjudged but not truly evil remark, and which also picks up on something not noted by most of the critics, showing us something about our own response to the Bieber-blunder.
Interestingly, a number of people have come to the defence of Bieber over the comment, which first drew a large amount of criticism when it was published via the Museum’s social media sites. Anne Frank’s step-sister, Eva Schloss, has even commented that Anne ‘probably would have been a fan’ of Bieber, saying; ‘he’s a young man and she was a young girl, and she liked film stars and music.’ Schloss implies that being a teenager is a timeless state outside history and therefore brushes over the historical chasm of the Holocaust genocide that separates Bieber and Anne Frank. The question I would like to ask is; what is it that fundamentally divides these two responses; on the one hand the view that the article puts forward, which stresses the problem with assimilating Anne Frank into the life-world of Justin Bieber, and on the other hand the view of Anne Frank’s stepsister, which cannot think otherwise than in the terms of the present.
Remarkably, The Sun, reporting on the Eva Schloss statement, actually carry out the same gesture that has been highlighted by the article below. They open by referring to ‘teen titan Justin Bieber’ and then later to Anne Frank in the same terms, saying ‘the teen hid from the Nazis’. The Sun should have at least some kind of awareness of the issues involved here. Likewise Eva Schloss, who has written a historical book called After Auschwitz, seems to be participating in a discourse of assimilating the past into the terms of the present, rather than reflecting on the issues of historicity that are being raised by Bieber’s comment.
This leads to the main point I want to make here – that we might, ‘save’ Bieber’s comment from the critics, in a very different way to Will.I.Am, who claimed on the subject that ‘there is a lot of shit to do in Amsterdam but he chose to go to Anne Frank’s house.’ The difference between The Sun and Eva Schloss and Bieber’s comment is that Bieber’s remark is, at least in a way, a joke, whether he is entirely in on that joke or not. The ‘selfish’ element of Bieber’s comment, that he focussed on himself even when faced with the trauma of Anne Frank’s life and death, makes a subtle difference between himself and The Sun, who carried out the same gesture accidentally whilst believing themselves to be objective, or even Eva Schloss, who couldn’t see ‘why not?’ Anne would be a ‘belieber.’ Bieber’s anachronistic remark acknowledges the limits our own socio-cultural-historical-subjective positionality; it acknowldeges an issue of historicity that The Sun and Eva Schloss ignore, that he can only ‘read’ Anne Frank in terms of his beliebers.
Bieber’s comment, to return to where we began, shows us that we cannot read the past except in our own terms, so that the idea of ‘authentic’ access to the past is shown to be a problem. Bieber makes a point made academically by Catherine Belsey when she writes that ‘we bring what we know now to bear on what remains from the past to produce an intelligible history.’ For Belsey, to read the past, to read a text from the past, is always to make an interpretation, which is in a sense an anachronism.
The ‘belieber’ comment, very strangely and no matter how unconsciously, has a strange sense, in its anachronism, of acknowledging an issue of historicity that the majority of responses, from The Sun to Eva Schloss, are lacking. Where Bieber makes no pretences of ‘knowing’ history outside his own subjectivity, perhaps his comment points to a dangerous tendency of critics to think that they can. Or perhaps even further, that in insisting on the impossibility of accessing the past, in attempting to distance Anne Frank from Justin Bieber, some readings ignore the fact that a radical otherness of the past is found in acknowledging its creation in representation by the present. Instead one ought to acknowledge as Bieber does, in a way that points out a problem with Baudrillard, that representation is always hyperreality (the inability to distinguish reality from the simulation of reality) whether we are dealing with postmodernity or not. While the past, the real conditions of Anne Frank’s existence, is real, the question of how history should be written and read must also come up against the Bieber in us, we can neither access that past nor preserve it from contamination by the present.