Why Justin Bieber Should Listen to Neutral Milk Hotel

In Amsterdam’s Anne Frank Museum’s guestbook Justin Bieber left this now highly-publicised message after his recent visit: ‘Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.’ Jean Baudrillard suggests that the Holocaust-denial ‘statement ‘It never existed’ means simply that we ourselves no longer exist sufficiently even to sustain a memory, and that hallucinations are the only way we have left to feel alive’. There is a tremendous implicatory force in this suggestion, one aimed at our muddledly mediatised (mediated by the media) culture as a whole. The essay in which this phrase appears is called ‘Necrospective’ and this seems precisely to be what Bieber has applied to Anne Frank’s memory, specifically through a formidably strange hallucination which ties completely non-parallel, utterly asymmetric continua together with its knottiness.

Postmodernism might offer us another word to suggest why so: ‘hyperreality’. Bieber’s bubble here seems the product of the hyperreal age he has come out of, or even that he has come into; that he is a part of (and that he perpetuates, and that he perpetuates indefinitely; this indefiniteness being a hallmark of the postmodern condition). There is some link between this hyperreality and hyperactivity; activities – visiting cities’ museums and heritage sites alongside their themed retail outlets and amusement parks – being something that people now ‘do’ – in the most touristic sense of the word – and which competitively require manifold consumerist intensifications to hold appeal.

One such hyperreal intensity might be found in Washington DC’s Holocaust Memorial Museum’s ID-card tour, which – as Richard Appignanesi describes it – ‘match[es] your age and gender to the name and photo of a real Holocaust victim or survivor. As you progress through 3 floors of the exhibition, you can push your bar-coded card into computer stations and see how well or badly your real life subject is faring.’ …‘At the end,’ he tells us, ‘you’ll find visitors’ ID cards dumped in litter bins among the pop bottles and chocolate wrappers. Your hyper-reality tour is over’. Whilst the effects of this mode of presentation and of learning must flit for visitors between uncanny feelings of discomfort, awe and surrealism, the Aristotelian notion of catharsis can only look shamefacedly on at the Bieber-type experiencers.

What makes this affair weirder, however, is that the Anne Frank Museum isn’t as hyperreal as all that, rather it is quite starkly ‘real-ised’ in that if it’s not the original fittings and fixtures that occupy the house it’s facsimile ones (the wallpaper is marked ‘facsimile’, for example). So it must be that Bieber’s very reality itself is a form of hyperreality; a hallucination so all-encompassing that he can claim through it that ‘Anne was a great girl’, and hope that she would have joined him in his make-beliebe.

His hallucinatory sentiment only reminds us ‘that these events are on the point of escaping us on the level of reality’ – as Baudrillard highlights – and of the dangers of this. It doesn’t draw some sort of poetical thread through time like Jeff Mangum’s lyrics throughout Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, an album the pop star should be directed to…


Adorno’s reflection before he announced that ‘to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric’ was that ‘even the most extreme consciousness of doom threatens to degenerate into idle chatter’, which with Bieber it has. In Mangum’s words, however, there remains something more pertinent, and which resists this idol’s idleness: ‘I know they buried her body with others/Her sister and mother and 500 families/And will she remember me 50 years later/I wished I could save her in some sort of time machine/Know all your enemies/We know who our enemies are’ (‘Oh Comely’).



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