*In a week that there has been much debate about thuggery—what’s a thug, who’s a thug and whether calling somebody a thug is new cultural codification for the “N-word” around an athlete’s rant in the heat of battle, another entertainment sought to exploit celebrity in another way to manipulate public sentiment.
While the world was talking about Seattle Seahawk cornerback, Richard Sherman, bubblegum pop singer Justin Bieber was caught speeding in Miami Beach and was arrested for throwing a temper tantrum in public. Now, some kinda way…this is…news?? Since when is teenaged misbehavior national news? Since a teenage idol (and his handlers) decided that they would use skullduggery to change his public image.
The more interesting aspect of this episode in anti-social behavior are the contrasts in which Sherman and Bieber’s behaviors are framed. The words to describe Sherman have been, “Monster,” “Beast,” “Thug,” “Immature,” “Racist,” because of a few moments of unsportsman-like conduct that has now made him the “black hat” villain of this weekend’s Super Bowl. Sherman hasn’t broken any laws—just made a great play and expressed his opinion.
The words to describe Bieber have been “disturbing,” “juvenile” and “troubling,” even frequent references seeking to excuse Bieber’s behavior by attributing it to the people he’s “hanging around with.” Just so you know, nobody can just hang around one of the world’s most popular pop culture figures. His “crew” is manufactured to fit a transitioning imagery Bieber is trying to project. Justin Bieber’s misbehavior always seems to be public and timely publicized. Several reports of his arrest had more to do with his provocation of law enforcement than breaking speeding laws. Bieber’s behavior lately has been juvenile (egging houses and street dragging), and he’s certainly certifying himself as juvenile delinquent—but is it really about life “in a bubble?” I don’t think so. I think it’s more about Bieber connecting to a larger demographic to broaden his audience. In making a transition from teen star to adult star, he’s trying to legitimize himself with another audience niche with a more edgy persona.
Trust me, he saw what Miley Cyrus did what she straddled a wrecking ball, then twerked on national television. Good-bye, Hanna Montana-Hello, Miley from the hood.
So Justin is engaged in skullduggery as a career “makeover” from bubblegum Justin to street thug Justin. He’s trying to earn his “street cred” by juvenile law-breaking to take him from “nice boy” to “bad boy.” His social defiance is almost orchestrated to accommodate his new “defiant” image. He is trying to “represent” himself as “tough,” which is what the true meaning of thug is…a “roughneck” as the song goes. But last time I checked, real thugs weren’t egging houses or speed driving Lamborghinis is private communities (with speed bumps—no less). He’s talking tough to cops, but he’s Justin Bieber—for crying out loud. They know who he is and they try to respect his celebrity—but when you start pushing cop’s buttons, of course he’s gonna get cited and arrested. But he doesn’t have to worry about being drawn down on—or shot at, like real thugs do. Why? Because he’s Justin Bieber. He’s just acting out…or is it just acting?
Justin Bieber is no more troubled than your average Congressperson. They don’t have a worry in the world, because the world is theirs on an oyster. They’re just calling him troubled to justify the personality shift.
But nobody is saying that…
We’ve seen all this before. Remember, this is the tenth anniversary of the legitimization of another Justin, Justin Timberlake, and the infamous “waredrobe malfunction” at Super Bowl XXXVIII. Janet Jackson took the fall for “Nipple-gate,” as her recording career was never the same. Timberlake’s, on the other hand, took off—as America was outraged by an act which changed live television programming forever. One snatch of an edgy woman’s bra garment, and Justin went from boy to “man,” my son. Had the race’s been reversed, he’d have been lynched that day…but he was who he was and Timberlake earned his “street cred” that Super Bowl Sunday 10 years ago with a roughneck grab at Jackson breast. With a stage act of misbehavior, he legitimized himself with a new audience that day.
Now he’s ballin’ with Jay-Z and winning Grammys.
America rewards misbehavior on so many levels, and it selectively choses who it prosecutes and who it indemnifies. America indemnifies its pop cult idols.
For better or for worse, Justin Bieber has observed this and is testing the system. He will never be categorized as a “thug,” even though his behavior has recently been more thuggish than those being called thugs for speaking their minds. He will be legitimized by a new legion of fans looking for him to grow up with an edge to him. That is why he posed on top of an SUV upon his release…in a hoodie, no less. We just had two years conversation of what implications wearing hoodies mean for some people in America. That doesn’t seem to matter to Bieber.
It’s part of his new “uniform,” that goes with his new persona, to cultivate a new image.
Thus, he is sure to “cash in” on his recently acquired juvenile delinquent behavior.
Something is truly wrong with this, but that’s how’s it’s done in America.
Get legit or quit. Justin Bieber is just getting with the “thug” program.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist and author of, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21 Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com and on Twitter at @DrAnthonySamad.