Bieberphobics Anonymous: The First Step Is Admitting You Have a Problem


I'm listening to Justin Bieber's plaintive and sweet ballad "Recovery" this morning, the day after he was arrested in Miami for driving under the influence. In the song he says:

First I'll acknowledge
A trust has been broken now
A successful recovery
I pray for us at night

I know I caused a problem,
I know I left you livid.

Now, Mr. Bieber quite clearly, I think it's fair to say, has a problem or two, and I wish him well in stabilizing his rocky transition from adolescence to adulthood in extreme, if extremely privileged, circumstances.

But what has shocked and dismayed me, much more than bearing witness to The Biebs' struggles, is the widespread "livid" condemnation and seeming sense of offended outrage expressed towards him, and the Schadenfreude, the intense pleasure in his misfortunes, at his unfolding "comeuppance."

What I'm seeing in the Devil's Playground, otherwise known as Facebook, reminds me of homophobia. Now, that may seem a stretch to some, but hear me out.

I understand homophobia, first and foremost, as a prejudice that arises out of people breaking or bending gender norms, which are held very strictly in our society.

But there is an adjunct aspect that seems sometimes to be an anger at gay people for supposedly upsetting the applecart of standards of responsibility. How dare those gay guys flaunt all that sex they're (supposedly) having, all that (supposed) disposable income?! How come they get to be footloose and fancy-free forever, when I have to pay a mortgage and remain monogamous?

I'm stereotyping here, so bear with me, but isn't there something like that going on with Justin Bieber? That Canadian brat, with all that money, for what? Crooning pop tunes for teenyboppers? For being some snot-nosed kid created into a marketing monster and drag racing with a yellow Lamborghini in Miami? Nuts to him!

I've been surprised as well by the vehemence toward Mr. Bieber expressed by friends and acquaintances in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, who, it seems to me, might have particular insight and empathy for someone who may be in the grip of challenges which they themselves have been through.

What is happening to fuel such dismissive and harsh condemnation? A client of mine this morning (I'm a psychotherapist) said that he thought that there was a certain entitled aspect to some folk in recovery that bristles at the success and adulation afforded to someone like Mr. Bieber who hasn't "paid his dues," if you will, as if he was escaping responsibility or consequences for his actions.

Perhaps, but even so, it doesn't seem to me that Mr. Bieber is getting off scot-free -- quite the contrary, given the glaringly public attention his every move occasions. Not only must he contend with the obligations of being a huge corporation surrounded by sycophants and living in a constantly reverberating echo chamber, but he must he must bear the pressures of trying to be a freshly minted adult, which is usually quite a struggle for each mere mortal among us as well. Calling Miss Lohan, Miss Lohan, line one.

Sure, I can sense the response of some people reading this: "Oh, boo, hoo, hoo, poor little rich boy! Give me a break." Well, yes, Mr. Bieber is a very lucky guy in many, many ways, but each of us has our struggles, no one escapes being put through the mill, and Justin seems to be smacking his head against the millstone repeatedly in the last year or so.

I wish people would ease up a little. I hope Mr. Bieber has access to honest support and counsel, from a competent therapist, from his family, from solid friends, to help him at what appears to be a time of upheaval and difficulty. Give him a break, please? These other lines from "Recovery" indicate, to me at least, an attempt to locate a kind of humility that is rarely a constant state for any of us as we fumble forward. It also sounds like the words of a person for whom gilded privilege is a rather lonely place.

First I'll acknowledge
Your trust has been broken now
A successful recovery
I pray for us at night

Blessed me with a second chance
Never thought I'd see your face again
Learned a lot through trial and error
Tryna make it right.