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The Explainer

Why do people hate Justin Bieber so much?

Explaining to my kids why the press can be bullies when it comes to celebrities, and how it's not cool
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Patrick Pentland, April 25, 2013 5:04:22 PM

About a year ago, my son asked: “Why do people love Justin Bieber so much?” He had become aware that Justin was a star, and although he refused to say he liked his music, he would sing along when one of his songs came on the radio.

That was then, but in the last few months, as Bieber is on tour supporting his Believe album, his star has become somewhat tarnished in the press. I have written about it all for The Loop’s music news page, and I must say, I end up on Bieber’s side most of the time, and I have talked about it when my kids have been in the room.

So now the question both my kids (9 & 6) are asking is: “Why do people hate Justin Bieber so much?”

It’s sad, because they see him as a teenager; older than them, but not yet an adult. Which is true. The question is really “Why is a teenager being picked on in the press?” Because that’s what is happening. How do I explain to children that grown adults make a living criticizing kids? It’s a form of bullying, something that they are repeatedly told is bad, yet for some reason the media seems to say that it’s ok as long the person you’re bullying is rich and successful.

Justin Bieber is 19 years old. He is going through adolescence in front of the world, and he is making mistakes. That is normal, yet fodder for the music and celeb press worldwide. He was late for a concert (not his fault, but where’s the story in that?), he fainted onstage (and kept the show going), he got kicked out of a bar (who hasn’t?), got into a scuffle with a neighbour, and gave away a monkey that someone gave him for his birthday. There’s a lot more, but it’s all kind of the same stuff.

Certainly Bieber acts like a rock star, going through Polish customs shirtless, for instance. But here’s the thing: he is a rock star; a very rich and successful one. Why is it that a teenaged rock star going through customs without a shirt gets front page coverage? Does it really matter? Was some sort of international treaty broken? Or was it just another excuse to poke fingers at a teenager who has way more money than any of us ever will? Sure, it’s odd, maybe even disrespectful to the Polish officials, but it has very little bearing on my life. It might if I was the type of person who enjoys bashing celebs, but I’m generally not.

And that’s the crux of the explanation. I needed to impart the idea that, no matter how famous someone is, it is never appropriate to bully them. There are no exceptions. It’s hopefully a concept that my kids will take into their adult lives. Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Try to see things from your own perspective, and not get spoon fed-someone else’s idea of what is acceptable or not.

It’s an easy concept, and one that will always have a bearing on their lives. Weekly I hear stories of some kid who the other kids don’t like. It’s usually a situation where one kid is a bit different, and suddenly they are fair game to be picked on, or ignored completely. It makes me sad, because it could be one of my kids. It could also be one of my kids who starts the bullying in the first place, and that would look bad on me. So far that hasn’t been the case, and I’d like to think that it’s because the adults in their lives have taught them that picking on people for being different is not cool.

But when adults on TV and the internet are essentially doing the same thing with a Justin Bieber or a Lindsay Lohan, and it seems totally acceptable, it’s important that I make my kids understand that it’s not. I hold the media responsible for constantly climbing on to their proverbial high horses and casting judgement, generally on those who have very little recourse but to smile, wave, sign a few autographs, and get to work.

You could argue that it’s a 2 way street, that getting any press helps a star’s career. But it’s the quality of the reporting, and the story itself, that I call into question. Often these stories are poorly researched, or just a rehash of what all the other blogs and news sites are reporting, with little to no personal opinion offered.

I asked them if they hated Justin Bieber, and they said no, but they didn’t really like his music. I told them that Justin Bieber, just like anyone else on the radio, or TV, or whatever media device they are using, is a real person. I even tried to put him in context by explaining that he is Canadian, and from Ontario (although a groaned, in unison “We know that Dad…” came from the backseat).

I felt satisfied that they understood that people are people, no matter what they do for a living, or if they are rich, or poor. I hope that they will bear this in mind as they proceed through life, because this type of press isn’t going to go out of fashion any time soon.

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Patrick Pentland

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