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Dublin: 16 °C Thursday 23 October, 2014

Column: Yes, Justin Bieber is a brat… but maybe it’s time to feel a wee bit sorry for him?

Justin Bieber is a singularly unpleasant young chap who terrorises his neighbours, drag races ‘under the influence’, and abandons Capuchin monkeys… but what chance did he have? Lisa McInerney takes a look at the volatile lives of child stars.

Lisa McInerney

FOLLOWING CONFIRMATION that Justin Bieber has been arrested for drag racing under the influence, his mother Patti Mallette has finally stepped in front of the runaway train… to ask fans to pray for her unswervingly cantankerous nineteen-year-old. Possibly shaking her head dolefully, she mused, “So many people go into the entertainment industry with amazing Christian roots and they get influenced somehow”, otherwise known as the “Don’t look at me, it’s not my fault!” excuse.

Irish parents would no doubt advocate “a good kick up the arse” for young Mr Bieber, and though I’m reluctant to demur lest my own mam get the wooden spoon out, I’m going to suggest something twice as controversial. Hear me out, ‘kay?

A Justin Bieber amnesty.

Naturally there would be conditions attached, but let’s face it, we’ve come to an impasse and one of us is going to have to make the first, painfully generous offer: if Justin Bieber stops terrorising his neighbours, the international DJing community, Argentina, and Capuchin monkeys, we’ll forget he ever happened and allow him to live out the rest of his natural on some lavender farm somewhere.
It’s a fair deal, people, because Justin Bieber hasn’t had the best time of it.

Grabbing global stardom in your teens

That in itself might seem a controversial statement, because Bieber appears to have absolutely everything a young man could want from life. He’s financially stable and will be until the end of his days (or the End of Days, whichever comes first). He’s forged a phenomenally successful career. He’s adored by millions. He can wear preposterous pants and his friends don’t slap him for it.

Dig a little deeper though, and no matter how inclined you are towards begrudgery or dramatic eye-rolling, you’ll identify the disadvantages to grabbing global stardom in your teens. You can see it all over Bieber’s litany of faux pas: a person who hasn’t had a childhood is unlikely to make a decent adult.

There are plenty of people who came to superstardom in childhood who grew into well-adjusted, happy and productive grown-ups, so allowing the Diva Bieber amnesty on the grounds of his not having a conventional upbringing might seem a gesture too gentle. Think Joseph Gordon Levitt, Natalie Portman, Ryan Gosling, Emma Watson, Elijah Wood, Ron Howard, none of whom resorted to peeing in mop buckets for giggles, at least as far as this writer knows (I mean, Elijah Wood looks like he’d be up for antics, no?).

Former child stars

But then you have young celebrities who didn’t fare so well, who, for whatever reason, fell for the Yes Men, the glamour and the cash, and didn’t understand how fickle the whole thing was till it was far too late. Lindsay Lohan fought the law and the law won. Corey Feldman battled with addiction, and reported a culture of predatory paedophilia in Hollywood, of which he was a victim. Britney Spears struggled through several mental health crises. Amanda Bynes’ mother was granted conservatorship, including over her daughter’s medical care, after a string of bizarre incidents. Macaulay Culkin’s relationship with his parents remains painfully strained after accusations of financial mismanagement and bullying. And of course, there was Michael Jackson, about whom ugly suggestions persist, a man so grossly exploited as a boy that he appeared to choose perpetual childhood over growing up.

Former child star Mara Wilson wrote a telling essay on Cracked last year in which she examined the reasons child stars don’t always turn out well (unrelated, but her essay on living with OCD is superb, so check that out too). Listing hazards such as loss of parental guidance, sexual exploitation and lack of educational or professional development, Wilson certainly makes a strong case for wrapping your young in a duvet and keeping them in the attic until they’re old enough to escape the attentions of TV talent spotters.

Blossoming under spotlights is something only very exceptional people or rare orchids are capable of, and while it’s certainly possible that one’s littlest extrovert could become the next Jodie Foster, the chance that she could have to battle with drugs, alcohol, predatory adults, obsessive fans, and a legal system that stubbornly refuses to accept that “But I’m famous!” is a good excuse for drunken drag racing is surely far too significant to ignore.

And so we return to Mammy Mallette, who wants to remind us that famous boys will be famous boys and that the music industry is full of dangerous non-Christians who’d shove you into a mound of cocaine as soon as look at you. Let’s say she’s got a point. Justin Bieber might be the most singularly unpleasant young chap to steam around the place shirtless since that time the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man terrorised Manhattan, but what chance did he have, Christian values or no Christian values?

Carefully moulded for a career in entertainment, he now finds himself surrounded by people whose own sustenance depends on their indulging his every ridiculous whim. Expected to remain a cute adolescent so that prepubescent girls will continue to coo and fling their money at him. Allowed to sign to a massive label at thirteen years of age, as if his supposed talent was due to run out once he started shaving. Maybe we should all feel a little bit concerned for Justin Bieber. And, dare I say it, a little bit impatient with the hand-wringing of his mother, who has said that she prayed that God would make a prophet of her son, who was fine with his performing in public since he was six years of age.

Micromanaged through his first years of stardom by coaches for everything from vocals to urban attitude, it should hardly come as a shock to discover that as an adult Bieber is keen to give acting the maggot a chance long overdue. If there’s a moral here, maybe it’s if you raise them as performing monkeys, don’t be so shocked when they turn into chest-beating apes.

Read more of Lisa McInerney’s columns here >

Read: Justin Bieber arrested over ‘DUI and drag racing’

Pic: Here’s Justin Bieber’s police mugshot

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