Bieber: underage boy and sex object for older women
Sydney barely averted a potentially violent mob scene last week that would have been caused by 5 foot 3 of trouble, namely the floppy-haired, permanently smirking boy-child chanteur, Justin Bieber.
While last Monday’s pheromone-fuelled fracas may have gotten all the attention, it’s another group of staunch Bieberites who are more a case for concern.
Peer a little closer and the Justin Bieber show isn’t all rainbows and hair gel. Somehow this boy with his ridiculous forward-swept mop of hair has, consciously or not, crossed into largely uncharted, sexually-confused territory in the popular culture maelstrom.
Where Bieber differs from the countless preening, saccharine pop-tarts of the last 50 years who inspire the sort of feverish, adolescent idolatry witnessed on this week, is that Bieber’s public persona is not simply that of the cute boy-next-door, but of an indelicate, incessant wannabe “player” who’s suggestive interviews and Tweeting often err on the side of cringe-worthy.
This baby braggadocio’s confused, and at times disturbing, public display of what appears to be a very forced sexuality is unsettling behavior, not only his part, but also on the part of the adult women who buy it, or at least play along.
One of Bieber’s most recent coups was to nab the co-host spot on ‘Saturday Night Live’ with ‘30 Rock’ star, Tina Fey. The sketches centred around one gag - Fey’s saucy teacher character lusting after the shiny-haired Bieber who was happily enjoying her attentions.
“I don’t know if I want to marry him or put him in a stroller and push him around the mall,” her character says.
“I love the way his hair really knows where it wants to go, just like him”.
Later on she confesses she wants to give Justin a bath.
He smiles adoringly at her and happily plays the part of the love interest.
Other women who have expressed their attraction to Bieber include singer Katie Perry who posted a photo of her and Bieber on Twitter, writing: “Told you I would tap that. Yummy”.
British actress Billie Piper, appearing on the UK’s Graham Norton show said: “I love Justin. I think he’s gorgeous.”
“It’s kind of that you feel wrong for fancying him. I’m 27…. I’d be a cougar for him. But it is wrong” Piper said.
Take an interview he did with Details magazine, saying of his love life: “Now I’m waiting for Beyonce to call”.
He also Tweeted about being kissed by singer Rihanna: “Thanks for refreshing the lipstick mark @rihanna.”
Arriving in Australia he Twittered: “ok. Just arrived and I like Australia. I like the weather, the accents, the girls, the water, the excitement, the girls, and the girls”.
(What did he do actually do here? He went to Whale Beach on Sydney’s Northern Beaches and dug an enormous hole and was photographed frolicking on the beach.)
He is referred to by gossip columnists as “cougar bait” and in a recent interview his mother, Pattie Mallette, says of the gushing, screaming fans he attracts: “The mothers are the worst.”
Bieber’s life and image are seemingly controlled with such military authority it is hard not to read his sexually-loaded banter as the product of a focus-grouped marketing strategy. This is a boy, after all, who has a “swagger coach”- seriously.
Witness the exchange between Bieber and late-night talk-show host Chelsea Handler on her show ‘Chelsea Lately’. Handler is 36, and her books about her numerous one-night stands and penchant for vodka have enjoyed considerable success in the New York Times best-seller lists.
Throughout the interview Handler is quite obviously poking fun at his Junior Lothario routine, but Bieber does not seem to quite perceive this and prattles along with what sound like heavily scripted lines.
“What do you think, you’re some sort of player?” Chelsea Handler asks. “I went back there [backstage] and he goes ‘Hey baby’”.
Bieber: “Last time I was serious about that date too, it never happened”
Handler: “You do a lot of flirting for somebody who’s 16 years old”
Bieber: “I knew we had a thing, tomorrow, pick you up at 7. Hahaha”
As the conversation progresses, Bieber sounds increasingly like he’s reciting lines he has learnt by rote.
“Kim [Kardashian] said, ‘I think Justin Bieber should date my sister’ and I was like, I think I should date you,” he says with a defiant, cocky grin.
Handler: “That’s a lot of woman for you to handle”
Bieber: “It is”.
Handler: “You’ve made it OK to flirt with underage people…. Say I start dating a 16 year-old”.
Bieber interjects: “Which might happen”.
Discussing his new car Bieber says, “I’ll be able to drive it on our date tonight”.
It’s a disquieting exchange that raises questions about the differing social acceptability of men and women’s behaviour when it comes to the murky territory of teen sexuality.
This isn’t about maintaining the fantasy for his fans that he’s the cute boy who wants to take you to your formal. This is about engaging on a distinctly adult level about sex and relationships.
The lesson Justin Bieber teaches us is that it is cute and charming for a teen boy to come-on to every woman who comes within conversational distance. Likewise, there is no issue with adult women repeatedly expressing their attraction and desire towards a boy who is essentially a child.
The ‘cougar’ genre defies any more malicious, predatory or abusive connotations, making it seemingly permissible to express desire towards a child.
Consider the reverse situation: what would be the reaction if say Disney star Miley Cryus so flagrantly and aggressively talked about men nauseum, and publicly propositioned interviewers like David Letterman and Jay Leno, before attempting to hit on in front of the world’s camers, say, Leonardo di Caprio?
Conversely, say Brad Pitt or Justin Timerblake, told an interviewer how much they wanted to “get on” Miley Cyrus?
The public response to both scenarios would be swift and critical.
Yet there seems to be little public concern regarding the overly-sexually confident persona Bieber has cultivated.
Though he may have left our shores, the Bieber phenomenon leaves behind some interesting questions about the societal fault lines beneath our attitudes towards gender, age and sexuality.
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