This is my very belated reaction to Justin Beiber’s comment in the Anne Frank Museum guestbook:
Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.– Justin Bieber
I wanted to share some thoughts on a BBC article that featured some responses, several of which I took exception to:
Did Bieber, in his hour-long visit, miss out on the poignancy of the fact that Anne did not have the chance to live the life of a normal teenager?– Diana Reese, Washington Post
Did Reese not pick up on Anne’s frequently repeated refrain that she very much wanted to live such a normal life?
Could the message have been a failed attempt to bring home that Anne Frank was also a teenager?– BBC
That was obviously Beiber’s message and it only failed to reach people who have perhaps simply forgotten Anne’s own words:
I sometimes wonder if anyone will ever understand what I mean, if anyone will ever overlook my ingratitude and not worry about whether or not I’m Jewish and merely see me as a teenager badly in need of some good plain fun.
(Definitive Edition, 154)
If we might get a sense of her as a person and not purely as a symbol of suffering and misery, we can better appreciate people directly acknowledging her human spirit. From what I read in her diary, she was very much into pop culture, particularly movies, still managing to receive celebrity magazine contraband while in the Secret Annex, and dealing with her family and the Van Pels making fun of her hobby.
…I still spend many of my Sundays sorting out and looking over my movie-star collection, which has grown to a very respectable size. … Whenever I come sailing in with a new hairstyle, I can read the disapproval on their faces, and I can be sure someone will ask which movie star I’m trying to imitate. (176)
She was pretty much your average teeny bopper in that sense (although clearly quite the prodigy) and more than likely would have fawned over a contemporary Justin Beiber.
There [are] 10,000 more newsworthy issues to do with race hate,[Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard] tweeted.And at least Bieber has ensured his kid followers will have heard of Anne Frank.– BBC
It’s a warm sentiment, but surely he doesn’t think Beiber’s followers only heard of Anne Frank through him. There is simply no way to go through middle/high school in the Western world without learning about major themes of the Holocaust. Her diary is about as ubiquitous in the public schools as Catcher in the Rye. And even if you didn’t read it back then, you surely heard of it: from teachers or peers.
Too many critics eagerly pounced that young man, accusing him of narcissism. To wish that someone was a fan of your work, even though other people may not like your work, isn’t necessarily insensitive. It’s a stretch to imply he was saying that if she was not a fan, he wouldn’t consider her a “great girl” (I suppose “greatest girl” would have made Diana Reese happier).
The statement asks the audience to step outside of reality for a moment and imagine that Anne Frank was able to live the kind of life she wanted, and she says numerous times in her diary that she wanted a normal status-quo teenager life. It’s futile to hope for an alternate past, but his comment was in fact sensitive to her thoughts. Gratefully, in these times, Nazism is out and young brilliant girls in free societies listen to whatever they please, despite their family’s protestations, in true Anne Frank spirit.