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The Next Politicized Celebrity

From the Scrapbook.

Feb 28, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 23 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Scrapbook has a weakness for politicized celebrities, especially since there are so many of them. These days it’s difficult to turn around without bumping into a Rock the Vote event (Madonna), or rally for gay marriage (Kathy Griffin), or snarky video about Sarah Palin (Matt Damon). Switch on The View and there’s Whoopi Goldberg commiserating with Julia Roberts/Alec Baldwin/Janeane Garofalo about evil Republicans. 

The Next Politicized Celebrity

Kerosene Photography

The Scrapbook has mixed feelings about all this: Some of the celebrity perspective is so idiotic—Rosie O’Donnell/Charlie Sheen’s belief that the Bush administration engineered 9/11, Woody Harrelson’s crusade for hemp—as to be entertaining; but we concede that a certain amount of it is creepy (David Letterman on Willow Palin), appalling (Margaret Cho on Laura Bush), and even dangerous (Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vaccine crusade). And our delight at the spectacle of Lady Gaga trying to talk about federalism, or the Dixie Chicks explicating the First Amendment, is balanced with fond memories of the days when movie stars and pop singers tended to keep their political opinions to themselves. Every four years some might show their colors at the national conventions—Lloyd Bridges is a Democrat! Irene Dunne is a Republican!—but with a few well-known exceptions (Ronald Reagan, George Murphy), they tended to keep America guessing about whether they liked Ike or went all the way with LBJ.

The latest issue of Rolling Stone, however, strongly suggests that the process is now straying into reductio ad absurdum territory. There on the cover is the 16-year-old Canadian pop sensation Justin Bieber, and inside writer Vanessa Grigoriadis conducts a wide-ranging interview with the 16-year-old Bieber. We keep mentioning his age, by the way, because it seems a reasonable assumption to The Scrapbook that most 16-year-olds, even in Canada, don’t possess much knowledge about the recent past, or the wider world, and haven’t thought very much about politics or foreign affairs. This is certainly true of young Bieber, whose insights are fully as banal as you would expect, and whose convictions appear to be all over the map. 

Fans of traditional social conduct will be gratified to know that he doesn’t “think you should have sex with someone unless you love them,” but patriots will be disappointed to learn that he would never become an American citizen because “Canada’s the best country in the world.” Of course, devotion to one’s homeland is laudable—although not necessarily for the reasons cited by young Bieber: “We go to the doctor and we don’t need to worry about paying him, but here, your whole life, you’re broke because of medical bills.” Pro-lifers will be intrigued to learn that he is opposed to abortion—“It’s like killing a baby?” he tells Rolling Stone, complete with interrogative tone—but when asked about abortion in the case of rape, Bieber is more or less incapable of grappling with the concept (“I guess I haven’t been in that position, so I wouldn’t be able to judge that”). 

The Scrapbook’s favorite passage, however, occurs when Vanessa Grigoriadis asks Justin Bieber a hypothetical question: If he were old enough to vote (and if he were a U.S. citizen), which political party would he support? In times of yore, the smart celebrity would deflect such a loaded inquiry—I vote for the candidate, not the party, etc.—in order not to alienate fans. Such restraint barely exists these days, but our suspicion is that Justin Bieber’s agnostic answer is based not so much on discretion as on the average 16-year-old’s knowledge of the world outside recording studios, concert arenas, and the editorial offices of Rolling Stone: “I’m not sure about the parties,” he admits, “but whatever they have in Korea, that’s bad.”

Which Korea, he didn’t specify.

High-Speed Rail to Nowhere

President Obama’s high-speed trains hit another bump last week. Florida’s governor has now agreed with Wisconsin’s and Ohio’s that the president’s dream would be a nightmare for taxpayers in his state.

As Stephen F. Hayes reported in these pages two months ago (“Railing Against Big Government,” December 20), Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and Ohio governor John Kasich both said “thanks but no thanks” to the offer of federal stimulus funds to be used as a down payment on the build-out of high-speed rail service. Both of the incoming governors had in fact come out against the project in their successful election campaigns last fall. 

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