As it turns out, Justin Bieber’s social media shaming on Sunday — dramatic as it was — was, in fact, profoundly misplaced.
Accused pretty much universally throughout the Internet and in the media of “arrogance,” “stupidity” and “self-serving aggrandizement,” after his guestbook message at Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House museum was made public — it’s been revealed that Bieber wrote his comment after he was told by a tour guide that Frank was interested in pop culture and celebrities of her day.
To recap; Bieber, who’s on a world concert tour, paid an after-hours visit to the attic and house (now a museum) where Anne Marie Frank — a Jewish teenager, then 13 — her family and others went into hiding in July 1942 during the Nazi occupation of World War II. On August 4, 1944, the whole group was arrested and deported after they were betrayed. Anne died of Typhus and exhaustion in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945.
However, the diaries that Frank wrote while in hiding have lived on. Published by her father Otto Frank after the war, his daughter’s reflections went on to sell over 30 million copies — and, more importantly — humanized the statistics behind the reality of the Holocaust.
Bieber’s guestbook entry read:
“Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber,” according to the museum’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.
After the singer’s note was posted by museum staff, the public’s reaction was as scathing as it was swift.
One Facebook commenter raged: “She would’ve been a WHAT? That little idiot is way too full of himself. She’s an important historical figure so show some respect.”
Another of the 2016 (and counting) posters added: “Way to turn an inspiring moment into something about yourself.”
While another wrote: “Anne Frank a Belieber. Don’t you think the poor girl suffered enough[?].”
With just a few exceptions, these comments were typical. Most of the anger at the Facebook page — and elsewhere — has centered on the belief that Bieber himself came up with the idea that Frank could have been a fan of his.
However, this is not the case.
Mostart also defended the teen star’s comment to the BBC, saying:
“He was very interested in Anne Frank. He’s 19, it’s a strange life he’s living, it wasn’t very sensible but he didn’t mean bad … and it’s also nice that he made the effort, he didn’t have to come.”
In addition, an individual close to Bieber contacted TMZ who reported: “One of the things he learned was that she [Anne Frank] was really into the pop culture of the time. The source says that is why he wrote his ‘Belieber’ comment.”
The wording used by the source also echoes a statement by a second museum spokeswoman, Annemarie Bekker, who was quoted by ABC News as saying:
“[Bieber is] a fan of Anne and maybe Anne would have been a fan of his.”
Bekker also told Reuters:
“He’s a 19-year-old boy taking the effort to come and see the museum, and we’d like to point that out, and I think it’s quite innocent what he put down.”
It’s also worth noting that Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization which has dealt with possibly thousands of genuinely offensive instances in its 100 year history, confirmed that Frank was a fan of celebrities and pop culture.
Of Bieber’s guestbook entry, Foxman said: “I don’t see anything wrong with it.”
While it’s true that once Frank entered into hiding she wouldn’t have been able to listen to music in case the “Secret Annexe” was discovered, in another place and war-less context it’s more than possible she would have enjoyed the 1940’s equivalent of pop — and its stars — along with other influences.
Thanks to her father, Frank decorated her part of the attic with a collage of the celebrities of her day. These included dancers, movie stars and royalty such Ray Milland, Greta Garbo, Ginger Rogers and Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret as young girls.
“Our little room looked very bare at first with nothing on the walls; but thanks to Daddy who had brought my film-star collection and picture postcard – with the aid of a paste pot and brush, I have transformed the walls into one gigantic picture,” she wrote on July 11, 1942, while in hiding. “This makes it look much more cheerful.”
Is it too much of stretch to imagine that after Bieber walked around the Anne Frank House, saw the pictures on the wall and was told of Frank’s love for pop culture — that he tried to relate to her from his own life perspective?
Perhaps, then, this question may nutshell the controversy: Why would a 19-year-old take the time out of his schedule to visit a historic site if he didn’t want to connect and understand the lives that once lived there? Bieber’s guestbook note cannot be described as its maturest entry, but it can be described as an attempt to do just that.
Today, Anne Frank House posted a message on Twitter. Short and sweet, it demonstrates a clearer, less knee-jerk perspective on a teen pop star’s visit to the home of a girl who never got the chance to be a teenager.
— Anne Frank House (@annefrankhouse) April 15, 2013
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