Where Does The Beiber Love Go? by Stephen Hazan Arnoff

You may have noticed recently that our Lobby gallery is currently showing the art of our talented preschool and after school students.  The show is called “All You Need is Love- and a little paint” and it’s curated by our talented LABA teaching artist, Eve Chwast.  Eve is a part of LABA, which is a Jewish house of study ( beit midrash), for culture makers held here at the Y.  This year, 20 artists, writers, dancers, musicians, actors, and directors, took part in a year-long exploration into this year’s theme, Love/EROS, and our central text, the “Song of Songs,” through art, writing, commentary, music, video, photography, and more.

The LABA Fellows also publish a Journal each month.  Check out this great post from this month’s journal by Executive Director Stephen Hazan Arnoff, as he compares Justin Bieber to another swoon-worthy musician, King David:

The emotional peak of Justin Beiber’s schlockumentary “Never Say Never” is a montage of clips from the now traditional concert ritual “One Less Lonely Girl” in which Bieber serenades of girl from the audience. Bruce had “Dancing in the Dark.” (Yes, that’s Courtney Cox of Friends.) Van Halen had a more sinister mode of surveying the audience, as roadies provided Polaroid pictures of women section by section for the gentlemen in the band. At Bieber’s show a girl is selected from the audience by the team and seated in a chair at center stage before 18,000 others just like her now just wanting to be her. Towards the end of the song Justin approaches with a bouquet of roses and a microphone and his bangs and his big white teeth and his sparkling eyes to sing “One Less Lonely Girl,” sometimes bouncing around and behind her with his dancers, sometimes framing her face with his hands the way young lovers do. The girls are stunned and enthralled, some all but levitating out of their seats. They also weep. They really weep – heavy sobs, gasping for air, smoothing rivulets of tears and mascara with the sides of their hands.

Don’t be grumpy about the real politick of the pop culture machine that brings us all this goodness. It’s not new. Sinatra and Elvis and the Beatles and even Shaun Cassidy and the Bay City Rollers drove girls to hysteria and made all kinds of money for all kinds of people too. Forget that it takes a village of marketers and branding specialists and product sponsors and a wasteland-vacuum of candy-sick-culture glassy-eyed over-the-top with nothing really happening to bring this moment to be. Forget all of that and focus on this: Kids who probably have never felt so special, so loved, so chosen for good, and indeed so not lonely than the moment of being chosen by Justin Beiber to sit on his stage in front of their peers at the epicenter of all things true in their world.

I have been privy to a little Beiberfever, mostly as a father.  I caught my own breath right along with these kids thinking how beautiful it was for them to be given a gift of mostly harmless and G-rated love lived vicariously through their peers. Why shouldn’t it be that every single one of these girls deserved to be a chosen one – the most beautiful girl in the world?

Of course, the scene flattens many values. Not a queer urge in the house. Cutesy hero boy rules squealing, besotted, helpless girls who just watch as he and his team control the moment. The money supporting the Beiber machine flows and flows from the girls and their parents. Thirty-five bucks for two tickets to the 3-D Fan’s Cut for my daughter and I. And, forgive me, the songs are mostly dreck.

But the power of the love in the “One Less Lonely Girl” clips is astounding. “I love him so much,” weeps one girl after walking off the stage. “I love him so much,” she repeats again and again.

I got my dose of Beiberfever just as we were closing our LABA study of Eros with the narrative cycle of King David. He starts off as a ruddy little punk, a cast-off in his way just like Beiber with his single mother unknown up north but possessing the miraculous power to slay Goliath and then rule the world. David slew hearts, too. He had eight wives plus lots of lovers, each in her way unfulfilled if not cast off by David. He was a political killer – literally – ruthlessly meeting his needs to get to the top, and often losing his way when he arrived there. Kingship in ancient Israel was just like the music business.

David was the seed of the Messiah as well. Messiah, lover, king, poet, and singer. A real rock star. He calmed the madness of Saul his mentor and rival by playing a lyre. He streaked naked through the city streets. He bore his narcissistic soul in dirges and praise to God, but so beautifully that we still read and chant them obsessively – at weddings and funerals, throughout the liturgy, and in moving of lips of observant women between stops on the subway or the bus. David’s White Album-Blue-Blonde on Blonde-Nevermind-The Joshua Tree-London Calling-Never Say Never was Psalms.

Beiberfever will pass. Does anyone even remember the Jonas Brothers let alone Menudo? But somewhere in his story – lots of places, in fact – there waits an answer to a question that even David has yet to share.

With so much love, so many antidotes for loneliness in these rock stars idols, and so much girl power rising in the moments of their adulation – where does all this love go?

I wonder how John Lennon could have said, pretty far down the line himself, that rock and roll could still change the world. I wonder how pop culture can generate so much passion and connection at a moment when kids are becoming adults, and then, in about as long as it takes for a one-hit-wonder to fade away, such spirits flatline when it comes time to bring this love to the world.

What Paul Simon says about the Davids, I wonder about those girls too:

Here’s to all the boys who came along
Carrying soft guitars in cardboard cases
All night long
Do you wonder where those boys have gone?
Do you wonder where those boys have gone?

Stephen Hazan-Arnoff is  Executive Director of the 14th Street Y

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