Unless you've been tied up in a box underwater while working your Harry Houdini impersonator gig, you might have heard that Canada’s finest export (right after Toronto mayor Rob Ford), Justin Bieber, was arrested in Miami on Thursday for underage drinking and allegedly drag racing on a public street.
You know, just the average stuff 19-year-old kids with 100 gazillion dollars in the bank and 49 million Twitter followers do these days. The Internet, of course, promptly exploded with unbridled glee and outright hatred for the kid.
An eight-year-old fan even took the time to write an "Open Letter to Justin Bieber," (which her mother then of course released to the media, because duh) asking him, "Why did you do it?" and basically telling him to "grow up" -- time which almost certainly could have been better spent knitting a sweater or shoveling snow from the driveway.
I don't usually write about any of the people I work with without asking them first, but I'm making an exception in this case. Because the Biebs was actually a guest star on a kid’s show I was the costume designer for in early November 2009. He filmed his appearance on the show right before the release of his seven-track EP, My World, which immediately went platinum. Literally two weeks from the day he was just "some singer kid" on our show, he was the most famous 15-year-old on earth. So, was he a monstrous twerp when I worked with him? Nope, not at all.
He arrived the day of the shoot with his mom in tow. When I stuck out my hand to introduce myself at his fitting, he said, “Aw, I’m a hugger!” and reached out to embrace me. He was warm, sweet, polite and kind. I told his mom that he could keep the clothes we bought for him, and Justin went out of his way to find me and thank me after the shoot.
His behavior was far better then some not-so-famous mean girl actors I’ve had the displeasure of working with. So I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for him, even as he’s progressed farther and farther into being a bit of an out-of-control punk. It makes it hard for me to pile on, as I saw the sweet kid he was at one time.
I actually feel sorry for Justin Bieber right now -- because I don’t think children should be famous in the first place. It’s almost a form of abuse. When you take a kid whose brain isn’t finished growing and treat it like a freak, you can’t really be too surprised when it lashes out and acts freaky.
Research has long shown that the teenaged brain is a pale imitation of what the adult brain will eventually become. Writer Molly Edmonds sums it up nicely in her excellent article on the growth of a teenaged brain:
“Think of the teenage brain as an entertainment center that hasn't been fully hooked up. There are loose wires, so that the speaker system isn't working with the DVD player, which in turn hasn't been formatted to work with the television yet. And to top it all off, the remote control hasn't even arrived!”
The prefrontal cortex (the remote control in Edmond’s analogy) is the part of the brain that weighs outcomes and controls impulses. It isn’t really fully formed until about age 20 -- so it makes sense that 19-year-old Justin Bieber's brain is not firing on all cylinders just yet.
Add fame, fortune and a lack of parental boundaries to the mix, and you've got an out-of-control kid just doing whatever the hell his dumb brain tells him to. And to top it all off, the part of the juvenile brain that is fairly well developed at a young age is that which seeks pleasure and reward. What could possibly go wrong?
My teenaged-era brain could not have even begun to handle the money, adulation and lack of consequences that comes with the fame child stars achieve at such a young age. I did all sorts of crazy stupid stuff as a kid -- including stuff like racing my pals in cars on the freeway. Stuff that gets kids killed every single day.
I’m lucky to have lived -- and even more lucky not to have had my stupidity amplified and encouraged by intense public scrutiny. Being a child star is not doing a kid any favors -- and I think it’s actually pretty close to bordering on cruelty. We put kid stars on pedestals, turning them into monsters, then laugh and point when they act like monsters. Some kids can handle the pressure, others crumble for our entertainment and serve as an outlet for our collective scorn.
I really think everyone's venom for goofy Justin Bieber is due to the fact that we’re all secretly a little pissed that he has now out-crazied our previously properly crazy teenaged careers. Racing rented Lamborghinis in the streets of Miami probably makes your juvenile hijinks look like nothing -- or maybe not? You tell me what kind of crazy stuff you got up to as wild teenagers, you bad little kittens.
I’m on Twitter: @IveyAlison.