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  • Saturday, September 24, 2011
  • 7:00 PM–12:00 AM
  • Recital Hall
  • $1

Indeed, you are not seeing things - the Student Activities Office will be screening teen heartthrob Justin Bieber’s biographical saga Never Say Never. We believe that cultural discernment shouldn’t be confined to subtitled foreign films or Best Picture nominees. While providing breezy entertainment, there is substance in blockbusters, romantic comedies, and children’s movies that deserve to be dissected, decoded, and discussed.

Never Say Never is a particularly rich text for Beliebers and non-Beliebers alike. Justin Bieber is at the center of our culture and has inspired intense adoration and dislike (dislike may be too soft, see YouTube comment sections). Everyone seems to have an opinion about this pubescent Canadian export for various reasons that include the quality of his music, reactions to his fame, and jealousy over the way he makes women swoon. Either way, understanding Justin Bieber means understanding a range of topics from music history to cultural studies to teenage psychology.

The Bieber phenomena is not unprecedented, as he seems to fall in a long-running tradition of teen idols ranging from Elvis Presley to Stevie Wonder to Michael Jackson to Justin Timberlake. That being said, Never say Never shows us a new, 21st century model for teen stardom. The film practically begins at conception and shows young Justin singing and banging the drum kit in home videos. He’s clearly a talented kid and any serious discussion of his music would have to acknowledge this. As the young Bieber ages, he continues to perform anonymously until YouTube videos of his bedroom performances are heard by a representative of Usher. Usher then signs the kid to a record deal and he quickly gains international fame.

This story, the story of Justin Bieber, would not have been possible twenty or even ten years ago. He was not assembled and marketed through corrupt music industry handlers like NSYNC, he didn’t go through the Disney machine a la The Jonas Brothers, and he wasn’t forced Michael Jackson-style into a life of fame. In this story, I think there’s hope for a new talented, level-headed, and savvy group of teen stars. Some of Justin Bieber’s appeal can be attributed to this – that we feel connected to the real Bieber. He came to fame through the internet, without a mediator in the form of a talent agency or multi-million dollar company. It is if we have been following him at each point in his career, confident that what we see is what we get. Never Say Never is part of this work of assuring Bieber’s fan base that he’s a new kind of transparent star who young admirers can put their trust in.

While the film says it is giving us Bieber “uncut,” keep in mind that Never Say Never is a film. Justin Bieber is being shown through the lens of a filmmaker who has selected which scenes to show and, even more importantly, not show the audience. Like with reality television, there is a perception in Never Say Never that the characters are in control of their own narrative. In reality, profit-driven producers, directors, and editors cut and arrange the footage in order to craft a narrative that will appeal to the largest possible audience.

Since it is a biographical film of a seventeen year old, Never Say Never leaves us with more questions than answers. Will Justin Bieber move beyond adolescent subject matter and his adolescent fan base? Will he retain a squeaky-clean personal image? Can he possibly get any more famous? Regardless of his next step, we’ll be keeping tabs on Justin Bieber.

- Dan Hofman

September 2011
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