Justin Bieber is hardly the Hollywood’s first bad boy. He may even be its lamest. But he’s also the most fascinating, and he’s quickly becoming the most terrifying.
The 19-year-old pop star, petulance personified, is acting out. Once a precocious soccer mom-endorsed moppet, Bieber is now following a path so cartoonishly predictable it’s as if we’re watching it play out in a broadly-written episode of Law and Order. But that’s the scary part. Eye-rollingly predictable as Bieber’s good-boy-gone-bad behavior is, we all know how those Law and Order episodes end.
It may be time to worry about Justin Bieber.
Bieber was arrested Thursday morning on suspicion of driving under the influence and drag racing in Miami. He was pulled over for speeding and failed a field sobriety test. He tested positive for drug use, was incoherent, and reportedly resisted arrest. ABC’s Matt Gutman says that Bieber cussed out cops and admitted to being drunk on beer and having prescription drugs in his system. According to a police spokesman, Bieber’s crew actually blocked traffic with two SUVs so they could set up a proper drag race track. How charming.
Read Justin Bieber’s Arrest Report: “What the Fuck Did I Do?”
Look at him smiling in that mug shot, almost like he’s proud. Ass.
Though it’s hard to tell by his expression in that senior class portrait, er mug shot, Bieber now faces up to six months in jail.
Bieber has been lording over a reign of terror in Miami since Monday, on which he attended a local strip club’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration with $75,000 in ones, like some douchebag the writers of Entourage would have a hard time dreaming up. According to CNN, he even used police escorts to usher his caravan between strip clubs this week.
But wait, there’s more! (Truly, this is like some infomercial from hell.)
Bieber is also currently under investigation on allegations of egging his California neighbor’s home. (Bad boy for life, am I right?) TMZ has been gleefully chronicling reports—anonymously sourced, naturally—of the star’s rampant drug use, particularly of something known as sizzurp. Alleged texts leaked between the Bieber and on-and-off lover Selena Gomez, apparently with all the romantic nuance of Bill O’Reilly in a loofa shop: “He always sends shit about his dick and fucking her and stuff,” a source told Radar. Oh, Romeo.
The laundry list is an endless scroll, really. Being carried up the Great Wall of China. Drinking. Drugs. Punching the paparrazo in London. The brothel visit in Brazil. Arguing with neighbors. Spitting in neighbors’ faces. Threatening to kill his neighbors. (Mr. Rogers is rolling over in his grave, right about now.)
After the Thursday morning drug-fueled Fast and Furious reenactment, Miami police spokesperson Bobby Hernandez made a succinct assessment: “Kid needs help.”
Conditioned to expecting the worst after a tragic glut of Young Hollywood cautionary tales, it’s the kneejerk reaction of society to diagnose any sign of odd or dangerous behavior from teenage stars as a cry for help. We diagnose early and often, and many times needlessly. (Remember when we all thought Miley Cyrus careering head first towards rock bottom just because she twerked?) With each passing Bieber incident, however, the diagnosis gets more credible, and the prognosis even more worrisome.
The narrative is so clichéd at this point it’s a marvel that even Bieber, walled up in his castle of braggadocio and ignorant self-importance, can’t recognize it. Child star rebels against puritanical expectations and accrues a dangerous swarm of fame-whoring leeches and yes men that grows daily, swelling around him and pushing reality farther and farther away from the out-of-touch nucleus he resides in. Celebrity surrounds himself with a toxic group of friends and staffers, each coincidentally blind—at least when it comes to the celebrity’s worrisome behavior. We’ve seen it all before, sad as that is.
There’s a difference, however, between those cautionary tales that still haunt us: the River Phoenixes, Danny Bonnaduces, Tatum O’Neals, Dana Platos, all the way up to the Lindsay Lohans and the Amanda Bynes. An environment like the one Bieber has created for himself is so dangerous because it breeds a sense of not only invincibility—that none of this bad behavior has consequences—but a feeling of entitlement to that invincibility. It’s very likely that those fallen child stars mentioned felt that same entitlement. The scary part about Bieber’s situation is how today’s culture, in which we are already siphoning ourselves off from reality through constant use of technology and social media, compounds and exacerbates Bieber’s delusions: of entitlement, of invincibility, and, most of all, of grandeur.
There’s an iconic image seared into our heads of what it’s like to be a teen idol on the level of Justin Bieber. The footage of fans recognizing and then chasing The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night has been recreated depicting the rabid followings of everyone from David Cassidy to the Backstreet Boys to One Direction since. But what if those fans didn’t dissipate when Paul, John, George, and Ringo found refuge on the bus? What if they were always chasing them—and not just chasing them, but showering them with worship?
That’s exactly what’s happening now. Fans aren’t just fans, they’re fan armies and their marches don’t end when the tour bus pulls away. They continue their assaults (of love, of course) on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook, on YouTube, on fan websites, and forums. Justin Bieber isn’t just told he’s flawless and faultless by millions of screaming girls just when he steps outside to greet them. He’s told it every time he checks his phone, logs into Twitter, posts a photo to Instagram. It’s not hard to imagine how the incessant validation could inflate one’s sense of self to god-like proportions. And gods can do anything. Gods don’t face consequences. And Justin Bieber thinks he’s a god. For the love of God.
Just three days ago, when the reports of his drug abuse reached a fever pitch and police were investigating him for the egging incident, Bieber posted on Instagram, “Worried about nothing.” Translation: “Untouchable.” Our response: terrified.
It’s not just Bieber, after all, who’s encountering celebrity in a new age. We all are. And as such we’re watching his downward spiral in new and uneasy ways, which is to say all the time. TMZ provides us with photos and footage of every incident. His misdeeds no longer happen in secret behind closed doors, because once those doors open there are dozens of people just waiting to grant anonymous interviews about all the juicy details.
Typically a star’s journey to rock bottom plays out for all of us years later in a 20/20 segment or E! True Hollywood Story pieced together after the fact. But now we’re watching every gritty detail of the episode unfold in real time. The scary part is, unlike in the past, we don’t know how the episode is going to end. And however it does end, the media, the fan armies, us—we’ll all be complicit in it.
“I ask that people keep me and Justin in their minds,” Bieber’s mom, Pattie Mallette recently told the U.K. Sun. “I pray for him every day.” She’s afraid to find out how the episode ends, too.