Dispensable Pop Stars

Two significant cultural events occurred in recent days, with parallels so obvious they were impossible to miss.

First, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann announced she would not seek reelection in 2014.

And second, the media pronounced dead the career of Justin Bieber.

OK, perhaps the connection is not so self-evident, but allow me to explain.

Bachmann, of course, is the Tea Party-styled four-term representative who, in her 2012 presidential campaign, cemented a reputation for making patently false assertions with unwavering conviction, such as when she claimed the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation, because a random woman at a campaign event told her so.

Her most recent House race was also her most competitive, and when she announced her impending retirement from Congress, the man who nearly defeated her in 2012, Jim Graves, declared, “Mission accomplished.”

As he would have it, Graves regarded himself as a mere vessel, on behalf of the good people of Minnesota, to remove Bachmann from the national scene.  While he might have preferred to do so by personally unseating her, achieving the same ends by alternative means—namely, spooking her into fleeing politics the way she tends to flee reporters—was good enough for him.

As for Justin Bieber, who I trust requires no introduction, it is probably a bit soon to proclaim the sun has set upon a pop sensation still in his teens, and what is more, one with such natural charisma and (on good days) a knack for navigating the labyrinthine world of celebrity.

All the same, various pop culture news outlets have done exactly that, weaving together a “meltdown” narrative from a series of unfortunate events in Bieber’s recent past, including such crimes against humanity as smoking marijuana, turning up late for concerts and, most amusingly, having his pet monkey indefinitely detained by the Federal Republic of Germany.

As we come to grips with the prospect of a world with a few square inches not inhabited by Justin Bieber, I am drawn back to the dawn of his young career, which to me and my particular circle of acquaintances signaled precisely one thing:  The effective end of the Jonas Brothers in the cultural bloodstream.

It is easy to forget today, but the tender trio with matching purity rings and, like Bieber, a supposed connection to the music industry was quite the commodity for a good couple of years, with precisely the sort of wall-to-wall coverage in all the usual celebrity rags (and a rabid fan following to boot) currently enjoyed by Bieber.

No more.  In effect (if not by design), Bieber served the same purpose in his pursuit of fame as Jim Graves in his pursuit of political office:  Knocking the reigning “it girl” off the pedestal.

It is often said (accurately enough) that America will build up its celebrities only to destroy them later on.  Fame is ephemeral.  Today’s rock star is tomorrow’s has-been.  Our so-called heroes in the world of entertainment, with precious few exceptions, are ultimately disposable and replaceable.

The useful connection we should draw, then, is that this principle applies as much to politics as to entertainment.

Lest we forget, Bachmann’s primacy in the Tea Party universe was itself a product of the waning influence of the former queen bee of the proverbial far right, Sarah Palin, for whom Bachmann was viewed as something of a surrogate in the 2012 GOP primaries.

This is no small fact, when we reflect the degree to which the world of punditry managed to convince itself and many others that Palin would be a force in American politics for many years to come.  For a good long while—particularly during the early months of the Obama administration—it was inconceivable that Palin would all but vanish from the scene and become irrelevant.

And then she all but vanished from the scene and became irrelevant.

As a nation, America might well be “indispensable,” as President Obama asserted in one of his debates against Mitt Romney.  However, the same is not true about any individual American.

To wit:  We take it on faith that Franklin Roosevelt was the “only” man who could possibly have won World War II.  But then how do we explain how his unknown, untested successor, Harry Truman, managed to patch the world back together again when the war was over?  It could not have been entirely a matter of luck, could it?

Accordingly, we should resist the temptation to anoint political and cultural saviors for ourselves, as if we would be lost without them.  Happily, in point of fact, we would not.

America is a big country, and there are plenty of clever, talented people who live here.  By no means are we all truly created equal, but we are equally human.  We should rejoice at this news, rather than constantly rebel against it.

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