Middlebrow: Justin Bieber And The Pressure Of Masculinity

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JUSTIN BIEBER
(AP Photo/Francois Mori, File) | ASSOCIATED PRESS

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Justin Bieber’s deposition tapes are probably the brattiest thing caught on camera since Veruca Salt didn't get her way in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. As he smirks at the camera and grows defiantly unsure of whether he’s ever been to Australia, the natural reaction might be to mutter the words “whatta punk” while Googling deportation laws. But Beiber’s increasingly petulant behavior is indicative of something much bigger than his petit Canadian frame. As he continues to unapologetically spit and pee all over the place, the pop star has become a symbol of the modern man-boy young man, in which bad behavior is enabled -- and dare we say excused -- by the idea that “boys will be boys.”

For the average male teen, the transition into adulthood is one that comes with an intense pressure to prove that their masculinity is unfettered by responsibility. (Think about the sort of behavior we associate with frat culture.) As sociologist Michael Kimmel discusses in “Guyland,” when growing from boy to man, there is a certain emphasis found in the pressure to participate in perceptively “manly” homosocial activities. This is coupled with the shameful stigma placed on expressing emotions (ie talking about feelings is perceived as a "feminine" trait). Considering all the beer-can-crushing antics that align with that developmental pattern, it is often explained away as a typical aspect of growing up.

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Justin Bieber, however, is a boy who also just so happens to have an estimated networth of $160 million. He has a lamborghini, a mansion and lack of parental control that is sufficiently summed up by the fact that his father was in attendance when the then-19-year-old dropped $75,000 at a Miami strip club. Imagine any male college student under such circumstances. They would (also) rapidly devolve into a spitting-and-peeing monster. The reality is that our tragic hero, the world-famous l’enfant terrible, is the ultimate extreme of the problematic pressures of developing masculinity.

So, is there a solution? Can we hold out hope for an adult Justin Bieber to rise out of his current context? The answer to that is: "I don’t know Katie Couric, you tell me." Just kidding. Surely he’ll make it out of this phase (or at least fade from our consciousness) eventually. But in order to emerge from this “detrimental” moment, he needs to be able to take responsibility for himself and his behavior, but without proper guidance it’s absurd for us to expect that of him. On a second look at Bieber’s deposition, his petulance in a setting as formal a legal deposition is unnerving and vaguely sad. He behaves like a 7-year-old, hoping to be released from a time out, and unsure how to express his feelings. The defiant asshole act is reflection of his lack of ability to process his emotions, compounded by the pressure to avoid appearing vulnerable.

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We’ve had all eyes on Bieber since his bowl-cut beginnings. Now, more than ever, he has no privacy. And, more importantly, no one to steer him in the plausibly non-douchebag direction. Really, everything he’s done has been informed by the ways young men are socialized -- it's just on a particularly visible stage. His behavior has been most crucially informed by the extreme lack of responsibility and need to prove masculinity, which also defines the way that boys become men. For that to truly change, we need to re-evaluate the qualities we celebrate in males and deeply reconsider the constrictions of such harshly enforced gender norms. At the very least, the first step is being aware of the fact that those deposition tapes deserve a greater reaction than shrugging it off with a simple, "Biebs will be Biebs."

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Follow Lauren Duca on Twitter: https://twitter.com/laurenduca

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