The ever-reliable and scrupulous news outlet TMZ recently publicized a photo featuring Justin Bieber with what could or could not be something resembling a hand-rolled cigarette or miniature cigar in his hand. The photo is far from conclusive in what it reveals, but this did not stop TMZ from reporting that Bieber appeared to be holding a "smoldering blunt," which is slang for those unfamiliar for a cigar hollowed out and filled with marijuana.
Was the teen pop star smoking weed? No one is sure but him, I suppose. Was he smoking something? Apparently so, though it's hardly a crime (even if it's gross). Does he have a responsibility to his fans to maintain a different image? Some might say yes, although I can only imagine what it's like to try and live any semblance of a normal life while being scrutinized every second of every day.
Who among us, after all, look good under such intense scrutiny?
Regardless, the whole potential scandal was such a hot topic that a member of the paparazzi actually died chasing down Bieber's car, supposedly because he believed he had caught Bieber smoking weed.
As if this was not enough insanity, some pranksters, masquerading online as Bieber fans, suggested that devotees of the singer should engage in a "Cut for Bieber" campaign to force him into amending his ways. Again, if you're not familiar, "cutting" involves self-mutilation, often with a razor blades, and generally along the wrists or forearms. Though the intent of cutting is not generally suicidal in nature, it can certainly be an unintended consequence, and at the very least, it can lead to scarring and addictive cycles of self-abuse.
Needless to say, it's not exactly ideal fodder for practical jokes.
Unfortunately, as some legitimate Justin Bieber fans heard about this, they took up the cause, posting photos on social media of wounds they'd inflicted on themselves, all with the supposed intent of coercing their musical idol to stop using drugs. I had thought about sharing the photos, but it seems the risk of promoting the practice by sharing them is too high. But some of the photos were "liked" and "shared" on Twitter in the hundreds to thousands of times.
So some voyeuristic gossip outlet shares a photo of a teenager may (or maybe not) smoking something that may (or may not) contain an illicit substance. From there, a member of the media dies in a related incident and teens start hurting themselves, all based on speculation that really doesn't matter one way or the other in the grand scheme of things.
It reminds me of the song "Cookie Jar" by Jack Johnson:
"It wasn't me", says the boy with the gun
"Sure I pulled the trigger but it needed to be done
Cause life's been killing me ever since it begun
You cant blame me cause I'm too young"
"You can't blame me sure the killer was my son
But I didn't teach him to pull the trigger of the gun
It's the killing on this TV screen
You cant blame me its those images he seen"
Well "You can't blame me", says the media man
Well "I wasn't the one who came up with the plan
I just point my camera at what the people want to see
Man it's a two way mirror and you cant blame me"
"You can't blame me", says the singer of the song
Or the maker of the movie which he based his life on
"It's only entertainment and as anyone can see
The smoke machines and makeup and you cant fool me"
It was you it was me it was every man
We've all got the blood on our hands
We only receive what we demand
And if we want hell then hells what we'll have
So, how did we get here? We long for it. We demand it. We are tantalized by watching something we're not supposed to. We want to see superstars doing something we can resent them for. We'll pay to see something bleed for entertainment. We'll share it with our friends.
And then we sit back, click our tongues in contempt and sigh in dismay or disgust at the decay of the moral fabric all around us, all the while ignoring the blood on our own hands.
Pardon the frankness of this post, but this is a sickness that affects far more than the handful of gossip columnist, pranking bloggers and cutters who jumped on this particular bandwagon. Feel free to disagree, in fact, placing blame elsewhere. Maybe you feel Bieber himself is to blame (I don't) for starting the whole thing rolling, or perhaps the entire entertainment-industrial complex (whatever that means exactly). Never mind that all of it matters simply because we decide that it matters.
Meanwhile, Rome continues to burn.
Follow Christian Piatt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/christianpiatt