When working with teenagers, I try to keep up with the latest trends so that I can name-drop a Kardashian or crack a joke about Instagram to let them know that this old-man teacher does have an awareness of youth culture.
So not only do I know who Justin Bieber is, but I know how his arrest last week in Miami impacted his fans — my students.
His name has now been added to the long list of celebrities gone astray. The only real surprise was how long it took the tween superstar to fall from grace. Next on the hit parade will be his somber mea culpas (too bad Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey no longer have their post-Oscars specials) offering regrets over his illegal actions.
To the Beliebers (the term coined for Bieber followers), the pop singer can do no wrong. I’m not sure if they understand the severity of his actions.
What decent person allegedly drag races 60 mph in a 30-mph zone with an expired license while under the influence of alcohol and drugs (did Bieber already forget last November’s death of “Fast and Furious” actor Paul Walker in a car going over 100 mph?), uses profanity toward police officers while resisting arrest, then smiles for his mug shot as if it is for the high school yearbook and waves to cheering fans upon leaving jail?
Instead of concealing himself beneath his hoodie, he uses his exit as a photo-op. Such brazenness would not exist if Bieber were an average citizen, but being in the public eye fuels the blatant lawlessness that his adorers view as a badge of honor.
Of course, this raises the real problem of this latest example of celebrities running amok: there is no shame anymore in our society.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines shame as “a feeling of guilt, regret or sadness that you have because you know you have done something wrong.”
When I walk around campus, I regularly hear students swearing like sailors, dropping f-bombs as if they get paid to use them. There is no attempt at cleaning up their vocabulary when a grown-up walks by because they feel no shame in using such language nor do they fear any repercussions. Welcome to the 21st century.
Who knows how much of Bieber’s upbringing, born to teenaged parents who were never married, marred his value judgment. Like father, like son, both have their arms fully tattooed. And, as the New York Daily News reported, Jeremy Bieber may be an enabler in his son’s shenanigans, apparently “partying with his famous son” at nightclubs, participating “in the SUV caravan that allegedly blocked traffic” for the illegal drag racing.
When a parent is acting like a teenaged delinquent, the child has no guidance. I guess his folks are simply “leaving it to Bieber” to figure things out.
I used to teach Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel “The Scarlet Letter” about Hester Prynne who, as a result of an adulterous relationship, must wear a large red letter “A” upon her chest as punishment so everyone in town knows what she did.
By the end of the book, Hester actually uses the public ostracism to transform herself into an upright individual, the ‘A’ standing for angel. Shame can lead to positive change.
Some of my students say that while they don’t condone Justin Bieber’s behavior, they may still buy his music. That’s too bad. Until he cleans up his act, we should shun entertainers like Justin Bieber who feels no shame in behaving badly. Just don’t ask him to tattoo a letter to his chest as punishment; chances are he’s already done so.
BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and the author of "Smart Kids, Bad Schools and The $100,000 Teacher." He can be reached at brian-crosby.com.