If this is Justin Bieber 'raising awareness' about Anne Frank and the Holocaust, perhaps he shouldn't

Celebrities 'raising awareness' is not an end in itself. Beyond that there has to be 'creating understanding' – and that’s before we even get to 'taking action'
  • @MsEllenEJones

Take a breath because, no matter how inured you think you are to brainless celeb drivel, this one’s a real doozy: Justin Bieber visited The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam over the weekend and wrote these words in the guestbook: “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.”

In fairness to the young pop sensation, it’s hard to imagine any comment he could have made that wouldn't have sounded breathtakingly crass. It’s Bieber. And the Holocaust. In the same sentence. These bywords for extreme inanity and extreme solemnity do not sit together comfortably. What’s more interesting is the response from Bieber’s people to the backlash his humblebrag par excellence generated. “This is an entirely positive situation that someone is trying to turn into a negative,” huffed a source close to the star. “The kid was doing a good thing, and now more people will learn about Anne Frank as a result.”

Are you buying that? In the multi-channel, information overload era, it is a well-rehearsed truth that capturing an audience’s attention, particularly young audience’s, is a struggle. Such a struggle, in fact, that somewhere along the way it became an end in itself. VICE magazine sends Dennis Rodman to North Korea and it’s hailed as a triumph for foreign reporting; Katy Perry visits Madagascar to “raise awareness” for Unicef and no one asks what happens there after she flies home to Hollywood.

Celebrities have nice hair and look good on magazine covers, but generally they’re not the right people to offer actual insight. That’s why the most pressing question in all this is obviously not, “Would Anne Frank be a Justin Bieber fan?” or even “Can celebs help engage kids in current affairs?” It’s what on earth are we doing seeking a profound statement on the meaning of human suffering from a 19-year-old Canadian pop star, who last month got caught smuggling his pet capuchin monkey through airport customs?

“Raising awareness” is not an end in itself. Beyond that there has to be “creating understanding” – and that’s before we even get to “taking action”. If you allow yourself to forget about stages two and three, perhaps you’ll believe that the institutions and individuals who offer real understanding are also dispensable.

In Britain in 2013, hundreds of libraries face closure, the education minister rides roughshod over the legitimate objections of experienced teachers, and the once-venerable BBC is under attack from all sides. But don’t worry; in the brave new world, we won’t be needing trained librarians, experienced history teachers or independent journalists. Justin Bieber’s got it covered.

But who will explain Bruno?

Thanks to the BBC for broadcasting a 91 second explanation of why the 51 second song ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’ is at number 2, in defiance of those who suggested the chart show exists to play songs, not explain why people buy them. However, as most listeners had already noted Thatcher’s passing by Sunday, it was redundant. Rather what we need to be told about are the socio-political forces that kept Bruno Mars in the top 10. I’ve long suspected that only a Blairite could see any merit in his recording career and that will.i.am records are mainly bought by hardline eurosceptics.