I've been thinking a lot about our bifurcated American youth culture. On the one hand, there are what I call America's "Global Youth," the kids who have an outlook that is increasingly catholic (with a small c, as in the dictionary definition: broad, universal in scope). Their view supercedes "international," because it cares little about geographic and political borders, much more about the kind of global communities that can form around an idea, a sport, even a song. These kids are more likely to have traveled somewhere outside the United States, and if they have not been privileged to do that, they aspire to do it. They know it is a big world and they see themselves as citizens of the globe. And they'd like to have an impact on it in some way. The ones I've talked to even assume they'll have to work at making that happen.
Then we have the other side of American youth culture: the parochially focused, those who are more Jersey Shore or Kardashian influenced than their big-think counterparts. They're more focused on popularity and the accumulation of stuff, whatever is hot at the moment. Material goods rule. They're not particularly interested in what is going on beyond their home town, much less beyond American borders. All others are, frankly, foreigners. In fact, they often view other American citizens as foreigners if those others are, well, different in skin color, in education, in religion, in background.
So now let's talk about Justin Bieber, that former little kid heartthrob singer who was plucked from his relatively humble beginnings to become America's latest teen crush singer. He was a fresh faced boy who could make the pre-teen and teen girls swoon. Great sales of his music. Now he is 18 years old. And ridiculously rich.
Let's face it, this kid had the popularity to aspire to any number of opportunities and he could have taken his fans with him. Where could he have decided to focus his non-musical energies? Education? Creating dialogue among America's youth about topics that are of importance to our nation, e.g. how to help the disenfranchised? Or simply staying good at what he was, a wildly popular musical artist, minding his own business and being a good citizen. Maybe taking on a cause to which he could contribute some of that major money?
But Bieber has decided that he is a "bro," as he describes himself. And, he says openly, he is all about swag. As in stuff. Goods, Merchandise. He was recently quoted as shouting to a crowd of fans, "I'm 18 years old and a swaggy adult!" It's all about the swag, apparently, like his $110,000 car (he has several autos) that he had custom covered in chrome. His conversation, these days, appears to be all about his interest in accumulation of tangible goods.
What a lost opportunity to be a global ambassador of something other than swag. To initiate and sustain a conversation among America's youth (and all others for that matter) about being of service to something bigger than one's self.