When I was in junior high school, Michael Jackson made his iconic appearance on Motown 25.  Our choir teacher, a child of the Motown era, had recorder the entire show and for any who had missed it.  Three girls in our class screamed and then burst into tears at Michael Jackson’s performance, then made us rewind and watch it, all to fresh rounds of screams and tears every time, for the entire hour.  That was my earliest memory of (pre-)teen fandom and all I can picture as “Beliebers” watch Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never.

Following in the teen sensation footsteps of Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers, Justin Bieber is served up as the latest teen girl squeal-delivery service.  The movie opens with a tribute to his origins as a viral internet sensation before offering up glimpses of Bieber’s headlining stint at Madison Square Garden last year with backstage footage and biographical info.  The thing is, there is the potential for actual exploration of a pop sensation, but this isn’t that sort of movie.

The drama of growing up poor to a single mom in Ontario, Canada is only touched on.  And though Bieber taught himself to play several instruments, the movie skims over this to get to the mythology of him coming under the wing of record-label maestro Scooter Braun and mentor Usher.

The mythology as well as all image-crafting is for the benefit of his fans.  Fan – an enthusiastic devotee, follower, or admirer. Short for Fanatic – a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal. Fans have a special attachment to the object of their affection.  They want a piece of  the object of their fandom, they want to (demand to) consume them.  The fact is that we are to be a joyous people, to laugh, to sing, to dance, all to express the joy within us. Part of the “fan confusion” lies in the fact that we are wired to worship.  And the object of our fandom are no more than idols.

There is a lot of gloss to pop culture, a celebration of celebrity, calculated fakeness passing for “reality”.  So much is counterfeit that it’s difficult to get to what’s authentic and what really matters.  We need to recognize hype and exchange it for reality.  We can combat this mindset by continually renewing our relationships with (and what it means to revere) God  and with the people in our relational orbits.

The biggest problem with Never Say Never is that it is a biopic of someone who hasn’t made much of an impact.  In the landscape of pop culture, he’s a flash in the pan and hasn’t been on the scene long enough (in age or career) for there to be much of an exploration of him.  And a movie about the behind-the-scenes machinations of the whole “Justin Bieber” enterprise and exploring the pressures of celebrity on a child isn’t the kind of movie meant to be spoonfed to fans.  It is what it is, a 3-D karaoke show and, fan or not, the film has its charms.