It’s never a good sign when a celebrity gets a monkey. It wasn’t for Michael Jackson; it wasn’t, one can argue, for Ronald Reagan; and it certainly didn’t presage anything good for teen heartthrob and Holocaust-awareness educator Justin Bieber, who was so unfit a caregiver to his capuchin monkey, Mally, that the German authorities were forced to confiscate the wee primate for his own safety.
Would that they could have done the same for young Master Bieber, whose annus horribilis has now spilled in spectacular fashion into 2014. He was arrested for a DUI in Florida. He’s now being formally charged—and may stand trial—for assaulting a limo driver in Toronto. Once he inspired viral videos of undying devotion professed by weeping women aged 3 and 103 (“and” is not a typo); now more than 100,000 people have signed an online petition demanding the poor little son-of-a-gun be immediately deported to the frozen North from which he came, where, disgraced, he will presumably take the black and join the brothers of the Night’s Watch. (Game of Thrones is coming back soon. Sue me; I’m excited.)
Whether this news leaves us shocked and saddened or giddy with unflattering Schadenfreude, one question remains: Between Justin Bieber and Rob Ford, what the hell is going on with Canadians right now? I thought they were supposed to be so nice and polite and unassuming all the time! Did we finally succeed in completely contaminating their water supply with our good old American hubris?
And then of course, there’s the other question, the one you’ll see splashed across tabloids and think pieces for the next decade, should the Beeb (not the BBC, and don’t think I haven’t been trying to think of a punny portmanteau …) somehow manage to cling to life in the public eye. What happened? Not only is he Canadian, he seemed like such a nice, sweet, God-fearing boy! He was polite to old people and kind to toddlers who were inappropriately affectionate with him! All the world did was give an adolescent boy absolutely anything he wanted at any time, with no questions asked and nobody to say no to him! I mean, what could have possibly gone wrong?
I started this piece ready to prescribe some good old Jewish parenting for the wayward Bieber—after all, I’ve always been convinced that the reason pop stars behave like this is that they aren’t worried about getting into medical school. But then I thought, no, the last thing Justin Bieber needs is some older woman telling him what a genius he is; he’s had plenty of that already. What we need is nothing less than a radical overhaul. We need to build a bigger, better, and infinitely more stable Bieber.
Which brings me to Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, the authors of the recent book The Triple Package: Why Groups Rise and Fall in America. Chua, as you may remember, is the Yale Law School professor who turned the Internet into a fiery hellscape of wrath and recrimination a couple of years ago with Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, her paean to the importance of making your children practice the piano to the exclusion of all else, lest they become homeless drug addicts or worse, go on to a career in the arts. Here she partners with her husband, also a Yale professor (if Chinese mothers are tigers, I hesitate to go down the rabbit hole of just which animal a Jewish father might be), to write a slickly packaged treatise, which I’m sure has all kinds of truthy anecdotal big-idea evidence but nonetheless still carries the eerie aura of a eugenics textbook from the early part of the 20th century on how some ethnic groups—Chinese, the Nigerians, the Cubans, the Mormons, and … wait for it … the Jews—seem to find success more easily than others. This stems in part, the authors argue, from the fact that all of these groups harbor a sense of their own “chosenness,” a sense of being set apart to fulfill some greater destiny.
If that’s true of anyone, it’s certainly true of pop stars and young celebrities. So, I’m calling on Chua and Rubenfeld to conduct a wide-scale experiment. Consider it a follow-up to The Triple Package, the way everyone who writes a diet manifesto eventually has to publish a cookbook. Scour the country looking for promising young singer/dancer/heartthrobs. Choose one Chinese kid, one Cuban, one Nigerian, one Jew (you don’t have to bother about the Mormons—we already know how the Osmonds turned out). Put them through rigorous training programs. Have them each care for a tiny monkey, à la the egg project in middle-school health class. (If the monkey dies, or you break it or leave it in a foreign country, you’re immediately disqualified.) Never say no to them. Give them no limits to money, drugs, sex, etc.
And then see who has the mental fortitude to stay standing at the end, ready to begin their doctorate in microbiology from MIT, with plans to return to a showbiz career only after completing a sizable research project involving stems cells. Call it Master Race Idol.
And in the meantime, someone please collect Justin and start tutoring him for the SATs, or whatever they have in Canada. There can be miracles, when we beliebe.
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