In the 2001 movie A.I., a robot boy named David tries to become a real boy so that his adopted family will love him like they love their terminally ill — and, since it's the future, cryogenically frozen — biological child. Soon, however, doctors find a cure for freezer boy. The real son is handily thawed, and his parents abandon David in the woods so that the reunited family can head home for a hot meal, a warm bed and a cryogenically frozen conscience.
Dystopian future Nancy Grace would be all over these jerks.
In this case, as in many cases, the parents abandon all concern for the outside world so they can focus exclusively on their progeny. A robot boy — even one who turns out to be more human than the parents would care to admit — is a cinch to discard.
We are David's parents. They are us. They are like those parents who get rid of the family dog when the first child is born. David wants to be loved by people who cannot technically give him love. Instead, they obsess over him — and then they forget. That's how it goes. As we become more obsessed with symbols, those symbols, imbued with undue importance, run the risk of becoming devastatingly irrelevant.
And when that symbol, the object of our short-lived obsession, is not a robot but a real boy — who, by many measures, seems to be composed less of flesh and bones than gears and steel — what happens then? What does it mean when a real boy transcends realness?
2. origin, mom
In a 2008 interview on the Christian daily talk show "100 Huntley Street: Full Circle," single mother Pattie Mallette talked about how she came from a broken home, suffered sexual abuse from ages 5 to 10, left home at 15, lived a life of drugs and crime as a teenager, and at 17 tried to commit suicide. At 18 she had Justin.
By the time he was 12, Justin had taught himself piano, drums and guitar, and Mallette began posting videos of him singing and playing hit R&B songs on YouTube. The idea was for friends and family to be able to become an audience to his talent show. Instead, through a stroke of stunning luck that massively capitalized on Justin's admitted gift, Justin Bieber has become a phenomenon.
After getting a little backstory, it's difficult not to see Mallette's only son's enormous current success as something sweet and inspiring. The time line of Justin's early childhood carries all the hallmarks of well-plotted cinema. It's common. It's tragic. It's perfect.
In addition to his mother and Bieber himself, the person most responsible for shaping, maintaining and growing the Justin we see today is Scott "Scooter" Braun, a self-described Atlanta "power player" and former marketing exec for Jermaine Dupri's So So Def label who, before discovering the prepubescent crooner, was most well known for signing "I Love College" rapper Asher Roth.
In 2006, Braun was himself the subject of a CL cover story, one that told of his agile and steady ascent in the Atlanta night life and music scene and featured several photos (provided by Braun) of him accompanied by a who's who of hip-hop's elite.
According to the first paragraph of Scooter Braun's bio on his company Scooter Braun Projects' website: "Scooter Braun was browsing through singers on Youtube one night when he came across a 13-year-old from Canada lusciously singing along to Usher's '____.' (sic) There was no name or contact info on the video and despite, or because of, its raw amateur quality, Braun was hooked. 'My gut was going crazy after seeing him,' Braun recalls from his home in Atlanta. 'I became infatuated.'"
Like countless viral sensations before him, Bieber first found popularity through YouTube. Unlike nearly all of them, Bieber was able to break out of YouTube and become a mainstream success. YouTube is an amazing and powerful tool, but it's also just a tool, no different than a paintbrush or a ball of clay or a movie camera. It can help you build something, but you need to first have a vision of what it is you're building.
YouTube has been so successful a medium for Bieber that now, more three years after he was discovered, one of those early videos has been watched over 22 million times. In it, grainy footage reveals a 14-year-old Biebz covering R&B singer Chris Brown's "With You" while posters of a bug-eyed Bart Simpson and 2Pac circa All Eyez On Me, stare with approval from the bedroom wall behind him. It feels oddly nostalgic and voyeuristic, like discovering a box of old, yellowed Polaroids in your best friend's closet — until you realize that the photos aren't candid snapshots but highly conceptualized montages created with the express purpose to influence the emotions of the viewer.