By Humra Laeeq
Is it too late now to say sorry? For the singer of this song, perhaps it is.
Justin Bieber was gearing up for his Asia tour to promote his album ‘Purpose’ a few weeks ago. However, now his fans or the ‘Beliebers’ are in for a disappointment. After a series of controversies involving his on and off stage activities, Bieber has cancelled his tour. This announcement came shortly after the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture barred the pop star from performing in mainland China.
Beijing’s stand: No ‘badly behaved entertainers’
The Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture facilitates the cultural exchanges between Beijing and foreign countries. In a post on their website, the Bureau said: “Justin Bieber is a gifted singer, but has engaged in a series of bad behaviour”, also citing the need to ‘purify’ Chinese entertainment.
The Chinese believe that Western cultural influences are infiltrating China’s political ideologies and go against its cultural grain. However, it suggested that it is not a permanent ban, expressing the hope that Bieber might improve his behaviour and earn back the opportunity to perform among his Chinese ‘Beliebers’.
Bieber’s ‘bad behaviour’ in recent years
The Canadian singer has passed the tolerance threshold for the Chinese government over the years. In 2013, he was spotted being carried up the Great Wall of China by his security team. By being carried on their shoulders and claiming “we made it up top”, Bieber displayed an egotistical and brattish behaviour that mocked the sacred and hard-laboured journeys of pilgrims up the monument.
In 2014, he once again angered the Chinese government after posting photos of himself visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. The shrine has been under controversy for glorifying the leaders executed for war crimes against 2.5 million dead Japanese. One picture showed the pop star dressed in a baseball cap, hoodie and boots, standing in front of the shrine, the caption reading “Thank you for your blessings.” This gesture infuriated the Chinese and Korean sentiments. Thereafter, he apologised for the photo and deleted it from his Instagram account.
The ban on artists: Political intolerance?
China is known for its ultra-conservative political stance. In 2008, the Ministry of Culture in China issued a statement saying “Any artistic group or individual who have ever engaged in activities which threaten our national sovereignty will not be allowed in.”
The temporary ban on Bieber is only a minor example of China’s political insecurities spilling over to pop culture. The history of political intolerance in tandem with pop culture has more weight where artists have talked of one of China’s greatest conflicts.
Chinese aggression against sympathy for Tibet
China has reacted aggressively to musicians showing affiliation to Tibetan issues or the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. For the Chinese, he is a separatist who is conspiring to split the Himalayan region from China to rule there in the name of God.
In June 2016, the country banned Lady Gaga after she met with the Dalai Lama to discuss yoga. Los Angeles band ‘Maroon 5’ too was banned after their keyboard player sent birthday wishes to the spiritual leader. The band ‘Oasis’ was barred when guitarist Noel Gallagher performed at a Free Tibet concert in New York. British rock band ‘Placebo’ faces a lifetime ban. In 2010, Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan was refused permission to perform in Beijing and Shanghai. This was due to his song topics about social protest and revolution. Bjork’s song ‘Declare Independence’ particularly upset the Chinese authorities.
It is apparent that the Communist Party colours musicians in shades of political intolerance. Any sort of counter-voice that could potentially threaten its political propaganda is barred entry and considered a ‘contamination’. The question arises: is banning the way to defame the musician, as the authorities wish to?
Censoring artists: An ironic move
Despite all the banning, musicians’ fame goes upslope. Controversy feeds curiosity. Fans want to watch a train wreck – they are energised by it. David Bakula, who studies pop-culture consumption, says “the edgy things make fans more passionate.”
Bieber’s ‘Purpose’ received four 2017 Grammy Award nominations, including the most prestigious Album of the Year and has made $56 billion. After Bob Dylan was banned, fan fiasco coerced authorities to lift the ban partially and he was permitted to perform a checked list of songs. In 2016, he received the Nobel Prize for songs considered equivalent to ‘great literary art’.
Censorship often ironically reinforces the hype. This is not to deny that artists may have violated cultural or political norms, but putting an immediate ban will not stop the proliferation of counter ideologies. Rather, it could backfire by further boosting the popularity of the celebrity.
Featured Image Source: Visual Hunt
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