January 26, 2014

Buddha & the Biebs (Or, the Darkside to Having it All Too Soon).

Warning: naughty language ahead.

Depending on how we look at it, this past week has been either the best one of Justin Bieber’s career or the worst.

One thing that’s for certain is that it doesn’t appear that he’s sorry. Indeed, following his arrest for a DUI (the latest in a string of incidents suggesting that the pop star may be out-of-control), Bieber took to various social media sites thanking his fans for his supporting him and posting several selfies of himself lounging around his rented Florida mansion.

Nearly every media outlet noted that he appeared to be grinning in his mugshot.

People, both famous and non-famous, were quick to offer their opinions on his behavior. In the former camp, they ranged from sympathetic (Goldie Hawn said it was “heartbreaking” and as a mother and grandmother, she just wanted to hug him) to downright hostile (Seth Rogen Tweeted that “Bieber [was] a piece of sh*t”).

Like others, I have an opinion too, but it has more to do with the downside of too much too soon than how Beiber may or may not be as a person.

As someone who is the same age as Bieber’s mother, I was clearly way too old to be his demographic. When he first hit it big and appeared to be everywhere, I remember thinking, “Oh another teen idol. I wonder how long his 15 minutes of fame is going to last.”

I grew up in the 80s and 90s, and was all too aware of teen idols. I had memories of the Coreys, Kirk Cameron, and later on, the cast of Beverly Hills, 90210, which was huge when I began high school.

My mother, who was born in 1944, also had tales of the teen idols of her youth—most of whom I never heard of with the exception of Elvis.

Teen idols are such a common part of pop culture that all of us who are a certain age collectively shake our heads when the next big thing appears and many take bets how long it will be before they end up arrested or in rehab. (The only thing more common than teen idols is fallen teen idols—those cautionary tales of too much too soon that parents use as anecdotes to warn their kids, especially if, heaven forbid, their kids express a desire to enter show business.)

However, while we warn about too much, too soon when it comes to show business, the truth is too much of anything too soon often leads to problems—and it isn’t just the young who are at risk.

Thanks to the same media that made Justin Beiber as big as he is today, many of us have heard those tales of people who win mega millions playing the lottery and blow it all and/or end up with a slew of problems they never foresaw in their wildest dreams. We’ve also heard of these big boys (and sometimes girls) who work on Wall Street, make millions, and behave incredibly badly as a result. Indeed, the Martin Scorsese-directed picture, The Wolf of Wall Street, which is based on a true story, is currently up for five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio in the starring role.

I remember speaking to a former boyfriend of mine who worked on Wall Street for a while shortly after we graduated from college. I was surprised to learn that most of these millionaire bankers do not come from wealthy families.

Per him, the culture is such that often those who are in the thick of it cannot even see the excess. A million dollars is nothing nor is $10 million. Much like being a drug addict, sooner or later you need more and more to get that high. Plus, an excess paycheck usually tends to lead to excessive behaviors in one’s personal life.

If this can happen to educated adults in their 20s and 30s, then imagine what it must be like for a teenager in one of the most cutthroat businesses of all: show business.

Speaking as someone who has only been on the fringes of showbiz and only know what I do through other showbiz friends and their families, show business seems even weirder than the world of high finance.

Also, I imagine it must be even more bizarre to be a teenager and not only have grown-ups catering to your wishes, but also have a team of grown-ups on your payroll and signing their paychecks each month.

There is an old saying that whoever is paying the piper is calling the tune, and that is true.

Generally speaking, most of us don’t do well when we are suddenly given power and have the ability to not only call the tune, but make others dance to it.

A good example of this is the time I was working as a waitress at a restaurant at Royal Ascot right around the same time my former beau was starting out on Wall Street. We were an ocean apart in more ways than one.

I didn’t know it when I accepted the job during the summer of my final year as a graduate student, but I was required to work up to 12 hours a day the entire two or three days the races took place. A table was about $800 which included three meals and all the alcohol one could ingest. We were warned before the first day that some of the clients could be “a bit of a handful” and many were.

Interestingly enough, it was not the people who came as individuals and paid for their own tables but the ones who were on their own their companies’ tabs that were the biggest problems.

In the three days I was there, I observed a drunk 50-something male guest try to grab a 16 year old waitress’s breasts and saw a very drunk woman (who announced she was “an important executive” for a London PR firm I had never heard of) expose her bare breasts in front of her co-workers when one of them yelled for her to “get [her] tits out.”

I got the impression that for many of them, this was the most authority they’d ever had over anyone. Complaints to management fell on deaf ears. It was clear that any bad behavior, no matter how appalling, should be ignored because they were the reason we were getting paid. I was actually sent home early on the last day after I made it clear to a guest that grabbing my ass did not come with the corporate package and remarked, “How sad your life must be if bullying a waitress is the only way you can feel like a big man.”

Still, at least most of these people went back to their ordinary lives at the end of their drunken weekend. I dread to think what it would have been if many of them had this sort of power every day of their lives.

The excesses of power, money, fame, or some combination of the three remind me of one of the main principles of Buddhism: The Middle Way.”

The Middle Way is defined as  “a life lived between the extremes of self-denial and self-indulgence.”

It seems especially fitting when it comes to celebrities and those Wall Street bankers I mentioned as many of them, like Beiber, came from extremely humble beginnings. (Indeed, when I was researching this piece, I learned that Beiber’s 17 year old mother was living in a Salvation Army hostel when she gave birth to him as a single mother.)

Most of us know what self-denial is, but learning what constitutes as self-indulgence can be more challenging, especially in this culture that not only says it’s okay to live it when we make it big but actively encourages it.

(In case, you think I jest, do a Google search about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his famously frugal life. Many people, especially young people, believe there is something downright weird and wrong that the world’s youngest billionaire isn’t living it up like they see on “reality shows” like Keeping Up with the Kardashians, etc.)

In any case, my wish for the Justin Beibers of the world is that somehow, despite the craziness of their lives and the world we live in that they, too, can find their middle way whether they believe in God, Allah, Buddha, or no one.

I also wish that the media that takes such glee in documenting the rise and fall of these teen idols or wizards of Wall Street would stop glamorizing the culture of excess that makes these sort aspire to be what they are in the first place.

I wish most people would take a leaf out of Goldie Hawn’s book and show a little compassion to these sorts who have too much too soon at such a young age instead of writing them off like Rogan did.

At the very least, we can thank them for clearly proving the old adage that money cannot buy happiness.

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: cukuskumir/Flickr, iloveJB123/Flickr


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