So yeah, Justin Bieber visited the Anne Frank House and left a note in the guestbook calling her “a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.”
Of course everyone went nuts, myself not excluded. There’s the narcissism thing, and the weird time traveler thing — is he imagining her as a belieber now, in her 80s, or imagining himself as a wartime pop star?
But there’s another layer down below all that. Check out this clip, the only moving picture footage of Anne Frank known to exist:
Those few seconds of film were shot in July 1941, on the day of a neighbor couple’s wedding. Anne had just turned twelve. She was a year away from going into hiding, forty-three months away from death.
I don’t know if they show that clip at the Anne Frank House, but if they do, it’s not hard to imagine Bieber watching it and seeing one of his fans. To express that as he did was clumsy, but also somehow sweet.
We know next to nothing about what music Anne Frank liked. Beyond a reference to a Mozart concert on the radio (“I can hardly listen in the room because I’m always so inwardly stirred”), there’s virtually nothing in her writings that speaks to that question.
But we do know that she was a girl who cut out pictures of celebrities and glued them to her bedroom wall, though, because that wall survives at the Anne Frank House. (“Thanks to Daddy,” she wrote, “who had brought my picture postcards and film-star collection beforehand … I have transformed the walls into one gigantic picture.” Over her years in hiding, she added new pictures and covered up older ones, swapping out Deanna Durbin for Leonardo Da Vinci like any self-respecting teen.)
And here’s something about that wall. For all the obsessive documentation of Anne Frank’s live that the last sixty-eight years have seen, and for all the ways that the web facilitates tracking and analyzing and plumbing visual culture artifacts, there’s apparently no full listing of the subjects of the photographs anywhere on the internet, no annotated reproduction of the wall itself. The wall is a document that Anne and her sister created and maintained as their link to the outside world and that life they’d left behind, and hoped to return to, but it appears that none of us have cared enough about that act of creation to excavate and display it in the most thoughtful and fullest way our era can.
Isn’t it possible that Bieber, seeing that wall, imagined his photograph on it? And doesn’t that kind of break your heart?
So yeah, I don’t know. It’s easy to mock. But the more I think about it, the less I want to.