Documentarian Jennifer Van Gessel examines what it means to be a Belieber. A word created to describe Justin Bieber’s diehard fans who follow his music, social work and media activites, often citing him as a personal influence.
Opinions on Justin Bieber are often unflattering, frequently divided and prone to communication breakdown. Now in his early twenties having risen up through the ranks of the YouTube generation Bieber has moved beyond those humble popstar beginnings. Lauded on Twitter, postulated about through posts on Facebook, he is now a brand name, trademark and figurehead. What Australian film maker Jennifer Van Gessel seeks to establish in her documentary Bieber Generation is how and why one becomes a Belieber.
Something that becomes immediately apparent is how potentially polarising this film could be not to mention biased. Dissension is thin on the ground in a documentary which uses cinema as a soapbox for single minded adulation rather than reasoned debate. Gessel interviews a wide cross section of fans who all claim a personal connection to their idol, from examples of genuine contact to other more tenuous modes of communication. Although the talking heads and interspersed stock footage bring up the occasional revelation, Bieber Generation remains interesting for other reasons.
What it illustrates more than anything beyond the music, charity work, sense of community and feel good fables is how powerful social media has become. Celebrity no longer means the same thing it used to primarily because of a never ending means of indirect influence. Perceived connections with the rich and famous is a single retweet away and people are convinced there exists a personal connection. Within the Bieber Generation there are numerous examples of their idol reaching out, sharing a tweet, responding directly and therefore confirming that recognition. Something which on the one hand might seem hugely selfless but also comes with the undercurrent of a professional agenda, which itself must be nurtured to remain relevant.
Jennifer Van Gessel fails to explore any of these more intriguing tangents which might have given Bieber Generation an edge, choosing instead to focus on fan testimonial and stock footage. There is unfortunately no first hand interview material with Bieber himself, which would have also provided a counter balance to all the backslapping on display. Without that the uninformed audience member only has the distinctly biased opinion of Beliebers who have taken hero worship global. Blinkered and suspiciously free of detractors Bieber Generation unfortunately celebrates a cultural phenomenon without really revealing anything new.