Justin Beiber And His Faith In God Discussed At Point Loma Nazarene
February 25, 2013 12:43 p.m.
Cathleen Falsani, Author, "Belieber! Fame, Faith, and the Heart of Justin Bieber"
ALISON ST. JOHN: You are listening to Midday Edition here on KPBS. I am Alison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. Cathleen Falsani is a writer who specializes in examining religion faith and values. So the titles of her book may surprise you the book the dude abides is about the faith themes in code brother movies and the new book is believer, the faith fame and heart of Justin Bieber. When she was a religion reporter for the Chicago Tribune she scored an interview with a new politician about his faith, his name Barack Obama. Cathleen Falsani will be speaking at the point Loma Nazarene University's writers symposium by the sea tonight and Cathleen, thank you so much for coming.
CATHLEEN FALSANI: It is my pleasure to be here
ALISON ST. JOHN: There's a lot of academic writing and discussion becoming about the pope's resignation and scandals and who will be the next pope and here you are with a book called believer that may seem like a bit of a disconnect to some people. Why write a Facebook about Justin Bieber?
CATHLEEN FALSANI: Well, that book has actually been out for a year. And at the time just it, he certainly is still popular around the world. Arguably the most recognized teenager on planet as somebody who writes about faith and the intersection of faith and culture in particular when I see something that is as passionate and large a phenomenon as his fan base is I tend to stop and take a look at who is there something more than just he is cute as a button?
ALISON ST. JOHN: And he makes a hard signal with his hands and everybody cheers and doesn't back but is there more going on?
CATHLEEN FALSANI: I would argue that there is or there has been. Justin is about to turn 19. I was writing this when he was 17. He's been very articulate and forthright about his spiritual beliefs but not in the same way we've heard other young celebrities talk about their faith in the past particular when they are evangelical Christians which is what he is. That's actually what got my attention in the first place. I read an interview about two years ago in Rolling Stone magazine it was a cover story. It was Superboy, and I think the subtitle was God, girls and boatloads of swag. That made me read it and I was struck as somebody who pays attention to these things and writes about this particular intersection of the time and I spent times with loads of celebrities talking about spiritual things, it was the way he talked about his faith that was different. There was a sensibility there that I thought was well beyond his years and it was obvious to me he was not being coached and anything he was saying because it was too nuanced to have been coached. So that got me thinking I wonder if there's something more to explore, so I took on the project and after convincing all my friends that no I wasn't kidding I was actually going to do this book and treated it with as much seriousness as I to any of my subjects and to do the research and did find that part of his appeal is based in this part of his life, or at least has been.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Let me say that you admire Justin Bieber but did you write this book as a fan or as a journalist?
CATHLEEN FALSANI: No no-no, as a journalist. I am a fan of Justin at least I have been, he is growing up and having some growing pains me know, as a parent myself was a teenage boy, I kind of go do not do that in public. He is a good kid, largely especially given the circumstances that he's growing up in with a kind of microscope use under constantly. I'm a fan of his. I'm not a fan of his music necessarily. In fact I know I believe I know what kind of talent he actually has and the depth as a person and I have not really seen that in his music lyrically yet and I hope he gets around to doing this. But I like him as a person, at least I have.
ALISON ST. JOHN: In the beginning of your book believer you described his in personExperience, how you are infatuated by the band and they actually inflamed your faith in God.Is that kind of San religion a good thing?
CATHLEEN FALSANI: For me it was, I don't think my parents I don't know that my parents at the time could get it and couldn't understand why I was glued to the television all day long in the middle of July 27 years ago whatever it was watching live aid while waiting for a glimpse of the band that I adored. But in hindsight, they do see the breadcrumbs that led from the influence that the music had in my life as a young person and it grabbed me in a way that at the age I could not have articulated exactly what it was.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Opening your heart
CATHLEEN FALSANI: The seeds you plant it in a child's heart you have no idea how they will blossom and when it comes to that particular music and knowing especially with Bono, the work that he's done as a humanitarian and a person of faith have been tremendously influential to me. My life would not have been the same if it were not for that.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Do you think there is a search for spirituality or deeper meaning behind all sorts of teenage fan mania?
CATHLEEN FALSANI: Absolutely. This was not specifically, obviously the book is for Beibers fans and their parents. But the sort of macro level as a parent and a journalist and person of faith was to say to parents or any adult with a child in their life that they care about, pay closer attention. The stuff that we dismiss our we do not understand, if you sit down and are patient and get the kid to talk long enough. I have a 13-year-old son and this is absolutely true, they are capable of telling you what it is that makes them so passionate about something. You just have to wait them out and engage with them.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Give us some examples of influence that Justin Bieber has had on his fans.
CATHLEEN FALSANI: I would say for the better and largely it has been for the better, he seems preternaturally aware of his position in the world. In a good way. He is aware of the influence he has especially as a younger teenager I mean, what 16-year-old is thinking about how somebody else might react. And not just because for marketing reasons.
ALISON ST. JOHN: I think a lot of 16 year-olds might think about how they have people react but more for the ego.
CATHLEEN FALSANI: He is thinking about how are they going to feel if I say this. And his rises absolutely meteoric. He had everything going against him on paper if you look at the teenage mother, single-parent, blah blah blah in Canada, and is sort of shot to stardom with his mother walking each step of the way with him, grounded in faith. So he believes he knows where these blessings in his life have come from and that he has an obligation to God in the world to try to give back so he's always encouraging his fans to pay it forward there's a lot of clear to me that happens among Bieber fans throughout the world that is one example.
ALISON ST. JOHN: You punctuate your book with tweets from people. They are quite revealing aren't they?
CATHLEEN FALSANI: I had no idea, I mean I'm in my early 40s when I was working on this book I have a twitter account I would occasionally tweet but I did not understand the power of twitter and what it was really about until I started doing research for the book because he lives online, or he did when he was younger. He still does but not as much greed you can almost pinpoint hour by hour sometimes how he was feeling where he was when he missed his dad, when he was sick. He's interacting with fans and nine I understood that twitter is not a marketing tool it is about a relationship and he got that in an organic way because he's a teenager talking to other teenagers. I read about 10,000 of his tweets the year I was working on the book and if it tells you anything about the power of the audience we are talking about I think when I started working on the book he had 4 million when it was published 11 million, he has 35 million now.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Now there's always the light side and the dark side. What happens when Justin Bieber slips up?
CATHLEEN FALSANI: We are in the middle of seeing that now.
ALISON ST. JOHN: You think that will influence his fans, too?
CATHLEEN FALSANI: I think everything he does influences his fans particularly the younger ones. That is my point. He's going to be 19 years old. He is by all accounts a good kid, but he's making choices that may be as a parent we would not want him to make. My point to them, and I've written to him publicly I wrote something for CNN about him, didn't want to come down on him with 2 feet because he doesn't deserve that, but just reminding him who he is, not just in the world but in an existential metaphysical way who he is, who is called to be. You are better than some of this behavior, these choices.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Such high expectations do think it's fair to put expectations on a young person?
CATHLEEN FALSANI: Maybe not but I know other children who are not asked celebrities who are extraordinary people like he is with extraordinary gifts comes extraordinary responsibility and that is certainly the truth of Justin situation. Moreover, he understands his influence. My point is if you're going to do that do not do it in a roomful of iPhones so your 11-year-old fans in the Philippines can see what you're doing, don't do that.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Maybe watching the way he deals with these problems will help his fans to see the struggles.
CATHLEEN FALSANI: He does not address anything really specifically that kids read between the lines because that is how they communicate and he has addressed various aspect of this, one of the most telling was I think a few weeks ago on instant grant, which is sort of twitter with pictures, a picture of a passage written about, it is sort of a poem that circulated for a lot of years about what it means to be a Christian. Because I believe does not mean I am perfect. It was sort of that kind of thing and I thought that was a really strong image. He posted without comment but it was obviously something that meant a lot to him. I have seen him try to write about a little bit.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Now in the Coen brothers movies, that was the other but the road there's a spiritual sort of smart evangelical Christian Justin Bieber do you agree?
CATHLEEN FALSANI: Justin's lens is what it is, and the Coens are not that.
ALISON ST. JOHN: But you feel like there is a value in both of the lenses
CATHLEEN FALSANI: I did that Coen brothers but before that Justin Bieber book but approach their movies for the same reason. I am a huge Coen brother Sam and I found that with the codes you either love them or you cannot stand him and when there is a passion again I tend to think there is something else going on.
ALISON ST. JOHN: You gravitate toward that kind of thing.
CATHLEEN FALSANI: I do and I think certainly with the Coens it is true they would never show a hand they don't like to explain their because they are charges but they would never show their hand about what they were intended for the films to me because they are works of art and they mean to you what they mean to you.
ALISON ST. JOHN: And they touch us all in different ways.
CATHLEEN FALSANI: Absolutely but to my eye there is a thread going through their work that continues on.
ALISON ST. JOHN: How do films like the big Lebowski and Fargo become spiritual for you.
CATHLEEN FALSANI: I think they are two of the more spiritual films the boys Joel and Ethan Coen have made. Fargo I just watched it again with a friend who had not seen it before as I was getting my hair done last week. There is a deep morality tale going on there.
ALISON ST. JOHN: As well as being gruesome.
CATHLEEN FALSANI: Awfully gruesome but you're laughing touristy to shimmy every time they kill him off it's a more gruesome fashion. He's in a wood chipper and you are laughing and they do that to make you uncomfortable The Same Way, Flannery O'Connor would. Horrible violence followed by comedy but you know, you have Marge Gunderson who is this sort of, the like morality with feet. But, kind, she's never kind to people, always trying to make people feel better about themselves I think about the scene in the bar with the two prostitutes and she tries to make them feel good about themselves and never judges.
ALISON ST. JOHN: You're always looking at the scene with the idea of faith and values.
CATHLEEN FALSANI: I did, yeah the first time I saw Fargo I don't know that I was thinking about when I started working on this project, and the big Lebowski has its own religion literally.
ALISON ST. JOHN: You just accepted a position to be the person of faith columnist for the Orange County register and you start next weekWhat kind of stories to expect to cover
CATHLEEN FALSANI: When I was at the Sun Times in Chicago I was blessed with a great deal of latitude in terms of what I could do. The way I studied to become a religion reporter, which was always my intention to be in a secular medium, newspapers in particular, I was taught to look for the God factor in other news factors, like religion didn't just happen on the bingo page. So I'm always looking for that endpoint, Orange County in Southern California is just right for the kind of material I like to work with, with a speed vibrant here and pop culture certainly being vibrant here.
ALISON ST. JOHN: It is interesting because there's a lot of polls showing that Americans have no real interest in faith or religion anywhere but it does seem like you are focused on values and faith
CATHLEEN FALSANI: I think it is the religion word that scares people off and in the polls when they are done with a little bit more extrapolation, people are interested in and engaging with spirituality but they don't want to know about organized religion. That is my bailiwick.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Very interesting, we could have talked much longer but if you would like to hear Cathleen Falsani she will be speaking speaking at point Loma Nazarene's Writer symposium by the sea tonight at seven o'clock thank you so much for joining us.
CATHLEEN FALSANI: Thank you for having me.