Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Justin Bieber's Careless Counterfactual

I thought it might be fun to launch the CHR by commenting on a recent story from the world of pop culture:  Last month, Justin Bieber made headlines with a careless counterfactual comment.

As CNN reported in April:

"If Anne Frank had not died a teenager in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945, Justin Bieber hopes she would have been his devoted fan. That's what Bieber, 19, wrote in the guestbook at the Anne Frank House when he visited there Friday, according to the Amsterdam site.  'Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.'"

While most critics have condemned Bieber’s comment for its inherent narcissism, it is equally significant for its sloppy counterfactual premise.  Read literally, his observation makes little sense, as it seems to be arguing that if Anne Frank had survived World War II, she would be a fan of his music.  Needless to say, if she had survived, she would be 84 years old today, not exactly the core demographic of Bieber’s fan base.  Perhaps Bieber meant to say that if Anne Frank were a teenager today, she -- like so many other 14 year old girls -- would have been a fan of Bieber’s music.  He did not say, this however.  And so, his observation reminds us to make our counterfactual comments as rigorous as possible. 

Unrelated questions: what would the German-speaking Anne Frank have made of the English-German neologism, "belieber?"  Of the fact that the popular entertainer's last name translates to “beaver?” Or the long shot possibility that he might be related to the Nazi-era architect, Oswald Bieber, the designer of the Haus des Deutschen Rechts and the barracks of the SS Regiment "Deutschland" in Munich?

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