The opening of the most recent "Saturday Night Live" featured Kate McKinnon as a giggling and preening Justin Bieber, addressing accusations he and his entourage egged his Los Angeles neighbor's house.
"I thought my neighbor was a chicken so I was just returning his kids," McKinnon's goofy Bieber said, adding moments later: "My brain is broken."
The spoof, fueled by McKinnon's dead-on impression, offered a sign of the troubling path the teen pop idol is traveling – going from a superstar to a performer known more for his antics than his talent to an outright joke. Now, with his arrest in Miami Beach Thursday morning on DUI and resisting arrest charges, Bieber threatens to cross a new line amid allegations he potentially endangered himself and others.
Bieber's brain may not be broken, as the "SNL" satire suggested. But it's not unreasonable to ask, particularly after he smiled for his mugshot, "What could Justin Bieber be thinking?"
The 19-year-old singer’s alleged high-speed racing misadventure behind the wheel of a yellow Lamborghini marked the latest and most disturbing incident in a celebrity mess that’s been mounting before us in almost slow motion in recent months.
Bieber, who came to prominence as a fresh-faced 13-year-old Canadian wonder boy, via YouTube, emerged as perhaps the biggest star born into the wired world. His alleged eccentricities (a pet monkey), cluelessness (declaring that Anne Frank would have been a "Belieber"), bad boy frolics (reports of hard partying) play out online at a time when there's a premium on celebrity "news" and anyone with a smartphone can add to the mix.
Celebrity misbehavior, of course, is as old as stardom itself. Self-destruction, long a show biz theme, has morphed into an Internet meme. Some performers regain control over their lives, while too many become cautionary tales, which, by definition, don't end well. For fans, there's a certain feeling of helplessness in watching danger signals go apparently ignored.
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The double-edged sword of fame seems to slice deepest into child stars saddled with the additional burden of carving out a normal existence as millions watch. Bieber, it’s worth noting, became a major pop force in the months after the 2009 death of Michael Jackson, the most talented and perhaps the most tragic performer to hit it big as a youngster.
We'll see whether McKinnon dons the Bieber hoodie again this week on "SNL” as his story starts to become more sad than funny. We’ll also see whether Bieber’s arrest serves as a wake-up call or just another pit stop on a familiar path sped through by too many other stars before him.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.