I have been half-following the controversy over Justin Bieber’s visit to the Anne Frank house, at which he left the note, ““Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.” Initially, I chuckled, and shook my head at the legions of defensive Beliebers who took to twitter to express that they didn’t actually know who Anne Frank was, much less why the Biebs himself would desire her Belieber-ness! But the comment stuck with me–there is something so sweet and sad and hopeful and strangely, potentially radical in Bieber’s trans-historical desire to know or be liked by a girl who loved celebrities and in spite of everything was very much a teenage girl, who touched millions of people after her death. I suspect, although most of us don’t have our own fan-base neologisms, many of us agree that Anne was precisely “a great girl,” that we hope she would have liked us and that by all rights she would probably be a Belieber (who isn’t, a little bit, deep down?).
Matt Weinstock for the New Yorker wrote very close to the initial article that I would want to write, if I extended this piece and as I think about questions of politicized memorialization and the “life” of the memory (though some of his moves are unnecessary, i.e. his meditations on celebrity). I am further interested in thinking about the more perhaps insidious ways Anne Frank has been used, precisely as nationalist martyr. If Anne Frank is to act as a screen, what are the appropriate myths and ideologies to be projected onto her overbite, her fly-away hair? What are the multitudes of ways in which Anne Frank exceeds her diary, her self, but also the expectations and demands we place upon her? Weinstock writes:
I think Bieber can be forgiven for thinking of Anne as someone who’s still breathing. The writer Shalom Auslander dubbed Anne Frank “the Jewish Jesus,” and like Jesus, Anne Frank is constantly being resurrected. Anne’s defenders seem not to understand that her appearance in irreverent sequels to the diary are crucial to keeping her alive as the “little bundle of contradictions” that she was. Our collective vision of Anne is always in peril of drifting into somber martyrdom (if you haven’t read the diary in a few years, it’s easy to think of her this way), and the so-called trespasses on her memory are really vital acts of defibrillation. For example, Auslander’s spastic novel “Hope: A Tragedy” presents her as an ancient attic-dweller plugging away on a follow-up to the diary…Similarly, Philip Roth’s novel “The Ghost Writer” envisions an Anne who survived Bergen-Belsen, came under the wing of reclusive author E. I. Lonoff, and had to fend off the amorous advances of the Roth stand-in Nathan Zuckerman. Even Cynthia Ozick was momentarily moved to what-if speculation, writing, “It is easy to imagine—had she been allowed to live—a long row of novels and essays spilling from her fluent and ripening pen.”
The works of Auslander, Roth, and Ozick are obviously rooted in the disbelief that we all felt upon first reading the sentence, “Anne’s diary ends here.” Who can accept it? And who can resist grappling with a story so widely known that it risks becoming cliche, or myth?
It’s also worth linking directly to an article Weinstock references, an interview with Anne’s stepsister Eva Schloss that is worth reading for Eva’s own story as well as for her comment that Anne “probably would have been a fan. Why not? He’s a young man and she was a young girl, and she liked film stars and music. They make a lot of fuss about everything that is connected with Anne Frank.”