As long as you love him
By Alice Hattrick
Brian Harvey is not keeping it cute. “Right,” he says, holding a framed set of platinum disks spelling out the number 1,000,000 – the discs are the zeroes – under the words EAST 17. “My name’s Brian Harvey. A few years ago I had a No. 1 record, yeah? Sold a million copies in this country. Over the past fifteen years I’ve been treated like a complete cunt.” The video, Brian Harvey giving his opinion on the music industry, Published on 11 Jan 2015, was recorded in 9:16 – who records video on an iPhone the “right” way round?
“I’ve got no fucking heating,” says Harvey. “I’m getting abused by the police. I’m getting abused by the court system. I’m getting abused by the CPS. And I’ve fucking had enough of all of ya. Come this way.” He walks down a street towards an alleyway, pausing to ask someone off-camera if they like the music industry. The person, whoever it is, does not reply. “You shouldn’t,” Harvey continues, “cos it’s full of fucking nonces.” Laughter from the person holding the phone. They follow him into the alleyway. A girl with a proper camera is following too.
Harvey starts slamming the framed platinum disks against one of those green metal junction boxes you see all over the place. “East 17. One million sales. This is what it fucking means.” The glass front smashes; shards fall to the floor. “That’s what I think of your fucking music industry.” By enacting actual violence against the framed disks – a symbol of (chart) success – Harvey is playing with the only power available to him: the power to discomfort, to pose a threat, out in the street.
Violence is attached to this image the way it is with deprived youth. To paraphrase Dick Hebdige, it’s a question of Us and Them: Us, the concerned viewer; Them, the object of pity and fear. Harvey is judged as victim and culprit both:
Get a job like the rest of us
I feel kind of sad for him
Cut to Harvey picking up shards of glass and broken discs. “I’m a peaceful person, and I pick my rubbish up,” he says. “I can be angry and fucking tidy.” Of course he can be angry and tidy, but that’s not the way people think about him. His defiance will always be read as “erratic behaviour.” Everything looks like rubbish when you’re looking onto the street from inside. That rubbish includes him.
They’ll lose their shit in the comments section if Harvey doesn’t clear up the mess he’s made. The Daily Mail will lose it anyway; will illegitimise Harvey’s performance by drawing attention to his wonky publicity stunts (“Harvey was left with severe injuries in 2005 following a bizarre accident in which he ran over himself, attributing it to overeating and then falling out of his car while vomiting”). The same copy about Harvey attending the Occupy Democracy protest in Parliament Square in October will be copy-pasted again and again; his ensemble systematically described; his other “failed” protests enumerated (“40-year-old Harvey was turned away from Downing Street after he arrived demanding to see the Prime Minister”). Red-and-blue plaid shirt, black leather hooded jacket, white Fila beanie hat.
What a dick….and still dresses like he’s 15
In the audio for his exhibition Soft Evidence at Legion TV, Matt speaks about a video recorded by Tati Neves, and later shared online. The video was unsanctioned – Tati wasn’t supposed to have her phone with her – and still it’s the perfect image of Justin Bieber. Tati has stayed the night with him in Brazil. It’s the morning after the night before. She’s leaving. Bieber is still in bed, asleep. She turns the camera on herself, blows him a kiss goodbye, but Tati is like Harvey: she could never put her own image to work.
Matt suggests that agency can be articulated through the disclosure of vulnerability, or “cuteness”. Tati tries to keep it cute while Bieber sleeps off the night before, but her selfie, her attempt at agency, is always in the service of his image: “she’s focussed on the wrong details and cut herself out of the picture. The kiss fails as an act of dismissal, and it’s his image, dead still in a grainy slumber, that prevails.” Bieber is pure appearance. He looks worried when he sleeps, seems vulnerable and tiny curled around a red baseball cap, appears to kiss and talk – but never actually fuck. Tati, by contrast, is openly knowing. She knows, for example, that coincidences are rare: “The trick was to be vigilant and keep one’s eyes off the ground.”
Bieber was wearing a custom-made red beanie hat with “1994” on the front when he lashed out at paparazzi in London two years ago. 1994 was the year Bieber was born; the year East 17 released Stay Another Day – their only platinum-selling record.
Bieber gets angry when the cameras are out: when they’re obstructing his way to the car, when they’re in his face. Not that it matters. He’ll always be sexy/funny/cute. His enraged body is read as fragile still, guarded by other, less cute, more knowing bodies, people who actually have a plan. It’s vulnerability rather than illegitimate violence that gets fixed at his image, whether he’s lashing out, running someone over, or even unconscious. You can buy his custom-made 1994 hat online. The website displays a pic of Bieber wearing the hat – white stitching on red – reaching out for the photographer’s camera, the photographer who called him a fucking little cock.
Bieber isn’t driven to exhibit his life out on the street out of necessity. Public disclosure only happens to occur there. He’s keeping it cute even when he loses it, when he embarrasses himself, when he launches out of the black van saying: “What did you say? What did you say? I’m going to fucking beat the fuck out of you.” Cuteness is, after all, an appeal to someone else’s needs. It’s a look, a pose.
Even Bieber’s body in collapse, stumbling off stage, becomes a performance of cuteness, and therefore an articulation of his agency. Hand to his eyes (something’s not right). He’s always in view, unlike Harvey, who only gets attention when he’s making a spectacle of himself. As Matt says in Soft Evidence: “Justin is exhausted, having grown up too fast.” But being debilitated by your own power is not the same as being powerless. Bieber can harness the power of “the industry” and still come off cute because he performs vulnerability across his body, even when it looks hard and strong. Those eyes. That lifeless mouth, lips slightly parted. He’ll keep it cute for as long as you love him.