Photo of Justin Bieber in a headlock


I am not the first to note the beauty and composition of this photo of Justin Bieber apparently being strangled by fellow club-goer. Not nearly. It was a bit of an internet meme, yielding mash-up photos like this, in which Bieber and his people are placed within a Renaissance milieu in what are shown to be striking similarities of form. Maxim wrote a piece called This Photo of Justin Bieber Getting Choked in a Nightclub is a Work of Art. I have not read these, only seen enough in the Renaissance compositional analysis vectors to know that I want to think my own thing about this before I read those, most of which are just waggish, hucksterish pieces anyway, I think. Everything’s a zinger joke.


And that’s how memes go. Memes are so quick they’re like Higgs bosons 1

The photo itself is mesmerizing. Because it’s Bieber and seems to be real, captured, and just inherently beautiful. It doesn’t look like it came from any paparazzo. It’s active, candid. Colorful. How could a photo this good have been made without…more…intent? Forget the mash-ups. Just look at the photo as it is! The indifferent ring of clubbers, going about their own social lives, the centrality of Bieber’s face, Christ-like, even the hoodies and trendy Flex-fit baseball caps on the onlookers seem…ancient. Byzantine. The people around him are a perfect throng. (And are there twelve figures in the frame?) The mix of races and sexes, the various angles and attitudes of composure, leisure. It’s a perfect photo. Not a thousand words but ten thousand.

This deep burgundy backdrop, with just a few swatches of contemporary club color, like the purple blotch in the upper left quadrant. The iconic swirly painting or acoustic tile or whatever it is behind Bieber. And especially the man in the gray hood, Judas-like, looking on with what seems like an approving, almost conspiratorial will as Post Malone goes for the glottis. This figure is even more central. The figure of our complicity or our malice or our complacency.

Who is the photographer of this masterwork? Is it real?


  1. The half-life of the Higgs particle is so quick it’s measured in something called a yoctosecond; I think this is why it’s significant.

Top songs of 1980

Stream a list like this or just…look at it. Take in the hit songs from the year when you were the age that your children are now to understand something deep and wordless about their inner lives. About music and the inner life in general. This is eleven years old for me:

Top Songs of 1980, from Bob Borst’s Home of Pop Culture and Web Development

Deborah Harry, Lipps, Inc.’s “Funkytown”. When these songs were on the radio—and they were all the time—I’m sure I acted like “This is silly”. This is gooey. Kim Carnes? “Bette Davis Eyes” 1?? They were silly. They sound even sillier now, in fact, our aural standards being what they are, the state of recording and producing being now what it is. They can sound a little tinny. Innocent, but not in a good way.

But they didn’t then! Just seeing these song titles and remembering what music was doing to me then, how exciting and lush and limitless and powerful it was. It’s so funny, because this particular magic circuit was completed by some shit little clock radio in my room. But I would weep about these songs! I would fling myself on the bed. I would karate kick my full-length mirror to the opening riff of J Geils band’s 1982 hit “Centerfold”, to the B-section of Billy Joel’s 1980’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.”

As you get older you can get sort of walled off from your own experience and the experiences of others, maybe especially your kids. Like you know better, or feel more. For me, Olivia Newton John and Captain Tennille are great teachers, their songs instruments of empathy.

1 Blondie Call Me
2 Pink Floyd Another Brick In The Wall
3 Olivia Newton-John Magic
4 Michael Jackson Rock With You
5 Captain and Tennille Do That To Me One More Time
6 Queen Crazy Little Thing Called Love
7 Paul McCartney Coming Up
8 Lipps, Inc. Funkytown
9 Billy Joel It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me
10 Bette Midler The Rose
11 Rupert Holmes Escape (The Pina Colada Song)
12 Gary Numan Cars



  1. I’m ranging around a bit in the years now, to 1982, when I was thirteen, which is maybe a different thing, and maybe a very different thing, using the little arrow buttons in the pop chart site above