Notice I said “critique,” rather than attack.
Rich at FourFour has a really unique understanding of social media, viral videos, and they way they intersect with pop culture, having contributed quite a bit in all three areas over the years, and he’s also a gay guy, so he sort of knows what he’s talking about. He starts with a critique of Ke$ha’s ridiculous “contribution” to the It Gets Better project, which comes in the form of her ridiculous single “We R Who We R,” which she claims was written after the gay teen suicides of September. [Who knows?]
Ke$ha has no business talking about queer people. She doesn’t seem to know the difference between drag queens and transgender people (whom she refers to as “trannies“). In her It Gets Better video, she assures those subjugated because of their sexuality and/or gender identity, “However you are choosing to live is beautiful” [emphasis mine]. In the interest of fairness, I’m willing to concede that perhaps she has no other choice than to be ignorant (some brains just don’t function as well as others). However, no matter where it’s coming from, the fact is that she is combating ignorance with ignorance. She makes me long for the days when, “I am not a role model,” was sufficient. I’ll take apathy over exploiting the cause du jour for the sake of marketing any day. That is some cancerous shit right there.
I tend to agree. Of course, if there’s some gay kid out there who worships Ke$ha, they’re likely to be hearing the sentiment, rather than parsing the words. As video after video has appeared, with celebrities from all corners telling gay kids that It Gets Better, I’ve noticed that they can pretty easily be divided into vapid and non-vapid categories, and hard as it may be to imagine, Ke$ha’s video is pretty vapid.
Rich then tackles the user-friendly, “everybody can be an activist” set-up of the It Gets Better project, which produces results that range from one extreme to the other:
On one extreme are those who come eerily close to fetishizing their bullied pasts (I can’t imagine such catharsis helping anyone more than themselves) and on the other are people whose privileged positions have themselves so far up their own asses that of course they believe it gets better.
I would point out, though, that there are also many, many heartfelt messages in the middle, in which people simply relate their experiences and then describe how their own lives have gotten better. In that vein, I think that Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns’ speech, itself having gone beyond viral at this point, was one of the most powerful messages I’ve seen on the subject. The juxtaposition of this attractive, successful guy and his tears as he remembered what he had been through, next to who he is today, was jarring, and I would imagine that they would be encouraging to a hurting gay kid. I agree with Rich, though, that I have my doubts that one video could “save” a kid. Pulling a kid back from the brink of suicide would likely result from a combination of factors, but I don’t see how a video like Burns’ could hurt in anyway. Hell, it helped me, and I’m neither a teenager nor suicidal.
This is not to condemn the idea of It Gets Better. Dan Savage seems to understand the medium of YouTube well and as a result has devised a campaign for maximum involvement. However, understanding the other side of the medium at least a little, I doubt that a YouTube video is going to change anyone’s mind or life (experience has me wary of the Internet’s tendency to foster overstatement, and so I find fawning YouTube comments that proclaim, “You saved me!” to be suspect). I think that when you’re young, the last thing you want to do is listen to old people telling you about yourself (or worse: tell you about themselves!), no matter how cool of a rap session they’re attempting. And given the medium’s insatiable hunger for newness, I worry about what happens when the meme is dead. Does it go the way of, “Is that your final answer?” Does Keyboard Cat play it off? On a larger scale, are gay people the new crack babies?
That said, anything is worth a shot and maybe if individual videos amount to little more than the weight of a blog post (like, say, this one!), perhaps collectively there is something of value there. The need to treat gay people as people is an increasing part of our global discourse and maybe the more we talk, the more others will speak up in situations where it actually matters. Maybe there is something to be said for the subliminal effects of all this chatter. Maybe all these personal accounts basically converge into a simple chant, just like at a rally. I don’t think that talking about yourself on YouTube is an act of bravery, but I’m not counting out the possibility of it inspiring one.
I think that’s it. It’s not about the individual videos themselves — it’s that there are so damned many of them, from everyone from regular middle class gay people to students to older folks to the biggest celebrities in the world, all lending a word of encouragement, in their own ways, to gay kids. That’s the part that’s got to be powerful, because the teenage years are a self-centered time [you know it's true], and there are now scads of videos specifically directed at our gay kids. They don’t have to parse the message; they don’t have to look for the lessons — they’re right there, video after video after video, at the click of a mouse.
My hope is that the video campaign is inspiring people to go further in helping these kids, beyond setting up a webcam. Obviously, most won’t, as is the nature of all things viral, internetty and social justice-y. But if it’s inspiring a few to get their hands dirty and give back, to create support systems for some of these kids, then that’s a Good Thing.