To my disappointment, the Internet recently seems to have become more about social change and less about LOLcats. From the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, broadcast all across the world during the 2009 Iranian election protests, to the subsequent coverage of the Arab Spring, it became clear how powerful viral material could be. With that in mind, the It Gets Better Campaign was launched to end bullying and what seems like an increase in bullying-related suicides. The organization targets youth by releasing videos urging the bullied masses to keep on keeping on, and boasts videos from the likes of President Obama, various members of Congress, and professional athletes.
These videos, though inspiring, fail to address any solution to bullying, or even the sad possibility that bullying can never be eliminated as a result of our Aristotelian, power-hungry, animalistic nature. They serve as an increasingly disingenuous ointment for psychological wounds that probably cannot be healed by Kim Kardashian’s two cents on the matter.
There is a fatal disconnect in their method. Bullied teens may watch the videos, but celebrities cannot provide actual help, and those who can, teachers and parents, are less likely to be influenced by celebrities, or even be aware of the campaign. Even worse, bullied youths may look to the advice of these celebrity videos in lieu of professional help for depression.
The organization focuses mainly on LGBT youth. Though these kids are obviously at risk for bullying, and in need of encouragement, you can’t help but wonder how perennially bullied overweight and disabled kids or their parents feel about being left out of the largest anti-bullying campaign in history. Ironically, the movement further alienates some kids in desperate need of help.
Despite its good intentions, the campaign is ultimately doomed because of its popularity. Its celebrity appeal means that it is at risk of falling by the wayside when it is no longer trendy to offer help, just like what happened when the campaign to raise awareness about the Darfur genocide became more popular than Justin Bieber. It seems like celebrities catch on to these trends to feign goodwill or check off “charity” from their bucket list. It is easier than ever now that they only have to record a three-minute message pretending they can relate to what is undoubtedly excruciating pain.
That isn’t to say some of the celebrity endorsements are not poignant or powerful, or that some teens are not affected for the better by the videos, but any project involving the participation of Ke$ha or Lindsay Lohan is bound to lose its intended bite. What the project is doing is noble, and I think it would have succeeded in being a force for social change had celebrities not worn it like a trendy pair of sneakers or otherwise completely misconstrued the depth of the issue.
Some celebrities have taken their bullying benevolence past YouTube videos, and have incorporated the theme into their songs—Lady Gaga, Pink, and Katy Perry, specifically. Katy Perry’s song “Firework” is about overcoming a low sense of self-worth, which I imagine is pretty easy for Katy Perry to do, considering how attractive she is. In the video, fireworks stream from her cleavage, calling attention to the very thing for which many girls who are uncomfortable about their bodies are bullied.
It’s clear that Katy Perry is not actually committed to ending bullying or low self-esteem when her hypersexual image reinforces the very insecurities she is supposedly combatting. A similar message from Judi Dench, Danny Devito, or Kirstie Alley might prove more effective or authentic.
When bullied youth stop getting mixed and diluted messages about bullying and self-esteem from those they admire most, they might actually stand a chance against their aggressors. And when the movement to end bullying is directed at parents, teachers, and administrators, bullying in schools, and the tolerance for it, might finally be mitigated. Celebrities, unless they are actually passionate about the issue or otherwise personally connected, should stick their profession, lest the issue be watered down and lost among the myriad celebrity causes that have outrun their 15 minutes. Until then, I’ll be looking elsewhere for my LOLcats and cheezeburgers.