How do you criticize a well-meaning music video that condemns anti-gay bullying and tries to offer hope to LGBT young people who may be thinking of killing themselves? Reluctantly.
A couple of days ago I watched Rise Against’s “Make It Stop” video and found its images of three teens contemplating suicide in the wake of bullying deeply disturbing. To my eyes, the video suggested that planning your suicide was the inevitable response to anti-gay attacks. The three teens depicted in graphic and wrenching scenes are shown preparing to kill themselves: by hanging, by jumping from a highway overpass, by using a gun. The video ends with a hopeful message from the “It Gets Better” project, which is also well-meaning, but hardly an effective suicide prevention tool when dealing with teens who are truly in danger of taking their lives.
Two specific things trouble me. First, the oversimplification of bullying and how gay teens deal with it. Suicide in response to such bullying is hardly typical and the relationship between bullying and suicide is complex. And while every effort ought be made to prevent such suicides, it’s misleading to suggest that bullying inevitably leads to suicide—by gay teens or any teens. By suggesting it does, I fear this video is accomplishing just the opposite of its intended goal.
Second, by showing the three teens going about preparing for their suicides I worry, as well, that the video will give those teens who are genuinely at risk for suicide concrete ideas through provocative and highly emotional images about how to end their lives.
Because I don’t always trust my own reactions to anything concerning suicide, I spoke to Ann Haas, who is Director of Prevention Projects at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (where I’m on the national board), about whether my concerns were justified and she confirmed the potential dangers of “graphic and sensationalized messaging around suicide.” She said, “The video vividly and sympathetically models the very behaviors we want to prevent, and this can have unintended, devastating effects on vulnerable youth. We need to be modeling ways that LGBT teens can reach out for help and support, and making sure that the resources are in place when they need them.”
Since first watching Rise Against’s video, I’ve had a sick feeling in my stomach, which I’m guessing was one of group’s goals. And of course it makes perfect sense to feel sick over the heartbreaking suicides of bullied teens. But that sick feeling has more to do with my fear that “Make It Stop” unintentionally promotes the idea of suicide to the very people who need the most help, help that has to go well beyond encouraging words—and heart-warming and inspiring stories about how it eventually gets better—if it’s going to make any difference.
About This Blog
Welcome to my blog, which grew out of my experience as a suicide survivor and my experience writing Why Suicide? (see below). On occasion I’ll be posting an essay based on something I’ve read, someone I’ve met, an experience I’ve had, or just a memory of someone in my life who took his or her life. If you have a thought on something I’ve written, I hope you won’t hesitate to join the conversation by leaving a comment.
- Rick on We May Think We’re Alone, But We’re Not. New List of Famous Suicide Survivors Just Released.
- Cindy Johnson on One Man’s Grief: A Story
- Jesse on Dharun Ravi: The Punishment Fits the Crime
About Eric Marcus
Eric Marcus is the author of several books, including Why Suicide?, Is It A Choice?, and Making Gay History. He is also co-author of Breaking the Surface, the #1 New York Times bestselling autobiography of Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis. Eric lost his father to suicide in 1970. His sister-in-law took her life in 2008. (Photo Credit: Dixie Sheridan.)