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.


6 Responses to New Anti-Bullying Music Video: Well-Meaning, Wrong-Headed

  1. Christian Martin says:

    This video made me understand a bit more about what my daughter may have been going through..She is gay and she used to leave school early all the time saying that she was having a bad day cause kids were being mean to her. Britnie was two weeks away from turning 19 years old when she hung herself. This happened in Nov of 2010…I miss her so much and i just kids would realize the pain bullying causes others. Just because they are different don’t mean there is anything wrong with them. My daughter was one of the most amazing people i know I just wish i could have helped her more.

  2. Kaylah says:

    i disagree with this whole article. if you look at the video and listen to the lyrics you will see that its telling teens who are contemplating suicide that life gets better. just before the teens in the video kill them selves they realise that life is so much more and stop. it encourges teens to think before they comit suicide. without the images of these teens the song will lose its effectiveness, people need to be shocked into doing something about it. a pretty little happy song will just get ignored. this is an inspirational song for not only those who have been bullied for being gay, but for any forms of bulling, and makes others (onlookers or bullies) think before they act. i love this song and its message.

  3. Bobby says:

    I can understand why this video would cause conflicting feelings. In does deal with a certain amount of reality and I applaud the efforts of those involved for getting this made.

  4. Ed says:

    I think the response you are feeling about this may be exactly what is needed. Unfortunately, despite the attention and the talk, the bullying of people who are LGBT or even perceived as being LGBT is still pervasive.

    I believe that new and more intense methods of dealing with the situation are needed. The more ‘uncomfortable’ people are with the message and the way it is delivered might just prompt more action.

    While there are many complexities to the issues surrounding suicide, bullying, and teen psychology, the reality is that people in a position of power to deal with the situation must start acting. That includes teachers, school administrators, parents, police, social workers, counselors, and every other adult who has authority over the lives of children.

    Too often these individuals actually do little or nothing until it is too late.

  5. i like this video i think they did a good job with making this song alot of people all around the world have been bullied especially me all my life i have been bullied and it cause me to wanna kill myself but i thought about my life and how i dont wanna kill myself and go to hell and how if i died who would be their for my family im all they have right now so i got it together by looking at this video and this song i love it they did a good job .

  6. szoszo says:

    hate to break it to you but people from certain backgrounds (yes, some of them rise against fans) find “encouraging words and heart warming inspiring stories” transparent and empty preaching… and we all know that in some cases it does NOT get better. my biggest gripe used to be that every meaningful, higher quality gay themed movie i’ve seen ended with murder or suicide, then i had the chance to talk to many directors of such films, most of them gay, and asked them why they always have to work on sad stories and they all said “because that is how it is, because i would love to portray a happy end but i would feel fake.” what i find unreasonable is to condemn people who actually care about the cause and are willing to speak up about it and label them as sensationalists and exploiters.

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