If you want a tangible example of the self-investment that often accompanies activism, look to Ke$ha and the way she is selling her new single, "We R Who We R." What sounds like just another one of her vomit anthems actually was written after the recent epidemic of gay-teen suicides, at least, according to her. Ignoring the logistical hurdle of turning around an album's first single in a matter of weeks, "We R Who We R" is a callous response to teen desperation, if it is in fact one at all (and I think we all know that it isn't). You hear about suicides and you think, "We'll be forever young," really? Is she saying that the ultimate in "going hard" is going so hard that you die? I know that young people sometimes equate maudlin with cool, but I seriously doubt that it is those dead gay kids are the ones who are making the hipsters she sings about fall in love. Seriously, what is this woman talking about? Actually I know the answer to that: nothing as usual. Except this time she's pretending like it's something.
Ke$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.
Not that such exploitation is new to pop culture. Obviously, this is how the game works: scratching someone else's back works best when you can position your own to be scratched at the same time. (See also: Mariah Carey "gives" a needy kid a new house on Extreme Home Makeover...just in time to plug her new Christmas album.) The best gift a celebrity can give herself is one that appears to be given to others.
Not everyone is a pop star, but everyone has a shot of at least going viral, thanks to YouTube. For this reason, the numerical and discursive success of Dan Savage's It Gets Better campaign comes as no surprise. How attractive it is to join the fight merely by discussing what is inevitably any red-blooded, plugged-in young person's favorite subject: himself! Even more, how easy it is to flip on a webcam and talk! People don't need an excuse to wax personal, but they'll take one (especially if it's in the interest of PR) and so, that's just what they've done: they're sharing their stories in droves for this display of solidarity that amounts to mass commiseration, but often feels like a big bunch of whining. One 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. (Like, really Hillary Clinton? What the fuck do you know about healing after being called a faggot? Live my life and tell me that it doesn't get moderately less worse at best.) Over and over, I get the sense that with one tossed stone, people are killing two birds (but no gay teenagers).
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.
We are increasingly public creatures, "public space" is an increasingly loose concept and perhaps It Gets Better's approach reflects all that. Connectivity has made it impossible for your left hand not to know what your right hand is doing, and the ideal of anonymous outreach is less and less realistic. And let's not forget why we tend to get involved with anything in the first place: people are motivated by pleasure. We have an innate need to feel better about ourselves, no matter how good we have it. One shortcut to achieving that is through subjugating others. I can't help but wonder if It Gets Better is yet another shortcut, just on a slightly higher road.