Bil Browning

Making a Killing: Rocking Out to Dead Kids

Filed By Bil Browning | January 28, 2011 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: blatant exploitation, gay teens, It Gets Better, suicide rates, teen suicide, Zack Rosen

I shouldn't be surprised at how some folks are willing to turn the sublime into the scatological. After all, what red-blooded patriot doesn't want the American dream? There are plenty of ways to get your face out there, baby, and you've always got to be ready to jump on an opportunity and run with it.

How's a talent scout, record producer, literary agent, or rainbow-dollars.jpgdirector supposed to discover what a great athlete, singer, writer, or actor you are if they don't see you? And what about your fans? They have to know you care even when you don't. When you're trying to turn that opportunity into spun gold, you have to connect on their level, right? It's not "commercial," it's "caring."

As I've watched the It Gets Better project evolve, I've expressed concern about the rash of celebrities jumping on the idea, making their own videos, and showing concern for all those LGBT kids who can't buy their albums, books, or DVDs if they're dead. What started as our community telling our youths that life does, hopefully, get better as they escape the hell that childhood can be for queer kids, has turned into nothing more than a commercial sell out.

Dan Savage has a book deal, Hillary Clinton makes a touching video only to turn around and tell an Australian audience that we're not worthy of marriage rights, but now, now, we can see the penultimate result of making a killing off suicidal teenagers. You can show your deep concern for queer kids while promoting your band's song on a queer website and boosting your iTunes sales at the same time.

Over at The New Gay, editor Zack Rosen has taken commercialism to a new low. He's promoting one of his favorite bands, Free Energy, and has slapped the It Gets Better label on it in a transparent attempt to make it relevant to the project. With a song name like "Hope Child," how can this not be a success?

In an e-mail Rosen sent to me to promote his post featuring the video, he writes:

I put up another contribution to the It Gets Better project today, its a philly [sic] band called Free Energy dedicating their song "Hope Child" to queer youth who might benefit from its message.
I'm hoping that using bands like this will get more straight people, or apolitical queer types, to support the It Gets Better Project. Hope you enjoy,


I call bullshit.

If you watch the video though, you can see that the band doesn't actually dedicate their song to "queer youth who might benefit from its message." Oh, no. They dedicate it to Rosen's website. Instead, it's Rosen who admits that he's gone to their show to see the band and tries to throw a suicide sticker on the video to make it somewhat pertinent.

Maybe I'm just cynical but I've been in this business for quite a while. I know what it's like to try and get a few minutes of spare time with an entertainer, politician, or activist. Like any PR agent, you have to make your pitch by giving them a reason why they should talk to you. What better way to get exclusive video than to say you're doing it for suicidal gay kids? Plus the band gets free publicity for a new album and shows how concerned they are about bullying teen suicide AIDS farmers ingrown hairs something.

After all, when Rosen ends the video by cajoling the musicians to take off their pants, you can feel the despair, right? One can easily discern how much queer youth can "benefit from its message." If taking off your shirt counts as getting "more straight people, or apolitical queer types, to support the It Gets Better Project," then every porn shoot is a suicide hotline.

The first time Rosen posted one of these music videos, I gave it a pass. This one, however, passes out of the arena of bad taste and goes directly into tawdry, cheap, and vulgar. Rosen may not be selling vodka, credit cards with a rainbow on them, or a cruise ship full of lesbians, but he's definitely attempting to cash in on the pain of troubled families.

That's not the "new" gay. That's the same old gay that sees our lives as just another marketing opportunity.

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What a cynical view. Here's a life-long activist asking a band he loves to dedicate a relevant piece to a worthy cause, and you can only see exploitation? Activists have always teamed up with artists.

Zack isn't affiliated with Free Energy. He's not making money from their album sales. The New Gay makes money from ads, but the content they put out serves the community. They're a blog. They don't sell t-shirts or speaking engagements or memberships. Accusing Zack of slapping a rainbow sticker on to sell something is insulting.

I understand your burn-out with It Gets Better- some of the folks contributing videos may just be looking to burnish their image. But Zack isn't one of them.

I think Zack would be the first to say he's not an "activist" and has very little interest in politics and the movement. In fact he's said as much repeatedly to my face, on his site, and in guest posts here.

While I agree with your assessment overall and even that Zack has handled this promotion in an unconvincing and questionable way, it seems odd to me that you're focusing in on this instant instead of the zillion other instances, especially consider all the way The New Gay seeks to express genuine queer outlooks where the barrage of other corporations and entities who have thrown their homos in front of the camera or in recording booths seem to have infinitely less honorable intentions.

Maybe you're using Zack as an example of homos foisting this sort of feel good hacktivism and empty pink-washing to promote any content, but isn't the better question either where the program should go from here or what we can do to actually help queer kids instead of making these fucking videos and songs? I for one wanted to shit a basketball when I heard the Broadway version of an "It Gets Better" song. Yeah, nice sentiment and I'm glad the iTunes proceeds go towards The Trevor Project, but the idea that this song would have helped at all during my high school years is insane. Our kids need better than marketing and feel-good weekend projects. We all do.

Maybe you're using Zack as an example of homos foisting this sort of feel good hacktivism and empty pink-washing to promote any content...

This. This is it exactly.

It ranks with the Broadway show tune.

I've been hesitant with music groups trying to associate themselves to the It Get's Better Project. Some have done good jobs and the money they make helps programs to fight suicide.

This effort sends no message of worth in my opinion. It just looks like a plug for another band. I may be wrong on their intent but it does scream self promotion to me.

All that now said I will add this. If any song makes one person feel better or change their mind on a horrible action it does have merit. Music and singing are joys that can move souls. Ultimately we each have to make a choice on intent and value.


Kevin Erickson | January 29, 2011 4:03 AM

Bil, you're ridiculously off the mark here---Zack has devoted plenty of column space to calling out artists who are cynically cashing in on the "lets care about LGBT teens" craze, like Katy Perry.

I think you don't really understand how stuff operates in the independent music world--it's not much like the celebrity-driven world of mainstream culture or even commercial gay culture.

I think Zack also has an acute sense of how music subculture itself can be a lifeline, a vehicle for discovering different ways of existing in the world. This particular manifestation of this impulse is a little corny, but the impulse itself is correct.

Kevin, I'd agree about Zack's history of calling out artists attempting to cash in on the community. That's what makes this particularly egregious (but also why I gave him a pass the first time & assumed the best intentions).

But is encouraging band members to drop trou going to save any kid's life?

If this is the penultimate manifestation of the problem, what's the ultimate manifestation?

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that an independent band doing a youtube video that has 300-some views so far isn't going to "make a killing" off this. They may make $5, max.

I think Bil is right on this one. The music and band doesn't really say anything relevant or even gay friendly, and on top of that, the song is complete crap.

Does it really matter? Not unless you are trying to maintain some integrity with "it gets better" which I think is lost already. It's nice that celebrities are supportive, but that seems like a different campaign. How does Gene Simmons know what it feels like to be a bullied gay kid? I think the messages have to come from role models who have experienced something similar.

Could energy be spent better elsewhere rather than sniping some cute gay boy with musical production aspirations? Yeah. But, I give Bil a pass because this music was such complete crap and the video was so pathetic I wanted to vomit. And I'm an independent musician, "know how it works", and like a lot of different music.

Alex: The didn't make money because it's awful. Their intent and actions are what is at question, now whether they were successful.

Thanks Bil. Finally someone is challenging the "It Feels Better" juggernaut. While I admire some of those who have used the latest viral infection to "Come Out, Come Out, Come Out" the only people who seem to feel better, better, better are those making the videos.

The Broadway song in particular belies a stunning disconnect to the realities of bullying in action:

"If you FALL, just get up, get up, get up."

Uh, excuse me, but I didn't FALL. That
hateful S.O.B. knocked me to the ground.

"Just look up, look up, look up, 'cuz those
skies are gonna clear. There so much more
than just the here and now."

If I'm still here tomorrow - and can loose
my front teeth from the asphalt, maybe I
can "look up, look up, look up" provided
of course Godzilla, Godzilla, Godzilla
get's his foot off the back of my head.

"Just defend the part of you that's true.
Find yourself and you will find the way."

Yeah, I know who I am. That's what got
my ass kicked on the playground in the
first place.

In fairness though, the song does contain the truth of the matter for those LGBTQ youth at risk, if of course you can quell your nausea until the last chorus:

"The world get's brighter, brighter,
brighter. So be a fighter, fighter,

The chains of oppression are seldom loosed by the oppressor, to which the Black Cat, Stonewall, and White Night attest most clearly.

When we are prepared to defend our LGBTQ kids from the real threats they face on school campuses all across America, with the same vigor with which our opponents defend their kids from the imaginary threats of mandatory homosexual graduation requirements, things WILL "get better, better, better."

Pastor Scott

Gay exploitation is pretty easy, especially at wakes and funerals.

Reach a hand out to us (usually from a distance; YouTube works very well for this) and say you understand, even though you cannot if you are heterosexual.

Tell some anonymous Queers that -- despite all of history's evidence to the contrary, despite the best efforts of their government and their parents and gods -- within any time frame meaningful to their life they will become beloved members of the human family.

It's a lie. Like "Marijuana Madness" is an obvious fantasy film made by people who apparently never smoked marijuana and never met people who did, many of the "It Gets Betters" from hets are evident, shallow fantasies.

The no-self-esteem gay upstate New York runaway who came out hustling (badly) in downtown San Diego after an honorable detour in the Army would just get irritated by any het trying to tell him, "It will get better."

That's the length I had to go to before I even found a surely cursed "playing field" for the permanently cursed, broken, wasted-human Queers.

That's where I could begin to learn about one-on-one romantic relationships between two men. Like most hets begin to learn in 7th-9th grades. Except I learned about the sex part of relationships by giving 100% from the start, while drinking and doing drugs to numb the fear, guilt, and self-disgust, and making many mistakes.

I learned about choosing trustworthy life partners from the old guy tricks who picked me up. I combined survival sex with coming out and hustling for beer and drugs. I was horrified to imagine that I would not die soon.

I was in it to finally have sex with other guys -- because that's exactly the image burned into my brain regarding "how they do it". I would have just gotten irritated by any het trying to tell me, "It will get better."

Where the hell have most of these people been when it comes to eliminating legal anti-Queer discrimination? Hanging out with the gay/not-gay, exploitation clique, with the ghost of Liberace and one-way fagsploitation profiteer Richard Simmons?

Why didn't they do a "It's not going to get much better at all before you are an adult, or even in your lifetime, so here's what we're doing to make sure you are well-prepared for the extra work and stress?" contribute-a-vid collaboration for the kids?

There is a difference between a (perceived) lapse in judgement and a pattern of unethical behavior. I would be very careful.

Why are you people so bitter?
While, I agree, taking off pants wouldn't be helpful, the rest is not bad.

With so much of the world against us, why are we so quick and, frankly, eager to turn on each other? Every little bit helps. Even though we hate that some celebrities try to make a few bucks off of us, it still sometimes helps our cause. The more positive attention we get in the media (movies, songs, books, e.g.) the easier it is to sway one more person that we aren't so bad.

While we may disagree with certain LGBTQA rights organizations methods, we need all the help we can get. Have you seen the 112th Congress? We certainly are not homogenous, we should at least be all trying to move in the same direction.