Bil Browning

Effective or Not? New 'Bullying Is Violence' Campaign

Filed By Bil Browning | September 22, 2011 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Anti-Violence Project, bullying, PSAs, public service announcement

I'm curious what Projectors think of the Anti-Violence Project's new PSA campaign, "Bullying Is Violence." Do you think it's effective? Or will it be ignored? They're all below in one video.

The campaign was created by Telly Award winning director Daniel Azarian, so this wasn't some fly-by-night an-intern-put-this-together-for-us kinda thing. This took some oversight and development by professionals.

My thoughts after the break.

New York City Anti-Violence Project Executive Director Sharon Stapel said in a press release, "Thanks to Daniel Azarian and Underdog Entertainment, AVP is able to make the important connection between bullying and the severe and too frequent violence that impacts LGBTQ people every day and at every age. One year ago today, Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi took his own life after experiencing anti-LGBTQ bullying. These Public Service Announcements bring much-needed awareness to the growing problem of violence faced by LGBTQ people."

I love the Anti-Violence Project (and Sharon in particular), but I adamantly disagree that these PSAs will "bring much needed awareness" to LGBT bullying. Without going back to watch the video again, answer these three question: Were the ads about LGBT people? How many times were the words "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual," "transgender," "queer," or any of the other terms used to describe our tribe said? How many times did anything queer-related appear on screen?

It's a trick. The answer to all three questions is "None." We got washed right out of the PSA campaign. We're nonexistent in the ads.

While there are people pictured that you can assume are queer, it just perpetuates the stereotypes that you can usually "tell" who's gay or who's not - a common excuse for bullying based on perceived sexual orientation. The press release touts that the PSAs "feature a varied demographic of people" and that's an admirable goal, but did the drive to showcase diversity undercut the goal of talking about anti-LGBT bullying? Did it water the point down so far that it's meaningless?

While I've been critical of the celebrities jumping on the It Gets Better bandwagon as a way to bump their liberal love credentials rather than any real concern about LGBT kids, this series of ads could use some star power. Sure, Claire Buffie (Miss New York 2010) and Ronnie Kroell (Bravo's Make Me A Supermodel) make brief appearances, but if it weren't for the press release I wouldn't have known that. Maybe it's just me, but I wonder how many teen bullies watch Make Me A Supermodel or the Miss New York pageants?

Star power doesn't mean there has to be a celebrity in the ads either, but it does require that there's someone in the PSA's that's compelling and gives the viewer a story to follow and sympathize with. Can you remember any of the people shown or anything they said other than "Why?"

A perfect example of telling a story with an ad is this award winning PSA Azarian produced called "Save Lolita." Once you watch it, you won't forget who Lolita is.

Lolita is a whale. They want her set free. She has a story. You sympathize with her. You want to take action. (See also: Your Brain on Drugs or Hanker For A Hunk of Cheese)

In the anti-bullying series, the average viewer doesn't get a story, they've got no one to care about, and there's nothing to do. The PSA is more "background nag" than "pop culture sculptor" and I don't know any bullies that were stopped by nagging them or looking pitiful and questioning.

Bottom line: the PSAs are obviously well intentioned and serve a basic purpose of reminding people about the dangers of bullying, but I don't think they're even close to the memorable PSAs that have actually shaped our culture. That's a shame too, because when I saw that AVP had created the PSAs I expected to be praising them to the heavens.

What do you think? Am I off? Do you agree? I'll be interested to see your thoughts.

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Rachel Bellum | September 22, 2011 9:09 PM

I agree with your observation that there is no LGBT presence or acknowledgment in these videos, and that suggesting otherwise requires relying on stereotypes.

While watching the videos I felt that these videos, while touching to me, would not be effective presentations to use with most people we think of as bullies. It seems like a quick view of many websites will suggest how such people are likely to react to these videos. I was somewhat surprised to find you suggesting similar in your analysis.

I had a philosophy professor some time ago who said that it's a waste of time trying to get someone who doesn't agree with you to change their position to agreeing with you. That the most you can hope to do in any one effort is to convince them to take a neutral stance. I don't necessarily agree with him. But perhaps these videos are aimed less at actual bullies than to those who support them by providing an apparently approving audience for their behavior. That is, it's an attempt to reduce the unwanted behaviors by reducing apparent community support.

However I'm still not convinced the average teenager, or adult, would find these convincingly compelling alone.

I did read somewhere years ago (no hope of citing it) that an improperly executed anti-smoking campaign could increase the rate of smoking among underage viewers. I wonder if an unconvincing anti-bullying campaign could make it harder for other campaigns to work.

Not that I'm an ad expert in any way. Just my opinions, concerns and questions.

I agree wholeheartedly. The PSA is about bullying but there's no indication to me that GBLT people are even remotely considered in it

And I don't think it'll be effective, if sad looking people asking "why would you do this to me" worked on bullies then I'm not sure there would be any bullying. I think a story with a person to identify with and the painful consequences would be better. Even a stark "would you murder this person?" (insert painful suicide statistic or stomach punch scene) "NO? Then why are you killing them?"

Really sick of the "quick cut/multiple faces" technique... tired and cliched. So much of it seems like acting class monologues. The people are too old. And, as in so many of the "It Gets Better" videos, there is zero acknowledgment of how being viewed as gender variant has a huge impact on the likelihood one is going to be bullied (I love how they have a trans person shown towards the end for, about .25 seconds). Without mentioning this, IMO, bullying PSAs are ignoring the 800 pound gorilla in the room and are useless.

A more interesting approach might be to have kids honestly talking from schools where someone was bullied and killed themselves. Having them describe what the bullying was like and how they felt afterwards... and kids who had real contact with the bullied child both in support and the perpetrators.

I don't care about these PSA's. What's there to grab your attention? I tuned out half way through. But then, I'm not the intended audience.

"Bullying hurts." Well, duh. That's the whole point to the person inflicting the pain, isn't it? Get at that, and you might be able to frame an effective ad.

I sometimes think this is one case where insisting on us as special is a mistake. I know the statistics specifically for GLBT youth, but the fact is that bullying is something that everyone goes through to some extent in their teen years. A good series of ads should have someone with a physical deformity, someone with thick glasses, a thick accent, an obviously dykey girl or nellie boy, dark skin, someone with bad acne - a little bit of everything and anything that makes you a target.

My criticism is that I don't believe for a moment that any of the actors in those PSA are in high school, let along junior high. Want to target school bullying? Do it with people who ARE in school. Just my 2 cents.

They're sort of bland and flat. What bothers me most, and this bothers me about most of the anti-bullying stuff lately, is that they don't say what bullying is.

The Bullying is Violence ads are bland. But more importantly, does anyone think a bully gets up and considers whether he or she will bully that day or not? Do you think they actually are concerned it hurts? THAT is the point of being a bully, to inflict power and misery over someone.
I was bullied when I was younger. I once actually tried an impassioned plea similar to that ad campaign. All it did was make them laugh and be worse.
The advertisement for saving Lolita WAS an ad which could resonate with our emotions. Almost anyone's emotions. And it is memorable. I basically have forgotten the Initial Bullying ads, save the faces of the people. I remember the entire ad for Saving Lolita.
Here in Florida where I was born and raised. When the money from the tobacco settlement came in there was a large slice set aside for anti-smoking and anti-dipping campaigns. The one's who actually came up with the ads which were focused on stopping kids, teens and young adults from smoking were actually created by that age group. And they were the most effective in the nation.
Maybe these ads should be made by those who bullied and maybe saw the error of their ways? Only bullies can really reach the mind of a bully in a 30 sec soundbite.

Personally, I love this PSA. Its effectiveness lies in its universality. As Sharon herself says in a previous PSA, “Everyone has a responsibility to see this violence as their issue, as something that impacts them, whether they identify as LGBTQ or not. Because this is not a gay issue, this is not a straight issue, this is everyone’s issue. And it’s only once we see this as everyone’s issue that we’re actually going to be able to end this violence.” As for the filmmaker’s approach: story is powerful, but telling a story is not the only way to have impact. This PSA raises the all-important question: Why? Why on earth would anyone behave this way? Why would you spend a single minute of your life sneering at and picking on another human being? Figure out the answer and we’ll be halfway to solving the problem.