A new anti-bullying ad by VH1 has been making the rounds recently. The ad features different so-called “nerds” being bullied in different forms, while singing revenge lyrics to the tune of Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive.
First I was afraid, I was petrified. They flushed my head several times, exposing my behind… I’ll be your boss, I’ll make you be my slave. All my power I will abuse. I’ll be the CEO, you’ll be the one who shines my shoes. I’m going to call night and day and on weekend I’ll send texts. Ask you for all kinds of things, making sure you never rest. You’ll never get a single raise. You’ll get the same pay until the end of your unhappy days. And behind a tiny desk you’ll be saying your regret. You’ll be my pet, you’ll be my pet
Many have spoken out against the ad, accusing it of focusing on the wrong aspect of bullying, or making light of the situation. One of the harshest critics is Rebecca Rose of Jezebel, who accuses VH1 of teaching kids that two wrongs make a right, and ultimately missing the mark on their message.
I get it, VH1. You want to make a cool and funny anti-bullying PSA so you can pat yourself on the back for taking a safely non-controversial stance against something like bullying, because that’s all the rage these days. I know your heart is absolutely in the right place (or the hearts of the public relations/marketing team who came up with this are). But telling kids they should grin and shake it off because someday they might live out some classist revenge fable is some serious head-in-the-sand fuckery.
The entire piece over at Jezebel is an enlightening read, and makes several really good points. For the most part, I agree with what Rose argues, but I’m afraid that I can’t get behind her 100%. I, for one, thought the lyrics incredibly funny, and I’m happy that VH1 tackled the issue at all. Will every kid who gets bullied someday end up being the boss of their tormentors? Probably not. But it doesn’t mean that ads like this one won’t motivate them to try to excel in life, in spite of their bullied past.
Almost every campaign which seeks to reassure bullied kids tries to tell them that “it will get better” in the future, without ever really telling them how. It’s a nice sentiment – of course it is… but it’s sort of vague, and doesn’t offer much in terms of assurance to someone who is bullied on a daily basis. I think that VH1’s ad offers the same message, with an extra kick at the end.
One of the strongest criticisms against the ad is that it teaches kids to seek revenge on their bullies when they grow up. Again, I get it. But, instead of accusing the ad of instilling ideas of revenge in the minds of the bullied, how about we realise that it’s also simultaneously instilling fear of retribution in the hearts of the bullies. All bullies are ultimately cowards, and any hint of someone being able to do to them what they do to others, often sends them scurrying for cover. Almost every message of anti-bullying focuses solely on the bullied. I think VH1’s ad deserves a little praise for also targeting bullies, letting them realise that the shit they pull today won’t get them very far in life. If anything, it just might be a detriment to them in time.
The ad isn’t perfect, and yes, many of the criticisms levelled against it aren’t without merit. But, please, let’s not completely bash any effort which offers a ray of hope to the millions of kids who are desperately in need of uplifting.