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David Gorshein

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'It Gets Better' on Cable, with Commercials

Posted: 02/24/2012 7:29 pm

I have long admired Dan Savage's advice, especially to struggling queers. Like Kate Bornstein's advice to Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws, Savage's advice inspires me to keep in mind the invisible struggles of non-conformers. I have also found daily inspiration in the viral responses to Savage's (and Terry Miller's) "It Gets Better" campaign. It is revolutionary and empowering to watch videos on demand in which, as Chris Rovzar wrote in 2010 in New York Magazine, "grown-ups ... tell gay kids that things will be easier in the future, when they are out of school, or when they are simply older and more comfortable with who they are."

While the "It Gets Better" campaign initially intended to represent happy and adjusted older queers to struggling younger queers, the campaign evolved to encourage anyone to tell a struggling person that the future will be easier and more fun than the present. Since its inception, more than 40,000 videos have been uploaded onto the "It Gets Better" archive. Many videos feature the confessional testimonies of celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres, politicians such as President Obama, and institutions such as Google and UCLA.

Earlier this month, when MTV and Logo began airing commercials for the "It Gets Better" special, I was worried about the transition of the YouTube phenomenon to cable TV. After watching the special, which debuted Feb. 21 on both channels, I am surprised and moved. The tone of the "It Gets Better" videos gave way to a beautiful rendition of documentary television. The stories centering on three distinct individuals overlapped -- in ways they virtually couldn't in the past -- as the program captured the momentous tone and translated it into good and important TV.

Reality shows such as Big Brother and scripted programs such as Modern Family have canonized the use of the confessional shot, in which cast members seem to answer questions honestly and reveal their truest inner monologues. The "It Gets Better" special, in its incorporation of these familiar techniques, enhanced the urgency of the standard YouTube direct-address format. In this way, the televised special gave us unprecedented access to Greg, Vanessa, and Aydian, who bravely shared their stories. The televised edition strategically incorporated important facts -- such as the number of churches that "accept LGBT" congregants, and the percentage of teenagers who become homeless after coming out. These interpretations also connected the stories to a social context, which often remains abstracted in the virtual realm.

In many of the YouTube videos, "It" is said to get better when the one struggling leaves the oppressive social context. One of the surprising strengths of the cable broadcast is a complication to this solution. MTV and Logo presented the situations of all three narrators in their human messiness, as well as in human strength.

Some so-called liberal critics of the "It Gets Better" project have pointed to the name of the campaign as a potential weakness in its ideology. As Rovzar reported when the initial videos surfaced, it's "It Gets Better," not "Here, I'll Make It Better." The premise of resignation, in this critique, relies on both hopeful futurity and the presumed endurance of homophobia.

But as I watched the credits at the end of the cable TV special, I was pleased to see a person featured in a YouTube square, top left of the screen, who confessed in front of a rainbow flag: "It kinda doesn't get better. You get stronger."

 

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