JUSTIFICATION OF RESEARCH
In Networks of Outrage and Hope, Castells’ (2012) examined the role of new communication technologies, like social networking, and their impact on social movements around the world. Outlining several different social and political movements from around the world, Castells (2012) explored what he calls “the new public space”—that “…networked space between the digital space and the urban space…” (p. 11) which he sees as a space of autonomous communication. This new public space is ground for the coalition of what Castells (2012) saw as networks of outrage and hope. As he conceptualized it, social movements are often born out of outrage: outrage at oppression and hegemony, personal rights violations and abuses. These movements are sustained through hope: hope that these movements can and will illicit social and political change. His research demonstrates how these new social movements fluidly move back and forth between the virtual and physical realms and that while much of the social and political change happens in the physical realm, movements are sustained, organized and given a global audience in the virtual realm.
It is with this in mind that I want to look at another sort of movement that has been occurring mostly in the virtual realm, with moments of uprising within the physical: the anti-bullying movement within the queer community as started by the “It Gets Better” campaign. It Gets Better was started by Dan Savage and his husband, Terry Miller. In September 2010, Savage, a journalist, and Miller, posted a video on YouTube in response to the recent spate of suicides amongst young people who had been bullied because of their presumed sexual and/or gender identity expression. Originally, the video was meant to be a “one-off,” a one-time posting that gave hope to young queer individuals who were facing harassment in their lives. The message was simple: please don’t kill yourself because it gets better. Within a week, the video went viral and soon more people were uploading videos to the official YouTube site with the same message: “It Gets Better.” To date, there are over 50,000 It Gets Better videos uploaded to the Internet, there have been MTV specials recorded, a book has been published, and there are grassroots campaigns across the globe that are trying to change policy within communities and societies to legislate against homophobic bullying (“It Gets Better,” 2013).
The “It Gets Better” movement, like the others that Castells’ (2012) examined, was born out of outrage: specifically Savage’s outrage at the seeming social apathy at homophobic bullying and suicides. Also, like the other movements examined by Castells (2012), this movement is sustained by hope: in this case, literal hope that if queer youth can just stay strong, it will eventually get better. While there has been vocal criticism of this approach, mostly that we as a society cannot really guarantee that it is going to get better for all queer youth, there is no denying that the movement has been a cultural zeitgeist and that there has indeed been change in states like Hawaii and Michigan, which have added anti-bullying statues and states like Massachusetts which have broadened already existing anti-bullying laws to include bullying based on sexual and/or gender identity expression (“Bully Police,” 2012). More importantly, however, is that the virtual network created by the It Gets Better campaign is giving life-sustaining hope to queer youth who are living in states where there is no legal protection against anti-gay bullying. This campaign, however, has not been a queer utopia of hope, and while it has been the subject of praise from the highest critics, it has also been subjected to some of the harshest critiques, especially within the queer community. It is because of this seeming contradiction that I am interested in studying the It Gets Better campaign as a new kind of social movement.
One of the issues I am interested in examining in this project is what are the implications of a movement that does not seem to have a specific end goal in mind. The whole message of “it gets better,” while hopeful, is nebulous and often criticized for being too general. While there has been some actual policy change that has been created in light of the increased exposure to the systemic problem of queer bullying and suicides, there is no specific timeline or “set of specific demands” for society to change or adapt. In reality, the It Gets Better movement places a tremendous amount of onus on the individuals getting bullied, specifically that if it does not get better for them in the future, it must be something they are doing wrong. It is with this that I am interested in the following general research question: How successful is a movement like the “It Gets Better” campaign when there are no specific, legislative demands put on society at large?
Another issue that I am interested in for this project is the fact that most of the videos posted to the It Gets Better YouTube page are created by regular people throughout the world. While Savage and Miller created the first video, they do not purport to “own the idea” and encourage others to post videos and disseminate the information found in the videos. In this way, it echoes Coleman’s (2013) examination of creative commons and “copyleft” laws. Rather than trying to control the information and ideas expressed in the original It Gets Better video, Savage and Miller have opened it to the global virtual community. In essence, the It Gets Better campaign has done away with the idea of a romantic author within the project. My research question in regards to this line of thinking is how that has affected the credibility of the campaign—both amongst the people whom the videos are targeted at (queer youth) and policy makers at the political level.
The methodology I plan on using for this project is based upon Castells’ (2012) framework for examining the various social movements detailed within Networks of Outrage and Hope. Specifically, Castells’ (2012) stated that: “…my theory will be embedded in a selective observation of the movements, to bring together…the most salient findings of this study in an analytical framework” (p. 17-18). Similarly, I am going to selectively “observe” different aspects of the It Gets Better campaign within the framework of Appadurai’s (1990) “-scapes” of the social imaginary. Appadurai (1990), by way of Anderson’s (2006) Imagined Communities, has conceptualized of five different -scapes through with information and ideas flow within the global community. The five –scapes are: the ethnoscape, the technoscape, the finanscape, mediascape, and the ideoscape. While the It Gets Better relies heavily upon techno- and mediascapes, there is evidence of influence from all five of Appadurai’s (1990) –scapes. By using Appadurai’s (1990) social imaginary of –scapes through the selective observation of the It Gets Better campaign and subsequent movement, I hope to answer the research questions outlined above.
I believe that while the It Gets Better campaign has created hope and change in the lives of millions of young queer individuals across the globe, because it is a movement that exists almost completely within the virtual realm, it does not have nearly as much tangible social change as the movements that were analyzed by Castells (2012). The fact that much of the movement is online is of specific interest to me, especially in regards to Hall’s (1996) notions of the displacements of centered discourses and how they apply to discourses within the virtual realm. Also, I believe that because the movement is not prescriptive, calling for specific actions by the government, but merely asking for queer youth to be patient until it gets better, the It Gets Better campaign acts as little more than just a global media event with moments mirroring a social movement. I am also, aware of the fact that perhaps the It Gets Better campaign is a new kind of movement, one that does not illicit relatively immediate change like movements within the Arab Spring did, but is a movement that will happen over the course of years or even decades when individuals who are raised on tolerance, acceptance and hope eventually take over the positions of power within the government and society.
Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined communities, new edition. London: Verso.
Appadurai, A. (1990). Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy. Theory, Culture & Society, 7, 295-310. doi: 10.1177/026327690007002017
Bully Police. (2012). Bully Police USA. Retrieved from http://www.bullypolice.org
Castells, M. (2012). Networks of outrage and hope: Social movements in the Internet age. Maiden, MA: Polity.
Coleman, E. G. (2013). Coding freedom: The ethics and aesthetics of hacking. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Hall, S. (1996). New ethnicities. In D. Morley & K-. H. Chen (Eds.), Stuart Hall: Critical dialogues in cultural studies. London: Routledge.
It Gets Better. (2013). It Gets Better- About Page. Retrieved from http://www.itge