It Gets Better: a message from Australian comedians

I’ve long made pained expressions whenever I hear that “high school is the best years of your life” pablum expressed, and I was one of those people who did actually have a pretty good time at high school (recognised for good grades, playing sport, playing music – I was moderately popular even). I was different (v.v. nerdy & a bit counter-culture), and I was teased for it sometimes, but never generally bullied or picked on relentlessly. I know now how lucky I was. Lots of kids, especially LGBTQ kids, do have a horribly alienating and traumatising time in school at the hands of their peers, and telling them that those years are supposed to be the best of their lives leads to despair about their future.

It’s so not true – life gets so much better once you’re making your way in the world away from the conformity factory of the school system: you can find people who are more like you, or at least as different from the norm as you, and you can form new friendships and communities where your differences either don’t matter or are celebrated. IT GETS SO MUCH FUCKING BETTER, LOOK FORWARD TO IT.

A group of Australian comedians have taken a break from the jokes to get serious about helping young Australians who are bullied or feel marginalised. Together, these comedians have come together to create a video to spread the message that no matter how bad things can get, to trust and believe that life does get better.

The It Gets Better (Australia) website at has more messages from other Australians about how much better it gets as you grow older too (and of course the other international affiliates of the It Gets Better campaign have their own messages for bullied teens).

The 14 Australian comedians include: Wil Anderson, Anne Edmonds, Hannah Gadsby, Justin Hamilton, Geraldine Hickey, Peter Helliar, Claire Hooper, Matt Kelly, Tommy Little, Kate McLennan, Xavier Michelides, Lawerence Mooney, Rhys Nicholson, Dave Thornton, Asher Treleaven and Wes Snelling.

Categories: education, ethics & philosophy, relationships, social justice, Sociology

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18 replies

  1. Hell, yes. My years in high school were the worst of my life (I was verbally bullied fairly constantly the entire time — once the kids in my own year matured enough to stop, the kids in younger grades realised I was an easy target), and while not everyone’s life follows the same trajectory, once you’re past high school, there are so many more options available to most people, that the liklihood of things getting better increases far more than it’s possible to imagine during those six years of confinement.
    (Though I will point out, in relation to that video, that being an overweight bricklayer is not actually a BAD thing, much as I understand the desire for schadenfreude where bullies are concerned.)

  2. Okay, now I’m over my weepy spell, I’ll point out for anyone reading, speaking as a person who was a chronic bullying target (in both primary and high school) it does get better.
    Life gets better, because the world is larger than just one high school, just one workplace, just one town. Life gets better because as you get older, it gets easier to get in contact with people who share your interests. Life gets better because there’s more people out there than just you who feels that same way.
    It gets better because as an adult, you aren’t expected to put up with being harassed, brow-beaten, intimidated, verbally abused, and outright assaulted by your work colleagues, no matter what your job is. I’ll be honest: what goes on in most schools with regard to the passive acceptance of bullying behaviours as “just the way things are” is WRONG. It is wrong, wrong, wrongitty fucking WRONG, and it shouldn’t be happening. That it is happening is a different rant for a different time.
    High school is five years, and yeah, when you enter high school, five years is pretty much half your life to that point. But on the other hand – by the time you leave, five years is less than a third of your life to that point. You can endure for five years. You can survive for five years. And at the end of five years, you’ll be out, and you’ll be able to make choices which can take you away from the bastards who made your days miserable.
    Here’s one of the big things which a lot of people don’t mention: once you get out of high school, if you don’t want to see those people again, chances are you won’t have to. If you’re not required to be in their presence six hours a day, five days a week, forty weeks a year, chances are they’ll give up on tormenting you (and if they don’t, then call the cops, because they’re clearly in need of an intervention or three).

  3. I have a lot of problems with the It Gets Better project. Not because I don’t think it doesn’t help some queer teens, but because it can sometimes elide the need for immediate intervention into bullying. When I was being bullied in school, telling me that things would get better after school would have implicitly involved the message that I’d have to put up with 4-5 more years of having no friends and having guys grab at my crotch under the tables. And this:
    “High school is five years, and yeah, when you enter high school, five years is pretty much half your life to that point. But on the other hand – by the time you leave, five years is less than a third of your life to that point. You can endure for five years. You can survive for five years. And at the end of five years, you’ll be out, and you’ll be able to make choices which can take you away from the bastards who made your days miserable.”
    Is kind of an appalling thing to tell people who are actively being sexually assaulted as part of their highschool experience. Sure. I survived highschool. But highschool should in no way be something queers have to survive. Telling minors that they should just wait until adulthood and then people will start taking their problems seriously is all kinds of fucked up.
    So, actually, getting into it, yeah, I don’t think queer youth needs more “It gets better” videos. They need “Holy Fuck Don’t Put Up With That Shit Here Is The Support You Can Get Right The Fuck Now” videos.

  4. Li, while I think you raise some good points here, I think you’ve taken that quote from Megpie71 out of context. Specifically, in the paragraph above that, Megpie71 says:

    what goes on in most schools with regard to the passive acceptance of bullying behaviours as “just the way things are” is WRONG. It is wrong, wrong, wrongitty fucking WRONG, and it shouldn’t be happening.

    She fully acknowledges that there is a need for abuse in schools to be stopped in the first place — but the fact is, there are still plenty of kids who can’t, for various reasons, stand up and speak out about it, and THAT is where the subsequent paragraph comes in.
    I’ve never seen the “It Gets Better project as something that promotes an either/or situation, with regard to stopping bullying NOW and encouraging kids to see hope for the future. I completely agree that it’s appalling that there are so few resources available to kids who are being abused at school (and indeed, that bullying is often not acknowledged as a form of abuse), but I think that one the whole, It Gets Better raises awareness of the types of abuse that gets swept under the rug in the name of “bullying”, because people are actually talking about it — and given that, unfortunately, there are a lot of kids who are basically stuck while they’re in high school, the message of hope is still an important one.

  5. Yeah, look, I understand that hope is important. What I think is problematic is telling kids that stuff will sort itself out after high school, because (and this will probably explain some of the personal grump factor) I just woke up from a nightmare that involved the people who bullied and assaulted me in highschool, and so I’m very aware that physical distance doesn’t actually erase the trauma that highschool can create, and many queer people, especially those who have been most heavily targeted, will actually have to deal with what went down in highschool for the rest of their lives. Hope doesn’t solve that. Hope isn’t action.
    I know that people are really invested in the It Gets Better project and that they have good intentions. But like, say, KONY 2012, it’s the kind of thing which I think is popular partially because it actually requires very little of us, and a lot of the time, yes, I think it erases the urgency of many queer students’ situations. If queer students can’t stand up and speak out about the violence and harassment they’re facing, we need to solve that problem, not ask kids to tough it out.

    • Li, I agree that it’s certainly not enough on its own. What it does do very effectively I think (and perhaps not entirely planned as such) is awareness outreach to allies (and potential allies) about how this shit isn’t going away and that it’s something to watch out for and challenge when we see it happening.
      It’ has some value there as part of a societal approach. But it certainly needs to be alongside more directly targeted programs telling kids exactly where to get the help they need.

  6. If I recollect correctly, the ‘Its get better’ campaign originated in the US as a response to a spate of suicides amongst LGBTQ teens, as a result of bullying. I don’t think its intention was to deny that bullying was unnacceptable or that we shouldn’t work to stop it, as much as to recognise that bullying is happening and people are dying. It was intended as a dogwhistle to desperate teens in that situation, rather than a response to the broader problem of bullying.

  7. I’m well aware of the origins of the It Gets Better Campaign. Honestly, I think it’s some of the better work Dan Savage has done (though that isn’t really saying much given my general opinion of him). But it has also become one of the preeminent queer rights campaigns, and I think people should be more critical of what the huge amount of support it receives means than just celebrating its intentions. In fact, the kind of reactions that people give when ever anyone criticises any of these kinds of feel good awareness campaigns often suggest to me that the campaigns are often more about salving the distress of bystanders than they are about helping victims. Queer kids going through bullying are not just going through some rite of passage that can be countered with time.
    I mean really, would you as feminists consider it would be appropriate to give the message that “It Gets Better” to a girl who’s being teased constantly about her breasts starting to grow? Who has boys grabbing her breasts in the schoolyard? What about her genitals? Would you consider that message not only appropriate but worth prioritising over other messages you could give her? If you had to write an awareness campaign about college sexual assault, would you tell women that college was only three years long?
    Because, and I am telling you this as explicitly as I can, many queer people experience the It Gets Better campaign as telling them that queer youth should just suck it up for six years and things will be fine. That’s not a feature of our being too stupid to understand the intentions of the project or not knowing where it has originated from, it’s a feature of the kind of messages the campaign uses. Obviously not all queer people are going to read it that way, but a lot of us do. And when some of us have high school experiences that include sexual and physical assault, we’re going to take any lack of urgency very seriously.
    There are thousands of It Gets Better videos, but barely any on how to get support as a queer young person right now. That imbalance, which I think has systemic roots, is a problem, and it’s not actually solved by people insisting that It Gets Better is only one of a number of measures while it continues to receive such a disproportionate level of attention.

  8. I had a boring-bordering-on-unpleasant time in high school. I experienced emotions ranging from puzzlement to despair whenever I heard anyone say “schooldays are the best days of your life”. “It gets better” would have been a nice thing for me to hear.
    I am utterly horrified at the idea that “It gets better” is aimed at people whose high school experience is worse than mine was – and apparently it is. I completely agree with Li – this is a salve for people who feel they maybe oughta do something, so they can avoid really engaging with the problem.
    I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t have the time, energy, resources to do anything about school bullying – I don’t, myself. But I don’t think they should pretend that this is doing something. This is the pink ribbon of queer teen persecution.

  9. I came into the comments to express how conflicted I felt about the messages in this video after watching it, only to find Li has already done it much better than I could have.
    I also think part of why it’s problematic is that the “it gets better” message is so often given to people suffering depression and related mental illnesses as a palliative. And not only is it completely unhelpful — if not actively harmful (which is how I experienced it) — it’s also quite simply untrue for a lot of people.
    Sometimes it, whatever “it” is, doesn’t get better. I’ve found that false hope can be just as damaging as the lack of it.

  10. I think it’s important to remember here that, because people aren’t monolithic, there is no message that will ever be 100% effective, 100% of the time. I don’t think the fact that the It Gets Better message won’t resonate with some kids indicates a problem with the message in and of itself — it’s simply a reflection of the fact that people are different.
    This does mean it’s highly important to point out that that one particular message isn’t going to have universal appeal — we do need to get lots of different messages out there in order to reflect all those differences in human experience (in this instances, the differences in queer experience) — but for me, I don’t see that as a problem with It Gets Better (which has never been promoted as the cure for all ills with regard to queer youth ); it simply means that we need other messages to complement that one.
    I think it’s also important to point out that the message It Gets Better =/= It Becomes Perfect. It doesn’t mean that past abuse will be eradicated from the memories of those who have suffered it, nor does it mean that those abuses will stop affecting people (or indeed that people will never suffer abuse again). I think the vast majority of It Gets Better videos I’ve seen have demonstrated that such abuses have a lasting effect, and that problems don’t magically go away. The message, as I see it, isn’t “Just put up with the abuse throughout high school, and then you’ll enter into the magical happy land.” It’s more like “Abuse is a horrible horrible thing, and if you’re in an abusive situation at school, it can feel like you’ll never get out. But look, lots of people HAVE got out, and their lives are better now — and many of these people thought that was impossible. And if you are in that position, there are people out there rooting for you — and we’re putting these videos out there so that you know that.”

  11. People keep talking about “stopping bullying in schools,” but I don’t think it’s possible, the way schools are set up.
    Schools are set up a lot like prisons. You’re thrown together with a bunch of people whose defining characteristic is their lack of civilized social skills, you can’t leave or even avoid your tormentors, and you are in the power of authorities whose ultimate source of authority is that they can do things to you and you can’t do anything to them. (“Because I say so.”) Student-on-student bullying is simply a recreation of the power relationships that the students as a whole are under. Since the unhappiness of the inmates is presumed to be inherent in the purpose of the institution, it’s hard for the authorities to take the additional misery caused by bullying seriously.
    For school authorities to really stop bullying, they would have to change the basis of their authority. Instead, they try to stop bullying by plain force: “I’m bigger than you, and I’ll beat you up if you pick on that littler kid.” Or (even less effective), they try to convince kids that Bullying Is Wrong, which amounts to, “do as I say, not as I do.”
    An additional problem for kids who don’t fit in — because they’re gay, because they’re not pretty or athletic enough, or just because they “don’t smell right” — is that schools are also the enforcers of social norms. When kids bully those kids who don’t fit in, they are actually doing the school authorities’ work for them.
    FWIW, I was “picked on” (as they called it then) pretty much until I went to college, though the worst years were from when I was about 10 until I was about 14. I got it about equally from adults and kids, though most of the physical stuff from the kids stopped after I threw a desk at some kids who were picking on me. It was not fun, though it wasn’t as bad as what some people report. I was kind of suicidal during the worst years, but less because of the actual harrassment and more because everyone — parents, teachers, administrators, and other kids — was insisting that everything that was happening to me was my fault.

  12. I just noticed this post on reddit, it questions the motivations of the video.
    Positive message or outright advertising? After all it is being released right during the Melbourne Comedy Festival.
    Sell those tickets boys and girls… sell those tickets.

    • While I do understand some cynicism there Craig, there’s also the simple fact that MICF always has a substream of charity events because it’s just the easiest time to get a a whole bunch of comedians all together for a single cause, without having to worry about travel costs and other logistics.

  13. Yeah, I’m kinda with Aqua and Li (and others) on this one. My problems with the campaign are basically that, for a big number of people, it really, seriously *doesn’t* get better. The ‘getting better’ thing relies on flexibility, mobility and communications tech that aren’t available to those who are really poor, a disproportionate number of whom are queer. In that context, I think that while for some hope is great, it can also be quite dangerous in other situations, and this is clearly pitched to those who already have some level of privilege – who still count, yes, but it’s another example of centering politics around the middle-class and neglecting those whose vulnerability is far greater. I also think it’s a terribly individualised response to schoolyard bullying, avoiding the hard questions about schooling by telling people to wait out the injustice and suffering of high school.
    What bugs me most of all is that there are all these famous people willing to tell people to stick it out til they leave school… but not to raise their voices to change how schools function. That feels to me like the ‘pink ribbon’ move that Aqua references. And in that sense, it feels like the resources that Dan Savage drew on to create the campaign, and the way it’s been taken up, could have been better used to make a difference to all those affected. These broad-brush-strokes campaigns can often wind up reinforcing the status quo because they are failing to engage on a substantive level, say in community activism…

  14. It strikes me that, although there is some disagreement here regarding the benefits of It Gets Better, I think that most of us are in pretty broad agreement that we need more messages aimed at stopping bullying now, enabling kids to get out of abusive situations BEFORE high school is over, and reaching kids for whom the It Gets Better message doesn’t resonate.
    I’m thinking, perhaps in a seperate post, it’s probably worth brainstorming some ideas, with respect to what we can do, collectively, in terms of this sort of thing. Thoughts?

  15. Beppie, a brainstorming/crowdsourcing post for anti-bullying resources/campaigns is a great idea.

    I did presume that Lifeline (to which the video links) would have lists of other orgs for desperate teens to contact in terms of ending their abuse ASAP, but am I perhaps presuming too much?

  16. Kids’ Helpline seems to have some resources. I used their services myself when I was a teenager (15 or so years ago now).

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