First, if it hasn’t passed through your Facebook timeline yet, give this video a watch.
The video is called “Evan”, and was put out recently by advertising agency BBDO New York in collaboration with Sandy Hook Promise – a nonprofit organization founded by family members affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December of 2012. Sandy Hook Promise focuses on “Know The Signs” research: identifying ways to recognize an individual who may be demonstrating “at-risk-behavior” and methods of intervention before they cause harm to themselves or others.
Creative director of BBDO New York, Paul Alsante remarks:
“Most of us haven’t experienced the tragedy of losing a loved one to gun violence, but we can all relate to the experience of falling in love in high school, and the awkwardness and excitement that comes from it. We use that as a bit of a foil, to get people nodding their heads, feeling that they’re along for the ride with a story they can relate to, then we reveal to them this whole other story’s been going on, we’ve worked our way in to making our story about gun violence into something that’s relatable.”
Upon watching this piece, I was chilled. I happened to be watching it in bed at night, with my lights off – upon the video’s tonal reversal, I turned on my light and sat straight up -along with every hair on my body.
I felt sick, I felt creeped, I felt betrayed. You tricked me, video!!! I knew something was fishy while I watched!!! You made me watch the love story!!! Remember that selective attention video that came out a few years ago? This feels like that!!!! Of course I didn’t see the kid, you focused my attention elsewhere!!!
This was followed by some Good Old Self-Reflection.
Emily. Art made you Feel Things & you are lashing out because you are feeling attacked because you are guilty of not seeing the signs.
I was heavily reminded of the end of Company One’s 2014 production of We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915, by Jackie Sibblies Drury.
At the end of this piece (spoiler alert) an act of extreme, charged, racial violence occurs onstage as a result of the actors’ “improvisation”. Immediately following, the actors are horrified with themselves for their capability to perform such violence. Then, the actors turn out to face the witnesses, the silent bystanders – the audience. This moment says, “Hey, you didn’t do anything about it either. You are guilty too.” And they exit.
The feeling of betrayal was similar. Then, a similar self-reflection followed. Art with Shock Value is a tough pill to swallow.
However, after viewing the Sandy Hook video, I felt a deeper level of frustration than I did after We Are Proud To Present. Why? I couldn’t put words to it.
Until I saw this set of tweets:
I thought, Okay, heeere it is.
I am over treating the symptoms of the problem! Why don’t we go to the source?! Why are we talking about how to recognize at-risk behavior, instead of working to stop putting children at risk?! Take guns out of their hands! Take guns out of everyone’s hands! All this video did was shock me and make me feel bad!
Then, my daily spiral of reflection on the 2016 US Presidential Election showed up.
Over and over, I am reminded – if we’re gonna ride the Car to Social Progress, we MUST look in the rear view mirror, and make sure evvvverybody is in the back seat. Or at least in the car following us.
Metaphors rule. Stick with me.
This could be a video addressing gun control legislation and reform, sure.
However, like it or not, anyone on the ‘other side’ of the gun control argument would most likely feel alienated and/or attacked – potentially resulting in a firmer grasp onto their platform.
This video addresses the symptoms, yes.
Would I prefer a video that fought tooth-and-nail for gun law reform? Absolutely.
Yet, this video allows a viewer to feel the weight of gun violence.
This video provides useful tips for recognition of threatening behavior and people who may be struggling with their mental health.
Most importantly, this video leaves space for its audience to draw its own conclusions and opinions on guns. Perhaps, because of this space and the sharpness of the video’s narrative, someone out there has changed their mind about gun control – or has begun their journey to changing their mind.
Paul Asante was aware of the subject matter’s touchy politics throughout the creation of the video – his goal was to unite its audience, rather than divide:
“We focus on people and mental health, as opposed to guns themselves. It invites everyone to be a part of this conversation, regardless of what side of the aisle you’re on politically.”
Honestly, I opened this blank blog document to talk about how I felt the video wasn’t doing enough. How I was sick of Shocking Art That Blames Me For Stuff Instead Of The Fucked Up System. Yet, from the beginning of this blog post to this moment, my opinions on this video have shifted – this article and this article helped. Talking it out with artistic colleagues helped. It’s not enough to be critical. We even have to be critical of our criticism. We have to work to see things from all sides, before moving forward.
If we want our art to be heard, we must first listen.