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Rebecca Black and the Cyberbullying She Didn’t Deserve

I stumbled upon the now infamous video for Rebecca Black’s “Friday” via a Tweet from MST3K’s Mike Nelson, which appears to have been the starting point for the video going viral. Like most people, I didn’t like it. The lyrics are beyond simple, and the use of auto-tune (which is something I’ve never liked, and is probably a true dividing line between generations) was mind-numbing. The song is almost a parody of modern pop, as Rolling Stone said, which is probably why it’s gained such traction. And I won’t lie; of course I laughed at the video as I watched it.

But that’s where it ended for me. I really had no idea when this was made, where it was made, and whether or not it was an actual hit song. I knew, however, that it wasn’t made for me. It’s a song by a 13-year-old girl – reason enough to back off – that I can see younger kids liking a lot. Anyway, the video spread fast all over the Internet, and I was really shocked at how dark the sentiment became not for the song, but for Rebecca Black, the person. In a time where bullying and cyberbullying (something those of us who graduated high school before the 00s thankfully never had to deal with) are getting real notice, from schools to the White House, the volcano of cruel remarks and vitriol hurled at her is downright sad.

If anyone releases music or art, it’s open to criticism. That’s fair. Parodies are fair. But take a look at the YouTube comments, or listen to Rebecca herself recount some of the messages she received during her Good Morning America interview. “Cut yourself,” “Get an eating disorder,” etc. Unequivocally, a line has been crossed, and it’s disturbing. This is people from all over the world, of all ages, joining the pile-on; lots of “Internet tough guys” – people who would never have the guts to say the things they say online to a person’s actual face – hiding behind a screename, who for whatever reason, feel empowered by belittling someone anonymously. I’m not saying people shouldn’t have fun with the video or song. But there’s a fine line between funny and mean, and the mean never get it. Conan O’Brien’s “Thursday” parody? Funny. Fake Charlie Sheen’s tweet to Rebecca Black? Mean.

And what’s particularly gross about this? She’s just a kid. Is there that much to be gained by making fun of a 13-year-old? Also, she’s not talentless, but actually seems to be a pretty decent singer. And most importantly, she didn’t write the song; if you want to blame someone, blame those who wrote it for her. Thankfully, she seems to be handling this – the fame, the criticism and the acclaim – just fine. But if we are serious, as a culture, about ending cyberbullying and toning down violent rhetoric, maybe giving Rebecca Black a pass would be a good start.

Going further, the ultimate happy ending to this story would be that maybe, just maybe, we learn not to be so quick to be vicious, mean or snide, but maybe be more thoughtful and supportive. Rebecca Black is someone who seems like a genuinely good person – she’s donating all her profits from this to Japan, something she really does not have to do – and is not deserving at all of the poison verbal arrows slung her way. There will be others like her in the future, and hopefully, we will have learned a more human way to react.