I’ve seen a number of high-profile individuals being dismissive of the “No More” PSA campaign against domestic violence lately, and I find their insults troubling.
NoMore.org is an organization that focuses on raising awareness of and working toward an end to not only domestic violence, but also sexual assault. Its signature blue circle logo is meant to signify a vanishing point, or the ideal of zero occurrences of DV and SA. The full campaign, which includes print imagery, a social media push, and other public engagement, “seeks to break social stigma, normalize the conversation around domestic violence and sexual assault, and increase resources to address these urgent issues. No More is aligned with hundreds of organizations working at the local, state, and national levels on prevention, advocacy, and services for survivors.”
Focusing on the video portion of the campaign, No More video PSAs have been airing online and on television since September 2013, but I am one of many people who first became aware of them a few months ago upon the inclusion of players from the NFL.
To recap: In February of last year, surveillance video was made public showing then-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice dragging his unconscious then-fiancée Janay out of an elevator like a sack of potatoes or rocks or some other non-human thing that couldn’t possibly be the woman you love. Janay Rice is a woman whom I do not know personally, and while she undoubtedly has many qualities that define her, she has become “known” to many, who also do not know her, as the most recent public face of victimhood.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Ray for two games, citing "conduct detrimental to the NFL." There was much uproar about these consequences, which were deemed too lenient when compared with far longer suspensions for other transgressions, for example those involving drug use, as opposed to violence against a woman. There was also much uproar about Janay’s decision to marry Ray, with much speculation as to what led her to be unconscious and the frequency of those incidents.
Seven months later, another video was released that showed Ray delivering the massive punch that led to Janay’s unconsciousness, providing a conclusive end to the speculation, in literal black and white. Commissioner Goodell doth protest too much in insisting that no one had seen this other part of the video before TMZ unleashed it upon the world (they had released the first one as well), and this time Ray’s contract was terminated and he was suspended indefinitely from the NFL.
Once the full beating was being aired, Vined, and tweeted non-stop, two things happened: Janay was victimized over and over again by media outlets, comedians, and cultural commentators alike, and the NFL wanted very badly to be seen as caring about domestic violence.
Enter No More.
Actress and activist Mariska Hargitay features prominently in multiple No More PSAs, produced in conjunction with her Joyful Heart Foundation, and she is also the organization's director. I believe the first No More spot I saw was one featuring her former Law & Order: SVU costar Chris Meloni and other notable actors starkly addressing the camera calling for no more excuses. The actors recite tried and true excuses people make for DV and SA, including “I’m sure they’ll work it out,” ”She was asking for it,” and “Why doesn’t she just leave?” before Chris Meloni says, “It’s time to end domestic violence and sexual assault once and for all.”
The last question in that first PSA is what was echoed about Janay Rice far and wide, particularly after her defense of her husband and her anger at the media. It is also asked dismissively about DV victims everywhere by people who couldn’t even begin to understand why they have no idea what they’re talking about when they make that empty inquiry. No More wants to let them know that there is more to it than that, that we have to respect victims, and to have more dialogue than dismissal to really address the problem.
The first NFL player PSA aired in October and follows the same format of delivering commonly heard excuses before solemnly imploring, “No more bystanding. No more ignorance. No more excuses. No More.” From the multiple responses I heard, it was roundly hated, mocked for its alleged insincerity and obvious timing. There are many more players with domestic violence and sexual assault records than just Ray Rice, and many felt that this was more about PR than anything else, just a gestural closing of the barn door after the abusers got out.
Of course it is. But is the message any less necessary? And even beyond the necessity of the message itself, No More’s delivery is stark and simple, not patronizing us with treacly imagery or false and phony attempts at viral videos. As Elisabeth Galina wrote here, many were already fed up with the NFL’s history of not giving a shit about women, and I completely understand if these PSAs contribute to that disgust, but I maintain that their actual content and execution is not to blame.
The latest series of PSAs is entitled “Speechless,” and I was quite taken aback when I saw one of them. On the most basic of basic levels, it caught my attention that a TV spot had no dialogue, music, sound effects, nothing but a little ambient noise. It shows an actor struggling to speak, ostensibly to film one of the spots that had been previously released; only they are overcome with emotion and cannot get any words out at all.
From the website:
“Speechless” was not written. Rather the content was an unexpected byproduct of the other scripts previously aired. It was designed to shed light on how difficult it is for all of us to talk about domestic violence and sexual assault which remain taboo, hidden and painful subjects. These spots reveal the depth to which we are all affected by these previously unspeakable issues. They urge viewers to start a conversation about domestic and sexual violence with friends and loved ones.
This is Hilary Swank’s “Speechless” PSA. There are a number of others, featuring many actors and athletes, and the full series can be seen here. To the celebs and sports commentators saying that actors are supposed to be able to cry on cue so these ads are bullshit, and offering up other such pithy dismissals, I disagree wholeheartedly.
I’m not just dismissing criticism with a wave of my hand and a flustered “Okay, fine, so it’s not perfect…” because I don’t put up with that when it’s done to me. Perfection may be an unattainable ideal, as I wrote here in my critique of certain racially biased, appropriative, and transphobic PSAs, but I’m sticking up for this one.
If the deficiency or the qualities being critiqued contribute to an independently detrimental idea or damaging representation, “It’s not perfect” is simply not a sufficient excuse or response to concern, but in this case I’m just hearing complaints and downright insults. I do acknowledge the flawed system that has brought us to the point of needing these PSAs in the first place, especially regarding the NFL, and how that context might render them disingenuous, but I defend the videos anyway on the basis of their content.
To dismiss or insult the latest No More campaign because it depicts people in a highly emotional state that you question the authenticity of is not the same as saying the spots show harmful imagery or create a false narrative. I also think that some people are so disgusted with the overall situation that they can only joke or react with anger, and beyond that, some people are just terribly uncomfortable looking at quiet, uninterrupted video of someone crying or trying very hard not to.
Which is a huge part of the point here. The whole goddamned issue is uncomfortable, but we’re gonna push through. We’re gonna ask the uncomfortable questions and have the uncomfortable conversations and maybe, just possibly, make a change.
Just FYI, I have no affiliation with No More, and I didn’t even contact them for a more specific quote or anything. I’m writing this because as much as people are free to hate this campaign, I personally think it’s great and if I had a position in sports broadcasting, I wouldn’t use my platform to insult it without bringing receipts, which is what I have seen. You may hate the commercials, but remind your audience that they could also save a life, so maybe save your snark for when you’re off the air or offline.
If a video is to be played ad nauseam, I prefer the No More spots to the continued public exhibition of Janay Rice’s pain. That is NOT me saying anyone should have remained mum on the issue or that “it’s their problem” or any such thing.
Sadly, many people still need to learn that crimes that take place in the privacy of one’s home and are perpetrated upon a loved one by a [supposed] loved one are still crimes. This is one of the goals of No More, and as they combat sensationalist gawping and victim-blaming and promote awareness, I’ll be cheering them on.