Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Youth Culture: Bullies beware

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Wells rapper and man-about-town Spose is not a fan of bullies — or pulling punches. His song "Jimmy!" on his recent album The Audacity!details bullying, victimization, and comeuppance (karmic and otherwise), starting with describing Jimmy as "a troublemaking popular kid" who picks on Chris. Over the course of the song, Jimmy degrades into robbing and "doing coke off the floor again/while Chris graduates as the valedictorian."
To make the song's video, Spose is working with Project Aware, a local youth-driven non-profit opposing bullying and dealing with other aspects of teen health (sexual, physical, and mental).
As another element of that collaboration, Spose is headlining a fundraiser for Project Aware that plainspokenly hands victims of bullying a possible weapon (words only!) to use against their tormentors. The event's title is "Don't Be A Douchebag." (It also features performances by other musicians, including some young players from the Maine Academy of Modern Music.)
The name is in keeping with his approach of talking to young people in their own language. "I've always kind of tried to touch on serious issues in a relateable manner," he says — not shying away from being "brutal and honest." He definitely doesn't want to "talk down to the kids like it's a high school assembly."
That said, the 27-year-old has matured since his earlier, more flamboyant work, and while he still uses rap's approach and stylings, he's more careful about his language now: "I try not to use 'bitch' too often," Spose says.
Project Aware co-founder Carl Lakari says lots of words in common parlance have been "used to hurt kids," Lakari says — including "jerk" and "idiot." But kids adapt them and often co-opt their uses. (Cf. "queer," "nerd," and "geek.")
"This is their language. This is from their perspective," Lakari says, observing that he and Spose came up with four possible names for the event, the other three of which were less forward. "Without question, and with vehemence," the Project Aware kids chose "Don't Be A Douchebag."
"I took a risk," Lakari admits. "I could have stopped it, but I felt like I would have been disempowering the youth" — the very people he created the organization to serve.
It's very much along the lines of how Project Aware approaches youth service differently from other organizations. For example, there's the 35-minute dramatic short April's Heart, filmed by the film club at Sanford High School, released in 2010 and showing raw and unfiltered scenes of teenage life in today's world.
Lakari says his goal is to "allow youth to have a voice . . . without judgment" — which at times means having open conversations among teens and adults about boundaries, consequences, and risky behavior.
Spose approves: "Their videos were brutal and hard-core and they weren't flowery and After-School Specials," he says of what attracted him to work with the group. "That's what kids are really going through."
In response — and in recognition — Spose promises to deliver "a full all-ages set that's not scaled-back and boring" on Saturday. And on Friday evening from 6 to 7 pm on WCYY (94.3 FM), he and Lakari and several teens will be on the air with Mark Curdo to talk about the issues facing teens.
Deliver a big blow to bullies everywhere: Listen on the radio, and head to the show.
'DON'T BE A DOUCHEBAG' | benefit for Project Aware | with Spose, Dean Ford, Better Than, God.Damn.Chan, Steiner Street, Running Gags, Beware of Pedestrians | October 13 @ 1-5 pm | Asylum, 121 Center St, Portland | $5, all ages