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To Write Love on Her Arms

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I might take a lot of heat for writing this. I don’t know. Picking on organizations like charities sometimes doesn’t go down well.

I have a problem with To Write Love on Her Arms. The organization seems like a good thing on first glance. It’s designed to help provide support to depressed teenagers, and really, that’s a good thing. My issue is with how TWLOHA seems to makes depression seem cool. It would appear that this effect is particularly evident with a specific demographic of kids. This is perhaps unintentional.

Anyhow, I have an issue with its religious themes, the same way I struggle with how AA demands people seek out a higher power. One addiction does not need to be substituted with another. Addictive personalities are addictive with more than just drugs and self-mutilation (to be fair, TWLOHA is not officially a Christian organization, but themes are there and there are more than a few hints about it). Another issue I have is that the organization donates only 25% of its intake to anti-depression and anti-suicide organizations. I’m always somewhat suspicious of things like that. I don’t believe they currently take in enough money to be paying a full staff’s salaries (the interview here mentions a first 100k, and it also gets a little iffy on the term ’emo’), so 75% of your donations are going to… answer private messages? I struggle with that a lot on a moral level.

Before we go further I need to reiterate how firmly I believe that saving people from suicide is a good thing. I don’t necessarily know who is reading this and I don’t want to look like a callous person who just wants to beat on people who shop at Hot Topic.

But that’s sort of where this whole thing starts going: Hot Topic, Warped Tour, scene bands, faux emo bands, Vans and Converses, Fuse, bad Myspace layouts, you know, that whole trend. Part of that trend is depression, in my opinion. Organizations like TWOLHA are helping some people, no doubt, but they are also encouraging and giving excuses to some people who are very needy for some attention. Depression hits close to home for me and I have little respect for people impersonating the lifestyle and attitude of a depressed or mentally ill person, but that is clearly a part of the whole Hot Topic style.

Where does this fit into music? To Write Love On Her Arms goes to events like Warped (while they claim that “[d]epression does not discriminate across age, race, gender, or class,” they seem to think it’s best to spend more time at Warped than, say, SXSW) and kids who claim they have depression feed off of the sometimes melodramatic message the organization presents. The irony of course being that this same crowd purchases things like razor earrings (I see the necklaces appear to have been discontinued) from Hot Topic.

Music fits into this because of the lyrical content in so many bands that appeal to the same people who follow TWLOHA. Bands like My Chemical Romance, The Used, and so on, feed this negative, dreary lifestyle to fans. I know, I know, My Chemical Romance doesn’t encourage suicide (if you want a coffin from them, though, check here), “I’m not afraid to keep on living,” blah blah blah. The issue is that anyone with discerning taste who listens to My Chemical Romance knows exactly what is going on. The band is appealing to teenagers because of the dark subject matter. They’re writing lyrics out of a 14 year old girl’s journal, which is why 14 year old girls who write journals like that listen to them. It’s also why those girls bathe in the aura and ambiance of groups like To Write Love On Her Arms. What is trendier, after all, than writing the word “love” on your arms while wearing your sister’s pants and blasting some Thrice from the car stereo? I mean, damn, it’s all about the trend — the music, the fake depression, the self-mutilation on their lower arms so that everyone can see. The organization may or may not have good intentions at heart. I’m a bit suspicious, but then I’m slightly suspicious of all stuff like this. But to me, it seems clear that they’re, perhaps unconsciously, taking advantage of a demographic of kids who are faking depression or are wanting to have it. Why spend so much time at Warped when depression “does not discriminate”? Is it because people at Warped will buy so much more merchandise than people at carnivals?

What do you guys think?


Written by M

June 22, 2008 at 4:06 am

Posted in Commentary

Tagged with , , ,

5 Responses

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  1. I’ve thought something along these lines for qutie some time, but I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t really know that much about TWLOHA. This is a very well thought out post.

    Jacob Z

    June 22, 2008 at 11:02 am

  2. They don’t seem to give out much information, either. I might support them a little bit if they’d send out packets about dealing with depression and seeking help from an adult. They say that they “want to educate and encourage people so that they understand these issues, so they can walk with friends who are dealing with these things,” but I wonder how they’re doing it.

    5% of the 25% they “give away” (as they put it) goes to India to fight slavery. There’s 5 other organizations listed, so they each get 4%. I just looked at Wikipedia and it seems like the organization has gotten in trouble a few times because of “possible missappropriation and misuse of funds”.

    I don’t know. I feel bad because I’ve gotten into arguments into people who claimed TWLOHA has helped them (although none of them said they told their family or sought medical help afterwards) and if they helped individuals, great, but they give the impression they’re trying to help teens nationwide and I don’t see how that’s happening with what they’re doing. They’re only appealing to a small group of teens.


    June 22, 2008 at 12:49 pm

  3. Really? I’ve been to their Wiki a buncha times and haven’t seen that. I’m not overly surprised, though… Huh. Weird.

    Marshall B

    June 22, 2008 at 2:22 pm

  4. I support To Write Love On Her Arms completely, but you have some good points there.

    First about the Christian thing. I personally am a Christian, and not a Bible-thumping, legalistic one. I don’t have a hidden agenda, so I’m not trying to secretly convert everyone or anything either.

    I think though, that when Jamie wrote the story he could’nt help but leave elements and pieces in there about his faith in Christ. Why? Because it overflowed from his heart. Anything that someone feels passionate about is going to come out in their conversation and lifestyle. I’ve struggled with a lot over the past few years, and I really do believe that in Jesus Christ more than anything. I just believe in His love. It saved me, so how cannot I not talk about it?

    Jamie has said repetively however that the point of TWLOHA is to point people to hope, not to necessrily convert them. I’m sure than if someone does become a Christian from it, then that would be great to Him, but like I said I don’t think there’s a hidden agenda. He’s just honest about what He believes.

    They do only give 25% of proceeds out. I am not entirely sure why, and that is something that I might ask about myself.

    Next, about the whole “It’s cool to be emo” crap. I have met a couple of people who for some reason thought it would be cool to cut themselves. But I do know far more who really struggled with it, and they did’nt go around advertising it either. They were ashamed and embarressed and really hurting.

    It is true that there is a link between music/art and emotional issues. If you look at many artists you’ll see that quite a few have struggled with something like depression. It’s not so common for people who live more “conventionally” to struggle with it.

    Emo started as simply a form of music. That’s all it is.

    Somehow it all got tangled together, and I wish the word would disappear aside from describing a genre of rock. I think it’s a terrible stereo-type.

    I don’t really doubt what TWLOHA is doing. Like I said before, music and art are related to these things. Music really saves lives. Going to Warped really makes sense, though I don’t think it should be confined to just “scene” kids. (I don’t think they’re doing that though)

    Sure, people who may have no struggled with this might not understand and misjudge, but it has helped several people I know. It’s helped me, and by the way some of my family does know, a long with others like my friends and youth pastor. I have’nt have to get medical help at this point though.

    I understand what you’re saying and respect it. I do believe that love is the answer more than anything. And if we can love like the story talks about, I think it would make more sense.


    July 3, 2008 at 1:10 am

  5. Thank you, Rebekah, I appreciate your comments. (:

    Marshall B

    July 3, 2008 at 1:36 am

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