The internet outrage against the Bioré ad that flippantly referenced a school shooting is missing the greater point
Bioré and an influencer have apologized for an insensitive ad that connected gun violence to pore strips.
On social media, some of the backlash has manifested in bullying and mocking the influencer.
Such criticism risks missing the bigger point: This ad is a result of a country's history of trivializing gun violence.
Over the last few days, people have been relentlessly criticizing a Bioré ad that mentioned the anxiety of surviving a mass school shooting to promote its acne product.
While much of the blowback is merited — as the ad trivialized the issue of gun violence — the snark directed at the 22-year-old influencer featured in it, who's survived a mass shooting, overlooks the controversy's more salient point.
The ad is a direct product of how our society has historically treated gun violence: as commonplace.
"Life has thrown countless obstacles at me this year — from a school shooting to having no idea what life is going to look like after college," the influencer, Cecilee Max-Brown, is heard saying in the ad posted to TikTok last Friday. "In support of mental health awareness month, I'm partnering with Bioré Skincare to strip away the stigma of anxiety."
"We want you to get it all out," she said. "Not only what's in your pores, but, most importantly, what's on your mind too." The video, which was part of a broader brand campaign centered around mental health, has since been removed by Max-Brown.
—Thomas (@capt_thomas1492) May 19, 2023
The tragedy the video referenced was a shooting at Michigan State University in February in which three undergrad students — Arielle Diamond Anderson, Brian Fraser, and Alexandria Verner — were killed, and five others were injured. Max-Brown attended and recently graduated from the school.
Many social media users were aghast by the sponsored video. "Using this for an ad is disgusting," one commenter, who identified themselves as a survivor and student of MSU, wrote.
"I don't know why my therapist or docs didn't tell me that Biore pore strips could have helped heal the bullet wound on my stomach, or my anxiety after being shot, or my fear of loud noises, or stop my nightmares, or help me feel ok at school. Firing them and buying in bulk!" tweeted anti-gun violence activist Mia Tretta, who's a survivor of the 2019 Saugus High School shooting.
Online, the video quickly circulated across social media and filtered through meme accounts. Critics rightly pointed out that the ad, which connected the nation's gun violence epidemic to $7 blackhead pore strips, minimized and exploited tragedy.
But some began harshly mocking Max-Brown for the blunder, and accused her of exploiting her own trauma.
"You can delete the ad but we all know you profited off our classmates deaths," one user wrote underneath her video. One person linked to her social media account to direct the "cyber bullies out there."
In the days since the ad was posted, mocked and criticized, and then deleted, both Max-Brown and Bioré have apologized publicly for it.
Bioré posted a lengthy statement to its Instagram account on Monday, and a spokesperson told the New York Times that Max-Brown was not asked to speak about a specific experience, but she was encouraged "to give her personal, authentic, and unfiltered story." Throughout the month of May, which is Mental Health Awareness month, the company has posted other videos aligned with a #GetThatShitOut campaign touching on topics such as surviving a car crash or experiencing bullying and encouraged followers to join its "strip away the stigma" challenge.
While the company reviews all its creator content, the company told the outlet, it does "not edit or censor content."
On Sunday, Max-Brown also posted an apology to her TikTok. "This partnership was not intending to come off as the product fixing the struggles I have had since the event," she told viewers, in part. "Rather, partnering with a brand to spread awareness of what me and so many other students have been dealing with."
"I did not mean to desensitize the traumatic event that took place, as I know the effects that it has had on me and the Spartan community," she continued.
While Bioré should bear the brunt of the backlash, the mockery and ire directed at Max-Brown, who had only recently endured a mass shooting, is overlooking the greater point.
If Max-Brown sounded uncomfortably frivolous talking about the devastating effects of gun violence — and included it in a campaign alongside surviving car crashes and bullying — we should remember to blame the society that taught her to. Gun violence has become so pervasive in the US that we're conditioned to talk about it as an everyday occurrence.
Premature deaths from guns overtook those from car crashes as the leading cause of traumatic death in the U.S. in 2017 and 2018, according to a study published in the "Trauma Surgery & Acute Care Open" in 2022.
In 2023, the U.S. is on pace to set a record for the number of mass killings. The occurrence has become so horrifyingly commonplace that some of Max-Brown's peers had survived their first mass shooting at Oxford High School only months before they survived their second at Michigan State University.
On Monday, author Leila Sales recounted experiencing a lockdown while giving an author talk at a middle school. "I asked the girl nearest to me what to do. I explained that I'd never done a lockdown before," she tweeted. "She looked at me in disbelief and said, 'Did you grow up in America?'"
Prior to this, Max-Brown has not been flippant about discussing her trauma.
Shortly after the shooting at the University of Michigan occurred, Max-Brown posted a since-deleted video discussing what it was like during the shooting. As the New York Times reported, Max-Brown voiced her devastation that people opt to "protect a gun more than you can protect people's lives."
"I don't want people to have to experience this ever, in their lives," she said in the two-minute video. "It sucks. I have not slept in days because all I can think about is fellow students that I know literally being killed."
Ultimately, it's hard to believe Max-Brown deserves to take on the added anxiety of viral bullying on top of what she endured in February. The backlash against her may be better directed at society's inability to protect her, or any of us, from the relentless danger of gun violence. And, perhaps more tragically, how we've become so thoroughly desensitized to talking about it.
Max-Brown and Bioré did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
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