“Bully” Review

Posted: May 4, 2012 in Current Events, Entertainment, Movies, Pedagogy & Education
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I finally got arouind to seeing Bully, the Lee Hirsch film about children being bullied in American schools.

I simply do not comprehend anyone feeling that this film deserves an “R” rating, as it was given in the States, and commend the more mature response that it received in Canada.  The amount of bad language in it is minimal, contained in only a few very brief moments withing the film.  Yes, they’re powerful moments and it is disturbing to see younger children use that kind of language as a weapon against their peers, but that’s the point.  That’s what makes the language relevant as opposed to gratuitous.  As a former teacher I can state with absolute certainty that almost all students, of all ages, are routinely exposed to much worse every single day.

The value of the film eclipses the foul language like a beach ball would eclipse a pea.  If anything, the film doesn’t go far enough, limited no doubt by their inability to capture the worst offenses on film and, of course, not being able to go back in time to witness the events that led to the two suicides highlighted in the film.  But they did capture bullying behavior from several children who were currently living in that hell, one of which was a 16 year old girl who confessed to having attempted suicide several times.

What struck me was the eloquence of these victimized children.  No doubt the film producers searched far and wide for the subjects of their movie, choosing those that would work most favorably on the screen, but these children, as damaged and abused as they are, regularly make statements that are sensitive and profound.  I guess there is something to the old adage that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  Perhaps true, but not the ideal way of growing up.

Bully should be shown in middle school classrooms and used as a starting point for a larger discussion.  An educational institution that allows bullying students to mockingly show up with nooses around their necks on the day following a young boy’s suicide is totally bankrupt, and those that behave that way are an abomination.  An overall system that doesn’t recognize this and take drastic steps to address it is in the business of producing monsters and needs to be revamped from the ground up.

While the movie ends on a more positive note, showing rallies of support for the parents and students pledging to step in and support victims, it is sad to note that all of these positive things are initiated by the parents of the victims.  There doesn’t seem to be much support from the School Boards or the government.  The filming of one town meeting after a teen suicide noted that, while the School Board had been invited, not one of them showed up.

Encouraging peers to intervene in cases of bullying is probably the way to go.  If the School Board and the police fail, -and that seems to be the case in at least some places-, there are only a few remaining courses of action other than just allowing the abuse to continue.  One is for the victim to strike back.  We’ve seen the result of that, with bullied students walking into a school with a gun and taking their frustration out on their peers.  There is no justification for that, but in most of those cases, they’re seeing a monster that they’ve helped create themselves.

The other way to deal with it is for peers to speak up and be supportive.  I think that even in the worst situation the bullies are in the minority.  (The exception may be in the persecution of a gay teen in a highly Christian community, where the bullying is actually supported and encouraged by the community.) In most cases if the victim knows that there are people around who are supportive, they are less likely to feel completely abandoned.  Perhaps, rather than focusing on the bullies, it would be prudent to focus on the other peers, empowering them to intervene in the right way.  The movie makes it clear, by showing the complete ineptitude of one school administration, that going and telling an adult is not always going to work.  It would be pretty obvious in a short time whether that strategy is going to be fruitful or not.  I’ve seen it myself, and in many situations the administrations are hamstrung regarding what they have the power to do.  But peers, acting as a group are not.

Perhaps this film could help mobilize that kind of support for victims.

I give this film an A-.

Again, reading the comments under the YouTube post is enlightening, … and often depressing.

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