Documentary Reveals Truth About School Bullying

Tamar McCollom, Opinion Editor

Bowling for Columbine, the infamous Michael Moore documentary on the Columbine shooting, argued that America’s obsession with violence was beginning to seep into the youth culture. Ten years later, it’s Bully, the new wrenching and eye-opening documentary, that again puts violent and hateful juvenile behavior centerstage, exposing the epidemic of bullying in schools.

Bullying is often forgotten or dismissed, and is virtually never mentioned as a major concern in American society. This is partially due to the fact that bullying is considered part of growing up. Bullying, while unfortunate, is not perceived as threatening. For the most part, kids are told to just tough it out.

Bully proves bullying is a much more complex and dire issue than conventional logic suggests. Bullying is more dangerous than most people know and a problem for which there is no quick fix.

Bully follows five families in America’s heartland who have been affected by school bullying. Two of the families are still grieving the recent suicides of their young sons, while the other three families each have a child that still endures both verbal and physical abuse each day at school.

Alex, a sweet-yet-awkward 12-year-old from Sioux City, serves as the main protagonist. Bully shows him get stabbed, punched, strangled, and beaten every day.

What Alex experiences each day isn’t merely teasing, although he deals with that, as well. As any viewer with aconscience can attest, Alex is forced to live through unbearable circumstances that far exceed the mild, traditional definition of bullying. What Alex and many of the other 13 million children who are bullied each year experience is far more akin to full-on hate crimes than schoolyard roughhousing.

Quite literally all of the families featured in Bully lived in conservative, Southern or Midwestern states. These children have grown up in an environment where they are taught to hate others  because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation. The fact that these children are born into a culture that espouses vitriolic hatred of anyone who is different no doubt amplifies the bullying problem.

But what Bully clearly shows is that since there is no obvious code for identifying and addressing bullying, finding a solution to protect these kids is virtually impossible. There is both a failure to communicate and a failure to act, and this has led school administrators to fail to properly punish juvenile bullies.

Perhaps the fundamental difficulty in addressing school bullying is identifying it in the first place. The last thing a child that is being humiliated and victimized every day is going to do is admit that they are being humiliated and victimized every day. It’s easier to quietly carry the burden and save face instead of admitting there’s a problem and asking for help. In the South in particular, a young boy is almost never going to freely admit a weakness to his father.

And in some cases, children don’t know they need to ask for help. In Bully, Alex is so used to being abused that he doesn’t fully comprehend that what his peers are doing to him is entirely wrong. He doesn’t understand the cruelty he’s being exposed to because he doesn’t know anything else. Since Alex has no real friends, he needs his mom to explain to him that these children who are torturing him are not his friends. His father has to explain to him that getting strangled is not just “messing around.”

Ultimately, school administrators need to be the ones to put an end to school bullying. Administrators are the ones who spend the most time with the children. They are the ones who are supposed to be trained in identifying and disciplining students with behavioral issues. They are supposed to be the unbiased mediators of tensions. Yet, throughout Bully, it was the school administrators who continually let their students down by either ignoring the problem or mishandling it. One administrator ended up chastising the victim for refusing to shake hands with a boy that had been beating him up daily.

This type of negligence on the part of school administrators cannot continue. At some point, the school needs to accept responsibility for protecting their students.

In the wake of Bully’s debut, there needs to be a systematic change in the way that schools handle bullying. Administrators need to stop shying away from liability and accept responsibility for maintaining a safe learning environment. The solution to bullying might not be clear-cut, but nothing will change if everyone continues to turn a blind eye and avoid getting their hands dirty.