Johnny Lawrence. Nelson Muntz. Biff Tannen.
We love to root against these guys because each is an example of our collective longing for a bully defeat story well told.
Not because every one of us has been bullied, either, but because nature's strong-eat-the-weak mentality shouldn't apply to us, should it? That's what human rights are all about. We have an inherent worth that supersedes any value placed on us by someone in a position of power.
Be it in movies, television or books, we get caught up in stories of aggressors getting their comeuppance. Maybe that's why headlines about a “bullying epidemic” across the country are not more surprising. Maybe these panic-stricken articles and pop culture's obsession with bully figures are twin side effects of the innate addiction we have to power and reward and our fixation with the constant struggle to gain both.
It is a tug-of-war we all participate in—some of it perfectly healthy, and some of it not. According to the American Sociological Review, this power struggle begins among young children as they jockey for status and popularity.
This social scrum can escalate through the school years and even into adulthood, where a multitude of niches for serial abusers exists in the workplace, in politics, in the media, and on ridiculous shows about housewives.
There's Alec Baldwin, the “I'll bite your head off if you interrupt Words With Friends” bully; Rush Limbaugh, the blowhard assailant of anyone appearing to be a shade bluer than Republican Red bully; and Julian Assange, the pseudo people's champion who bullies his own staff bully. There's an entire class of successful know-it-all bullies. Chef Gordon Ramsey, the cast-iron-fisted tyrant over hopeful cooks and undercooked fish everywhere, and Simon Cowell, the “I don't mean to be rude, but let me just incinerate your dreams and make millions doing it” bully.
Wealthy, powerful figures all, and in many cases revered specifically for displays of unchecked aggression. As adults we may tolerate bullies for our own amusement, but any pop-cultural need for bully figures is cold comfort for the children being harmed daily.
Recent CNN research suggests that 81% of aggressive incidents at school are not reported to adults. More than 13 million American children will be bullied this year, estimates the U.S. Department of Education. Ironically, it is one of Hollywood's most notorious bullies—high-powered, hot-tempered producer Harvey Weinstein—who fought for a new film that brings bullying to the national pulpit.
Produced by Weinstein and directed by Lee Hirsch—no relation to the writer of this month's cover story—BULLY debuted March 30 with footage from a year-long investigation into peer-to-peer aggression in five schools across the country.
The MPAA slapped the documentary with an R rating for language, but Weinstein, who knows his way around an F-bomb, fought for PG-13 so BULLY could screen in high schools.
“As a father of four, I worry every day about bullying,” Weinstein said in a statement. “I want every child, parent, and educator in America to see BULLY. It's better that children see bad language than bad behavior.”
Finally, a bully who's talking some sense.
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