Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sad Face

I went to a movie on Monday, and I found myself getting a little weepy during the trailers. That’s right… The trailers.

Well.. One trailer specifically. It was for a movie called “Bully”. It’s a documentary that addresses the growing issue with bullying in our country, and specifically focuses on a young kid currently dealing with being bullied as well as the families of two young men who killed themselves over excessive bullying. One who suffered from Aspergers Syndrome, when he was 17, and one who hung himself at age 11. Fucking ELEVEN.

What can I say? I was affected.

I better clarify right off the bat. I was never, myself, truly bullied in school. I was always a nerdy, overweight kid, but I had just enough sports aptitude and just enough ability to bullshit that I was never the biggest target in any room, and I normally fit in adequately enough to avoid being the brunt of any bullying attack.

That said, very few things make me more profoundly sad and angry than when I hear about kids being so upset by bullying that they take their own lives.

Sometimes I wonder if maybe kids today just simply aren’t as equipped to handle themselves as they were even as short a time ago as the late 80s and early 90s when I was a grade-schooler. The more I think about it, though, the more I think the bullying actually is worse, and I start to wonder what life would have been like.

I never had a friend kill themselves because they were bullied, and I don’t remember even hearing about it happening anywhere at all, but I also didn’t grow up in a time when you can’t escape your bullies, even in your home.

I recently had a birthday where I was so overwhelmed by the positive messages I received that I declared Facebook the greatest thing to ever happen to birthdays. That may be true, but the advent of instant messaging and social media has had an ugly side effect where kids can’t escape their bullies.

Once upon a time, we were all told that the best way to stop a bully was to stand up to them. Maybe give them a good pop to the mouth. It’s not so easy anymore. Bullying can not only be remote, but anonymous. I know that when I get a negative anonymous comment on this blog, it upsets me, and I have the ability to recognize that people who hide behind their anonymity are way sadder than I’ll ever be. Try telling that to a 10 year old who’s suddenly had their Facebook page bombarded by cruel comments. I used to sort of laugh at the notion of internet bullying, but I don’t anymore. I have come to see how oppressive something like that can truly be. And it makes me sad.

It makes me angry too. It makes me angry that in spite of the growing evidence, that schools continually chalk up bullying to “boys being boys” and “girls are just mean at that age”. Honestly, if they believe it’s just part of growing up to be harassed and tormented, I’d like to put them through it for a while and see what it’s like when “Men are being men, and women are just being mean.”

So anyway, I’m watching this movie trailer before the start of this dumb comedy that I didn’t even get to see all the way through because of a power outage, and I find myself crying. There’s nothing quite like sitting alone in a movie theater and crying at a fucking preview.

It’s okay… you can make fun of me for getting emotional. If you don’t get at least a little gut-kick feeling when you see old photos of a kid who’s now dead over something so fucking preventable as being pushed around on the playground, I feel sorry for you.

I’m still not to my main point…

The movie has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which means that any kid under 17 can’t get in without being escorted by an adult, and even worse the film won’t be able to be screened in Middle Schools and High Schools without permission slips being sent home and signed. That is… the worst thing ever.

Everything about this bothers me, and I’m not alone. A 17 year old girl in Michigan started a petition to get the rating changed to PG13, and has garnered over three hundred THOUSAND signatures. Among the signers are state governors, CEOs of movie theater chains, and many movie stars. The MPAA has so far declined to change the rating.

I started thinking about how myopic the MPAA has decided to be on this issue, and how offensive that is to me…

It’s easily arguable that the most important demographic to see this film are 13-17 year olds. How many hundreds of bullied kids could benefit from just the thought that they’re not alone in the world, or that people care about them?

Maybe there are just as many bullies who could see a real family, truly affected by the death of a kid who was mercilessly bullied. Maybe just one or two of them will realize that telling a kid they should be dead isn’t the best way to conduct themselves.

Maybe, and excuse me for being dramatic, but a life would be saved.

It makes me so sad to think about those kids who probably just wanted to go about their lives, and get through the high school with the least amount of friction, just like the rest of us. How they were threatened and tormented, and taunted until they couldn’t take it anymore.

A quote from Tyler Long’s (the 17 year old) father breaks my heart…. “They took his pride from him. He was a hollow person.”

I’m sorry, but no 17 year old kid should be hollow. Especially at the hands of some other 17 year old kid who, had the breaks gone slightly another way, could have been in that same position of having the never-ending gall to be different.

It just seems to be getting worse, and more pervasive, and aggressive, so the fact that the MPAA has decided to be sticklers on this issue of content offends me to my core.

I remember when I was 15 being showed Schindler’s List. I defy a single parent to say 15 is too young to learn about the Holocaust. I guess I needed a permission slip, though I admit I was just as likely to have signed it myself at that age. I don’t remember either way.

Kids should have to watch “Bully”, just like I had to watch “Schindler’s List”. Don’t get me wrong… they should have to watch both, really. They should be forced to hear the pained interviews of friends and family when they talk about Ty Smalley, who was 11 years old when bullies made his life so miserable that he hung himself after school. And yeah, I’ve read that the kid could give as much as he could take or whatever, but fuck that. He’s the one who they broke. It should never have happened. I don’t care if he was a Junior Hell’s Angel. He’s the broken one at the end.

I don’t want to belabor a point unnecessarily, but think about your life when you were eleven. I was in 5th or 6th grade. I had my first kiss the Summer in between. I performed in my first play. I had crushes on various girls I don’t even remember now. I had some good teachers, and good friends, a cat named Chip and 2 crazy-ass beagle dogs, and generally my life was pretty solid.

If someone told me a kid in my class had killed themself, I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have totally even understood the concept. How does that happen?

How does it happen?

The kids who are causing this insurmountable pain need to see. They shouldn’t be allowed to wait until they’re seventeen based on the MPAA. They should be forced to watch as Ty Smalley’s father says this:

There's answers out there. ... I don't know what the answers are, but there are people who do. There are people that have the answers. We need to get the world involved. We need to find those people. We need to find that one person that can make a difference. And if we can't find that one, we're going to find 100,000 of them. And we're all going to put our heads together and we're going to come up with a solution ... if you really want to learn what suicide by bullying is all about, talk to the people who are living the nightmare. We haven't done Ty's last load of laundry, because it still smells like him. We haven't washed his sheets because I can go in there and lay on his bed and still smell my boy. You want to learn what bullying and suicide is all about, you talk directly to the people that it affects the most.
First and foremost I hold myself completely responsible for what has happened to my son. Ultimately my son's safety rested in my hands. I was responsible for my son's safety. I'm his DAD! ... It's my job to protect him. No matter what. No matter where he was. It was my job to protect him
I’m sorry this is a little rambling, but I’m upset. I don’t understand how the stupid MPAA can be so obtuse about this. It’s not South Park they’re talking about. It’s a documentary about kids being bullied. It’s a real thing. A problem.

I admit that I find some of the celebrities speaking out about this to be somewhat disingenuous and maybe that’s my own cynicism, but it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. They’re, in fact, completely right. The MPAA needs to adjust this. Make the movie unrated. But the fact that they’re saying things like “It’s our job to warn parents…”. It’s bullshit. It’s offensive. For my money, there’s not a single parent out there who should object to their kids seeing this movie.

For the kids who are bullied, I’ll say it again… They need to know they aren’t alone. They need to know that people in positions of power care about them, and they need to know that they’re safe. Not just when they go to school, but when they log-in to their computers in their homes to do homework or even to watch videos of great dunkers on YouTube. They should be safe not to fear a constant barrage of torment.

Just as importantly, the bullies themselves need to know they aren’t protected from punishment just because they fall back on the excuse of “boys will be boys”. They need to see the consequences.

So that’s enough. I’ve vented, and now I want you to think about it, and if you agree with me, click through here and electronically sign the petition to lower the MPAA rating. I realize you may not have seen this movie. I’m stating my opinion that it doesn’t matter.

It should be shown.

Click here to Sign


Rose said...

I couldn't agree more. I just signed it.

As the mother of two teenaged boys, I think the bullying is getting worse, for exactly the reasons you mentioned. They can't get away from it. It's everywhere. We tried to shield our boys from it by not allowing Facebook and cell phones until high school, but it's pervasive. As a parent, you feel almost helpless sometimes.

I hope parents will have the good sense to allow their children to see this movie, no matter what the rating.

Anonymous said...

I'm doing Anonymous because this comment is so personal for me and being bullied has had a life long affect on me. I was bullied and it was horrible. I was bullied by someone who used to be my friend and that person did everything in their power to make sure I was as you put it, "hollow."

The thing is it was a combination of my bully's parent actually encouraging the act, my parents' lack of involvement, their demands that I not get into trouble in school and my teachers who noticed nothing that allowed this bullying to continue.

My bully had a network of friends and relatives who also had friends and they all lived to humiliate me at every turn. I couldn't walk down a hallway without being demeaned, shoved, or hit. Because this person lived on my street, I couldn't go outside without a ball "accidentally" hitting me in the back of the head. I lived my life planning routes to avoid these people. I lived my life with my head hanging down wishing I was dead or hoping that in the future a time machine would be invented and the adult me would come back and save me.

In the beginning I came home and announced that I was going to beat the crap out of this kid and was told by my parents that I had better not get in trouble for fighting. When I fought back one day my parents didn't show up at school they had to work, but that bully's parent did. My teachers watched as I changed from an outgoing class leader to the kid who sat and said nothing. I knew I was alone in this and no one cared.

I ended up cutting myself repeatedly and took a handful of prescription pain pills once, but I got really dizzy and threw them up. I ran away from home and my parents sent me to a psyche ward for problem teens. The thing is, I wasn't a problem and I wasn't the problem. It wasn't until I was in my late twenties when I started to actually believe I was worthy of anything. That bully had successfully tore me down and ruined my youth. To this day I know that person is pleased with their actions and would be pleased to know how badly it affected me.

I guess I said all this to say that in my case the bully got away with murder because their parent encouraged the bullying, because the bully was sneaky, because my parents demanded good behavior on my part, because my parents didn't want to be bothered, because my teachers were not approachable.

I wish there had been a movie, a movie with impact and not another G rated, "Oh look how naughty bullies are and everyone should band together and discourage bullies." I wish there had been a movie that showed the reality, the cutting, the misery, the suicide, when I was a kid. I wish I had had this movie so that when it ended I could say to myself, what is going on here, this is not normal, this isn't my fault, what these people are doing is wrong and someone, somewhere, even if there isn't anyone here, is working on trying to save me. A movie like this would have given me, the victim, something to cling to, when I felt there was no hope.

Thanks for the post. Sorry this is so long. People, sign the petition; it's important.

Beefy Muchacho said...

Anonymous- Thank you so much for sharing this.

(And I can't believe you'd apologize to ME for being too wordy. That's like apologizing to the Sun for being too hot.)

Beefy Muchacho said...

Also... I am struggling to come up with a more appropriate response than a joke. I really appreciate your commenting, and your reading.

Beefy Muchacho said...

Sorry... comment bombardment...

Rose... Was there concern that holding off on allowing things like cell phones and Facebook was also "targetable". I think you're right to do it, and I also think there should be rules (like being friends with Mom and Dad), but I just wonder what the process of deciding what it's too soon for.

Anonymous said...

This was a good posr Beefy. And the situation that the first person wrote about is terrible. We raised 4 kids--they are grown now--and none of them had bullying to put up with. If someone had mistreated one of them,my husband or I would have been right on it.
But there was no facebook then or cell phones. Also, i think that there is way too much violence shown on TV and in movies. The games kids play with all have violence in them. Remember Pac Man? kids would be bored with that today.
It makes no sense kis can't see that movie. I shutter to think what my grandchildren may be facing.

Anonymous said...

Great post . Thanks