Childhood is marked with a fair amount of cruelty. We all have memories of some indignity or humiliation we suffered as kids at the hands of another child.
Even today, your average middle-school playground is basically one conch shell away from turning into “Lord of the Flies.”
But there is a line between the process of growing up and enduring some name-calling, and the systemic, relentless, psychological, emotional, and physical torment that pushes kids as young as 11 years old into suicide. It is this darker side of bullying that the new documentary “Bully” shines a bright, harsh light.
“Bully” has received a lot of news in the press recently for its battle with the MPAA over the R rating it initially received for language.
While the MPAA rating system is arbitrary at best and deserveS to be taken to task as often as possible, this was mostly kabuki theater performed by the film’s distributor, Harvey Weinstein, to drum up publicity for the movie. To his credit, it worked.
Weinstein argued that the R rating would prevent the target audience from seeing the film, namely school-aged kids and that trimming the language hurled at the bullied kids would hamper the movie’s impact.
A compromise of sorts was reached with some, but not all of the offensive language removed; but even if every bad word had been bleeped, “Bully” would still be an extremely effective movie.
The film introduces us to the families of kids who killed themselves to escape the barrage of constant bullying along with the students who continue to suffer on a daily basis.
The unfettered abuse aboard a school bus becomes so bad for one boy (Alex of Sioux City, Iowa) that the filmmakers began to fear for his safety and showed the footage to the boy’s parents and to school administrators.
The incompetence and indifference shown by the Sioux City assistant principal are so cartoonish that the audience at the film’s screening audibly groaned as she habitually failed to intervene.
It’s a little too easy to vilify this woman and peg her as the source of the problem. Surely, the thousands of school districts around the country where bullying is prevalent don’t all employ administrators this blatantly oblivious.
This leads to probably my biggest beef with “Bully” in that it fails to dig deep into the root causes of bullying or offer up any clear solutions.
Every case illustrated in the movie takes place in a rural school district. Why? Surely bullying exists in the cities and the suburbs, wouldn’t it have been more effective to show that this problem exists in all strata of society?
The movie also glaringly fails to address cyberbullying, a problem unique to this generation that further ups the ante by allowing the torment to continue once kids have left the schools and entered the relative safety of their homes.
And what about the bullies themselves? “Bully” never once attempts to uncover what drives seemingly normal kids to become so sociopathically cruel.
The movie seems to be content to just say “Bullying is a very real and very serious problem in American schools” as loudly and clearly as it can.
Ultimately, I’m OK with that because the dire and extreme consequences unchecked bullying can have are something every teenager should witness.
“Bully” is rated PG-13 for some language.