The new documentary “Bully,” released in April of 2012, sheds light on a topic that makes many people uncomfortable. The terrible consequences of bullying on young kids have been front and center in the news media lately. Some want to believe that bullies and bullying are just part of growing up and kids need to get over them. But that’s not really a fair judgment. Public schools, where thousands of young people are all put into the same space, are a relatively new thing. The social dynamics of public school are complicated, especially to adults, but there’s no reason bullying has to be part of those dynamics.
From first grade all the way up to college, bullying is a real problem in every corner of America. Kids who are seen as “different” in any way are often targets of bullying. Often simply being quiet and polite is enough to get the attention of a bully. The documentary does an excellent job of getting the audience to sympathize with these kids, which is a big part of the film’s strength. The human element is always the most essential part of a quality documentary.
In the last ten or so years, bullying has gone “digital” with the creation of social networks, chat rooms and message boards. Nasty messages and rumors now spread at the speed of light across the information superhighway. Many people don’t take so-called “cyberbullying” seriously, but it can be every bit as damaging as real-world bullying. With high-speed Internet and a personal computer in every home, bullied youngsters may feel like they can never escape the abusive words of their tormentors.
While some people still argue that it’s harmless, experts agree that the effects of bullying are long-lasting. Victims of bullying often suffer from low self-esteem or have trouble trusting people. Even the bullies themselves have problems in life. Usually, a bully also has problems with confidence and self-image and so lashes out at kids that he sees as weaker. Preventing bullying before it starts will surely lead to happier and more productive individuals. After all, school shouldn’t be only about “the four Rs.” School should be a safe place that promotes healthy behaviors and interactions. Unfortunately, not all public schools today are meeting that goal.
As a documentary, “Bully” is very effective. The people in the film are ordinary people that any audience can quickly identify with. No one can watch and listen to these young kids go through their daily struggles and not be moved. The filmmakers don’t sensationalize the subject, either. They simple let their subjects do the talking. The feelings and passions that come out are real and powerful. It’s hard to listen to some of the stories and not be moved to tears.
Another factor that makes “Bully” so powerful as a film is that you really can’t argue with the main point. Once you understand how common verbal and physical abuse really is, you feel highly motivated to do something, no matter how small. It’s hard to imagine anyone seeing this film and not coming to the conclusion that bullying has to stop.
Celebrity support has helped propel “Bully” to its current level of exposure. Dr. Phil, Kelly Ripa and Anderson Cooper have all advocated for the film. Even though “Bully” is a small-budget documentary, it’s being shown on more and more screens. Social media is also helping spread the word about the importance of this film. The film is now a required viewing at some schools in the hopes of letting everyone know that bullying is never acceptable.
“Bully” is a profound film in many ways. Most of all, the film is causing a culture change in communities all over the country. Parents are realizing that their children should not have to be afraid of going to school. Abusive behavior is not a phase that should just be taken for granted. It is an unnecessary behavior that should be corrected immediately.
It is true that bullies have been around as long as children have played together. However, that doesn’t mean that things can’t change. If we desire a society where everyone feels valued and safe, then bullying has to stop. Bullied children grow up in fear, and as adults, they retain some of the fear. Bullies never learn how to interact with others in a healthy way and so often have broken relationships. Bullying can be stopped today if every community decides that each is a “bully-free zone.”