Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bully (2012)

BULLY            B                    
USA  (99 mi)  2011  d:  Lee Hirsch

Dear Family,

If you are reading this I am DEAD. I don’t want to live any longer with this burden I have. I don’t have a supporting family or friends for that matter. You think I am worthless and pathetic. All I wanted was acceptance and kindness, but no I didn’t get love. Maybe I’ll see you in the afterlife or not. I want to end this pain I have and to live in eternal hapiness [sic]. I hate myself because I don’t make everyone happy. Tr. [younger brother] I love you because we share a battle of disabilities. Te., [younger sister] You will be great someday. Tina, Your personality is what helped me. David, I looked up to you for all my life and I love you the most. This World will be a better place without me.

Tyler Lee Long 1992-2009

This film is a heartbreaking, but ultimately unsatisfying exposé on kids bullying other kids across America, where statistics on the subject are nearly non-existent, making estimates change just since the making of the film from 5 to 13 million American kids who can expect to be targets of bullies every year.  This subject has only been brought to life based on examinations of larger disasters, such as the Columbine or Virginia Tech style school shootings, though neither is mentioned in the film, where the underlying causes of these mass murders remain open to question.  What motivates anyone to go on a killing spree?  And for that matter, why would any teenager take their own life?  Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to suicides because many feel they are alone, having no one they can talk to, no support system in place, and no feeling that anyone is looking after their interests, so their future feels bleak and unendurable.  Why do these kids feel so bad and so miserably alone, as opposed to other kids who similarly endure the same abuse but don’t consider suicide, as anyone who was ever a teenager can remember plenty of kids getting picked on, often including ourselves, but rarely has it grabbed the public’s attention until now.   This film offers no statistics at all, nothing to suggest there’s even a rising increase of bullying, but instead humanizes the subject by singling out 5 families who have endured immeasurable pain, including two with children that were so relentlessly tormented that they committed suicide.  While the parents are searching for answers, perhaps the most difficult aspect to fathom is the idea that we may never know.  The film makes no link that bullying causes suicide, but instead suggests it’s an inevitable contributing factor, as parents, schools, and society at large routinely underestimate the extent of the damage being inflicted upon weaker, more vulnerable kids today. 

After one kid hung himself in his own home, many kids came to school the next day wearing nooses around their neck, a wretchedly inappropriate response to an incident they most likely provoked, only to discover the school took no disciplinary action against any of those brainlessly deficient kids.  One of the most starkly unique aspects of the film is the access to a school bus in Sioux City, Iowa where one kid continually gets picked on every day, from being poked, stabbed, choked, punched, all openly displayed on camera, where he is a human punching bag for the other students.  When these kids are brought in for questioning, they of course deny they witnessed or participated in any demeaning behavior. What they failed to consider is it’s all captured on camera, where now in the YouTube age everybody can see who the bullies actually are, as they’ve been outed, at least in their particular communities, not that this helps those kids who already took their own lives.  But this footage plainly speaks to what is currently considered acceptable behavior.  When it was shown to the family, they incredulously berated their own child for accepting as commonplace so much inflicted punishment without speaking up about it.  It’s only the mother who has the insight to realize afterwards that the kid would rather accept the punishment than face the humiliation of having to report these incidents to his parents.  The kid, on the other hand, is so alienated, that his real concern is that if these guys picking on him are not his friends, then what friends does he have?  Even negative attention is better than no attention.  Equally as pathetic is the appalling response from the assistant principal, as the film crew captured the school’s horridly inept response, which is so inexcusable that one might consider bringing a lawsuit for negligence.

The film is silent on what these kids can do when confronted with this kind of disturbing treatment, as when they tell the appropriate adults, the punishment continues, suggesting a total breakdown of social order, a portrait of the complete unreliability of any responsible adults, including bus drivers, school teachers or principals, or law enforcement officers, as all were at one point or another informed, but none took any preventative measures, allowing the behavior to continue unabated.  One 14-year old girl got so fed up she brought a gun on the school bus and pointed it at the perpetrators, who quickly shut up, yet it was the girl who got kicked out of school and sent to youth detention, where the stupefyingly clueless police officer suggested the minute she pulled out a gun, all the other passengers were considered kidnapped victims and hostages, each subject to potential harm, where in his eyes the girl was facing several hundred years of jail time.  There is no sign that our society places any value on punishing the bullies, who instead remain free to inflict harm on other victims.  Not once are any of the bullies actually confronted in this film.  And therein lies part of the problem, as other than physically standing up to the bullies and risk getting your teeth bashed in, something most kids are unwilling to do out of a sensible sense of fear, there are no student support groups available, something that after Columbine or Virginia Tech have become routine in areas that have suffered this kind of community trauma.  But schools across America haven’t yet reached the conclusion that bullying is already a traumatizing activity, one that can be prevented, and should be one of the first priorities of every student council in middle schools and high schools. 

There is an equally sad portrait of a young teenage girl in high school who has acknowledged being a lesbian, where she and her family have literally been ostracized and shunned from the community at large, where teachers openly heap more derogatory ridicule upon her in classrooms, which in her Bible belt community is deemed acceptable, until eventually she’s forced to leave public school altogether.  This should not be an acceptable alternative, but what this film does do exceedingly well is show the inbred relationship of how isolated schools in rural communities project and protect the vested majority interests, where discrimination against outsiders and minorities is part of the community inflicted moral values, reinforced at the ballot box generation after generation, where the narrow views of religion have a decisively influential effect on local politics. Perhaps without intending to make such a direct inference, what this film actually suggests is that future politicians and school principals, upstanding citizens considered the pillars of the community, will actually come from the pool of bullies who are freely allowed to inflict their punishing views of brutality and intolerance on others.  This certainly explains how someone like George W. Bush and Rick Perry have been able to rise to the Governor’s mansion in a state like Texas, where they proudly execute far more prisoners than any other state and at a pace that has no parallel in the modern era.  No one is a bigger bully than the state of Texas, where this film offers no recommendations on how to fix that. 

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