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Saturday, April 21, 2012

"Bully": Simply A Rite Of Passage? Hell No!

“Just kids being kids.”  "Just part of growing up.” “Just suck it up.”
Have you ever heard those words?
Bully,” is the documentary by Lee Hirsch which addresses the tragedy of teenage children bullying other teens.  While bullying is often seen as physical abuse, the film shows that words are just as powerful.  Bully aims to show what teen bullying looks like in America, focusing on five families in Iowa, Oklahoma, Georgia and Mississippi, coping with bullying and the consequences of bullying.  And the consequences can be devastating, as shown by two of the families who lost their sons to suicide.
The movie comes at a time when “bullying,” long tolerated as a fact of life, is being redefined as a social problem.  Nevertheless, there are those who still respond (and critics who attack the film) that the issue is over-blown and that what is depicted is just part of growing up.  Ironically, that is the very heart of the film, which clearly demonstrates that unless we change our view that it is “just part of growing up,” we will have more children and their families who are forever changed by these acts of “kids being kids.”
Bully is a heartbreaking, moving, infuriating, and powerful film which is a must see for  those children in middle and high-school and their parents.  Bully will make you cry and make you angry.  Angry not so much at the bullies and the cruelty and tragic consequences of the bullying, but at the school administrators and other adults who turn a blind eye to the bullying and say “what can I do,” “just kids being kids,” and "just part of growing up.”  You are confronted by adults who empathize more with the bullies than the victims.  If that doesn’t make your blood boil, then you likely were a bully yourself.


Some have criticized the film for not focusing more on the bullies.  Aside from the difficulty of getting the parents of bullies to allow their children to be shown bullying, the broader message is that adults are as much of the problem as are the children.  Bully is really about the victims, their parents and the adults who let them down.
Just how blind can adults be?  The first parents we meet are Kirk and Laura Smalley from a small town in Oklahoma.  Their 11-year-old son, Ty, committed suicide due to bullying; which leaves behind devastated parents and a devoted best friend, but little if anything by those who should be there to protect him.  In Georgia, we are presented with a school superintendent that adamantly denies that bullying is a problem in her district, notwithstanding the suicide of Tyler Long, a 17-year-old student who took his life after enduring years of harassment and ostracism.
The heart of the movie Bully is 12-year-old Alex Libby; a gangly, awkward, yet innocent Sioux City, Iowa boy.  Before filmmaker Lee Hirsch began shooting the documentary "Bully," he walked into a school board meeting in Sioux City, Iowa, and asked for permission to film students and staff for a year while retaining full editorial control.
"We need to be in buses, classrooms, in the halls for one year," Hirsch recalls telling officials that evening in 2008. "And we're going to tell an honest story about what we find. And they agreed."
Bully documents the intensity of Alex's abuse, particularly on the bus.  Hirsch's cameras captured kids stabbing him with pencils, bashing his head into seats, and threatening to kill him.  Things got so outrageous and dire that Hirsch ultimately showed the more disturbing footage to staff members at Sioux City's East Middle School and to Alex's parents.
And if Alex is the heart of the film, then Kim Lockwood, the assistant principle at Alex’s school is the ultimate villain.  As depicted in film, Lockwood is one of many adults who do nothing in the face of blatant student harassment.  When a student at her school tells Lockwood that he had been getting death threats from other students, Lockwood didn’t offer counseling or any substantive resolution to the conflict.  Instead, she suggests that he shake hands with his tormentor and move on.  She goes so far as to criticize the victim of the abuse for not wanting to shake hands with his bully by saying “You’re just like him.”  The poor child shoots back, ‘Cept I don’t hurt people,” which simply falls on the deaf ears of Ms. Lockwood.  However audiences of the film are not silent and scream aloud at Ms. Lockwood.  I wanted to ask Ms. Lockwood if she had been raped, would she shake hands with her rapist?
Later, Ms. Lockwood goes so far as to blame the bullied students for not fixing the situation themselves.  That Ms. Lockwood doesn’t even pretend to take the parents’ complaints seriously, while on camera, just demonstrates how little she cares about addressing the issue of bullying.  Just how oblivious is she?  In a deeply disturbing and surreal scene in her office, Ms. Lockwood tries to empathize with Alex’s family when confronted with film showing Alex being brutally attacked while on a school bus, she responds that she had ridden on that particular bus route and that “Those kids are as good as gold.”  She then concludes by showing Alex’s parents pictures of her granddaughter and saying, “See my baby?”  “Who would want to hurt these Angels?”
At this point, moviegoers are left to gasp in horror and hoot with derision at Ms. Lockwood.  However much we might despise and hate Ms. Lockwood, the point is that she is not the only scapegoat.  Unfortunately, there are Kim Lockwoods in every school district across the country.  Denying that there is a problem or saying that you are powerless to stop it, are no longer acceptable excuses.  We must all expose and hold those accountable for allowing a culture of bullying to continue.
Bullying need not be a part of “just growing up.”  Children should not be forced to accept abuse and mistreatment as some sort of “coming of age ritual” and those adults who allow cruel and horrific treatment of children to continue must be punished.  As a pastor says in one poignant moment in the film: “If bartenders are responsible for their customers' intoxication, then why can't administrators be held accountable for bullying in their school?”
It reminds me of my own experiences in junior-high school where the “gym teacher” lined up kids and allowed the two “captains” to pick their team out of the assembled line-up until there was but one man standing.  Who could not see how cruel and devastating that is for those always chosen last?  And what kind of adult gets off on that power and allowing that to happen to kids?  When I told this story to a famous Hollywood agent and how shocked I was by this, he said “that is what decides who the winners and losers in life are.”  Needless to say I totally disagreed and think that it is that sort of attitude is which fosters and allows bullying to continue.  There are no winners when children abuse other children and adults stand by and do nothing.  Just ask the parents in the film.

30 comments:

  1. Getting something from the bully's perspective might help us understand why such cruelty exists. That's an aspect of the discussion the film doesn't delve into - but that doesn't mean it's not an important movie that needs to be seen.

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    1. Kim Lockwood shoud be ashamed of herself. Lady, you need to take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself if you are being a bully yourself. How dare you ask a student that has been routlinly abused by another student to shake his hand. you shouldn't need educated on how to deal with these situations. If yo don't know right from wrong and don't have the mental ability to do your best to rectify the situation, you should NOT be in the authoritative position that you are in. Shame on you and the school board to give you a promotion when you should have been terminated.

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  2. I also think this documentary should be a required view for parents who have kids starting school. Jane

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  3. Bullying - The result of teaching our kids to no longer stand up for themselves and then punishing them worse than or equal to the bully who finally gets their butt kicked.

    Anyone remember the days when that playground bully finally faced the kid that had enough? There was no shooting, no stabbing, no killing, just a good old fashioned butt kicking that taught the kids to stand up for themselves. I had mine and I still clearly remember breaking his nose and him running home crying! Keith R.

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  4. Keith: I totally disagree with you. Not all kids have the ability to stand up for themselves. There are size issues and personality types that just can't stand up to a large group all on their own. Some young kids have very fragile minds. Wouldn't it be better to teach the " stronger" students to stand up for those that are perceived weaker? You lack compassion. The real cowards are the bullies.

    Tim Foster Los Angeles

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  5. Tim it sounds like you were bullied. I was not. The reason I wasn't bullied is because my father taught me to fight and be respected by others. It worked. It sounds like you need a lesson in toughening up. Keith

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  6. Keith, I was not bullied. I was however taught by my single mother to stand up for those who need the help. I managed to do that without fighting with my fists. Did you even see the film? TF

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  7. Just image how much words of encouragement these kids are going to get because the film wisely focuses on their stories. This is a good thing. We need to teach kids it is cool to protect and defend the bullied.

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  8. How would Jesus advise on bullying?

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  9. What they really needed to focus on was the bullies themselves. There is a common misconception that bullies have low self-esteem and make fun of others so they can feel better about themselves. In actuality, bullies generally have high self-esteem, but it is extremely fragile. When their self esteem is threatened in some way, they then feel the need to act out. The doc should have explored this common misconception, as well as looking at the home life of the bullies and how the parents respond to their children getting into trouble. One of the bigger issues is that parents feel this need to defend their children to the death, even when their child is clearly in the wrong. This, in turn, creates tension between parents and administrators and teachers, and therefore they cannot work together to solve the issue of bullying. Kelly Dugan

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  10. Ms Dugan,

    You seem naive to the reality of film making and human behavior.

    If these bullies were interviewed on film they would spin it so they'd seem innocent. Human nature. Also the parents will always back their kids up. It is likely the bullies learn their behavior from a parent. George Zimmerman is a perfect example of how the bully and family of bully react when under spot light. They don't tell the truth.

    I agree with the opinion of this article. The school systems should be able to create a safe environment so children can focus on their educations. It was shocking in this documentary to see how heartless the administrators were. Kids need to be taught that bullying is not the way to feel power and control. Heroes of kindness need to be celebrated more in our society.

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  11. This is a very sad subject. I was bullied without mercy when I was young and felt like there was no way out many times. My parents didn't know because I felt like it would embarrass my dad that his son wasn't tough enough. I wish I could talk to these kids and tell them that it gets better. Those bullies still live in the same small town we grew up in, live in trailer houses and live paycheck to paycheck. I actually hit a growth spurt and am now 6"3 220lbs and no one would ever think I was bullied. I managed to become a successful doctor and have an amazing wife. So things can get better, that bullying stage is so very hard to get through but in the end it should be a very small part of your life, not the end of your life.

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  12. I understand exactly what you mean. I am 6"4 and weigh 205. I was bullied in middle school because I was overweight and shy. It was like open season on me. In high school, I ran into my own growth spurt and the same kids who picked on me never bothered me once. I mean this was high school where you expected it to be as bad as elementary if not worse. I sympathize with this film and have no desire to hear the side of the bully. Yes, their family lives may be affecting their psyche and be the cause of the bullying but more attention should be paid by the faculty. Bullying is wrong. Period. These kids are told that by the school and probably by their parents at some point. They should know better. RYAN

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  13. If showing a movie to a bunch of kids who watch it passively is the be-all end-all of your anti-bullying intiative, then you have failed as a school district. How about an aggressive anti-bullying campaign at the school's themselves? I would prefer to make the parents attend a showing with their kids, as a condition of enrolling them in school, so that everyone is engaged.

    Albert

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  14. The assistant principle, Kim Lockwood is the perfect example of everything that is so wrong with the school systems, our society as a whole and why bullying continues. People like Kim Lockwood are to blame. As educators a huge part of their training and job should be to know how to handle bullying. Fed government should mandate zero tolerance policies for bullying in the public school system. This should be a no brainer. Kim Lockwood and others as pathetic as she should not be allowed to have such a job. Does anyone know if she has since been fired? She is a disgrace to the teaching profession.

    Much higher standards and screening of educators needs to start now.
    Who are these morons that we leave our children to be trusted with.

    Teachers in public school systems are paid far too low income. So, it does not create a competitive enough pool of qualified teachers for our children. Stopping bullying should be a part of education.

    Mother of four. That is why I sent my kids to a great private school. Bullying doesn't happen at my kids school.

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  15. Albert: Whoever suggested it should be? Most schools already have anti-bullying measures in place... but if this film can stop even one more child from being bullied, it's worth it. Brooke

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  16. No one suggested this movie will end bullying in our time. But if it can make people who wouldn't otherwise consider the issue talk about it - as many other, overtly tragic things in the current media whirl are now doing - maybe it could help. Any attempt to help is a fucking good thing.

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  17. This movie should be shown by every school district in the County to all middle and high school students. The ignore and deny system the schools has taken is failing miserably and we need to step in and change the way parents and administrators deal with this.

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  18. Why are humans so cruel to one another? It is a very depressing reality. I agree that the schools are ultimately responsible. The parents, teachers and administrators must be much more hands on, this life threatening problem.
    I have not seen the film yet but the trailer showed me plenty. I will see this and bring my two sons who are 12 and 14. We discuss this topic. My kids tell me stories of bullying they witness. Ever since they could understand my wife and I have done our best effort to teach them to treat all other class mates as they'd want to be treated. I've suggested when they see a new student or someone alone in the lunch room that they go out of their way to help the ones alone. From what I can see they do live by the lessons we have instilled in them. Communicating with teens on a daily basis is so important. Parenting is tough. This film upsets me so much to see good kids being targeted and their lives destroyed because they don't fit some ideal of normal. I hope after taking my kids to see this film that they will work even harder to help those in their school being bullied. I applaud the film makers for doing their part to bring more attention to this horrible problem. LA Dad

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  19. This film was heart breaking. Bullying is the first symptom of everything that is wrong with our country and the world. Differences, need not divide us as a people. Kindness needs to trump cruelty.
    FUCK ALL THE FEARFUL HATERS!

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  20. It is films like this that help begin change to fix injustice. I agree with the reviews take that the responsibility should lands first on the school systems. Public school systems are fucked because of the GOP. The public schools need more money from the GOV to improve. The GOP cuts important things like education. But then the GOP are just a bunch of bullies so it all makes perfect nonsense. Dougy

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  21. We live in a cruel world. Cruelty is celebrated. So sick of the hate in America.

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  22. Kim Lockwood's email address:
    lockwok@live.siouxcityschools.com

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  23. As I child I can say that I bullied other kids and I know where it came from, home. I was bullied without mercy by a sibling and not only wasn't it stopped, it wasn't even acknowledged, even when my brother blacked my eye. Kim Lockwood was my mother and my father. Anywhere there is bullying, you'll find a Kim Lockwood who enables the behaviour to continue by being unable or unwilling to empathize with the bullied and make the bully accountable for his/her actions. Simple as that. I don't want to scapegoat Ms Lockwood, because there a millions who have her mindset. But she needs to stand up and take a good look at the way she minimized, deflected and showed herself to be the opposite of how she tried to portray herself. It was more important to her how others perceived her, than actually demonstrating those virtues and protecting those vulnerable kids.

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  24. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  25. Kim Lockwood is one of the most ignorant women I have ever seen. I have been an educator for over 25 years and in all of that time, I never, ever allowed bullying to happen! Her solutions were ridiculous and her logic is distorted; you do not tell a child that is being bullied that he must befriend the kid who is torturing him and then tell him he is as “bad” as the bully because he did not shake hands with him! You take the bully into the office and find out what his problem is and then you call his parents; they need to know what their child is doing and if he has been warned about his behavior previously, you suspend him! You also call in the school police if the problem is serious enough.
    Telling Alex’s parents that the kids on the bus were “As good as gold” when she rode the bus was BECAUSE she rode the bus! Rather than tearing up her administrative credentials, she was promoted to principal! That’s the school system for you! The woman does not belong in a setting where children have to depend on her…perhaps a position in the prison system might be her forte.

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  26. Kim Lockwood's depraved indifference explains why school shooters are able to rationalize that victims don't matter. Drop by Chicken Soup for the Terrorist Soul for lunch.

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  27. Kim Lockwood should have been fired. No tolerance is No tolerance. Send bullies home and hold the parents responsible. Bullies grow up and are just as mean. We don't tolerate adults abusing adults so why do we allow it to happen to children. Kim Lockwood should never have made it to principal. She never did her job in the movie. Neither did the bus driver. These people need to be held accountable.

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  28. Chicken Soup with the Bully Enablers dot BlogSpot dot com.

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  29. I just watched this movie recently and enjoyed it enough to look up web sites in order to find out what was going on with these kids now. I was disappointed to find that MOST of the sites devoted to this project have consistently the name of the main kid wrong. His name is ETHAN LIBBY!! Not Alex. You all ack like you care but don't even take the time to know this kids name! Did you even watch the movie??

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