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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.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sarah Palin On Today Show – Is Someone Getting Used?

With much fanfare, NBC announced that, none other, than Sarah Palin would sit in as a co-host for NBC’s the Today Show. Yes, you read that right, the same network, who with Katie Couric, showed to the world some 4 years ago that Sarah Palin was of questionable talent to become Vice-President. In that infamous interview by Curric of Palin, Palin was at a loss to describe which newspapers she read in order to be informed as to world events. The fallout from that interview in large part doomed the McCain presidential run. 

Following that interview it was widely reported that Sarah Palin felt as if she had been ambushed by NBC and was portrayed in an unfair light. Ms. Palin’s supporters expressed anger that NBC and the Today Show had tried to target Sarah Palin in order to “bring her down.” It also raised allegations of a “liberal media bias,” out to destroy Palin’s reputation.
So here we are April 2, 2012 (not April 1st which could then be dismissed as an April fool’s joke) and Sarah Palin is returning to the scene of the crime to CO-HOST the Today Show. Again, this is not an April fool’s joke. Ms. Palin is to discuss the Wisconsin primary and join the Today Show’s panel to tackle the day's hot topics alongside Star Jones, Donnie Deutsch and Dr. Nancy Snyderman.
I am not a fan of Sarah Palin and her politics. I believe she is woefully underqualified to serve as Vice-President much less the role of Governor of the State of Alaska. Nevertheless, Palin has become a media super-star among her supporters and even haters. She has developed a very lucrative “brand” and commands hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaker’s fees, to address her adoring fans.
Then there is the Today Show. Morning “news shows” are a mix of general news stories and, for lack of a better term, “fluff.” It is meant to be entertaining and not as much a news broadcast; yet, there is still an element of reporting and news journalism.
So one must ask why would NBC and the Today Show invite Sarah Palin to co-host? Is it because Ms. Palin has important and probative information about the Republican Primary (here the answer seems clear that, yes she does have an important view-point as concerns the Republican election) and “other” news of the day; or, is it for the entertainment value of having Sarah Palin on the network in order to show what helped derail the Presidential bid of John McCain and her?
The answer may be more obvious than we think. On today’s Today Show, Sarah Palin called in about her guest appearance and Matt Lauer wasted no time in proving that Palin’s visit was nothing more than a garish and petty attempt to grab ratings.
"Are you reading some newspapers?" Matt asked, referencing her TV interview gaffe from 2008.
Palin, for her part, cracked up: "That's a fine 'How do you do,’" she said. "Here we go."
Clearly Ms. Palin does not feel as though she is being “trapped” now and has become part of the entertainment show. But in so doing, has NBC lost credibility and relegated the Today Show to simple circus theatre?
In an earlier article, Ms. Palin told Breitbart News: "We’re 'going rogue' (also the name of her Book) and infiltrating some turf for a day." For those not familiar, the term “going rogue” was attached to Ms. Palin during the presidential campaign by members of John McCain’s staff who felt that Sarah Palin would not listen to their advice and instead decided to do what Palin alone thought right (which became a book and HBO movie); which from a historical perspective is extraordinary as the Presidential nominee is the person who sets all agenda for the election. So Ms. Palin’s statement that she was “going rogue” is clearly advertisement and theatre to keep her “brand” alive.
Matt Lauer, not to let sleeping dogs lie, jokingly pressed Palin for an explanation of her “going rogue” statement, the former V.P. candidate was coy: "What do you think that means?" Palin said.
"You're taking over Matt's dressing room," Al Roker joked.
“Special guest” Meredith Vieira also joined in the comic routine with what can only be described as a condescending tone as to it all (doesn’t Meredith host a game show?).
So there, in those brief minutes, it is clear that NBC and the Today Show threw themselves in the gutter to garnish ratings. If anything, Sarah Palin comes out as the “better person” not only forgiving NBC and the Today Show for the incidents of 2008, but bettering them and showing that Sarah Palin has the “mystique” to draw a crowd.
It is often said it is NOT important who wins the battle, only who wins the war.
In this War, Sarah Palin has thus far proven the winner and NBC and the Today Show have shown they will wallow in pig’s shit if it will achieve a ratings boost. As “news-people????”, Matt and Vieira should be well aware of the saying: “If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.”
NBC needs to fumigate as they have sunk to a new low. And as to Sarah Palin (even though I am not a fan), I say bravo! Sarah, you are beating them at their own game.