‘Bully’ spreads desperately needed message

'Bully' spreads desperately needed message

Marissa Atkins, Staff Writer

With the recent attention given to the Kony 2012 movement, it seems that awareness of social justice issues is finally becoming mainstream. The recently released documentary Bully, directed by Lee Hirsch, fits perfectly into this trend. The film follows five families, all of whose lives have been drastically altered by excessive and violent bullying. The stand-outs are Alex Libby, a 12 year old who faces daily death threats; Kelby Johnson, a young lesbian girl who was run out of her small Midwest hometown; and Tyler Long, a 17 year old boy who took his own life because of excessive bullying.

One of the most shocking situations features Alex Libby, a 12-year-old seventh grader at East Middle School in Sioux City, Iowa. On an average bus ride to school, he is stabbed with pencils, thrown against a seat, punched, kicked in the head, and even strangled.  Alex faces this daily, and as if the bullying isn’t bad enough, he then has to go home and relive the whole thing by telling his parents.
“The only thing worse than being beat up by those boys is having to come and tell you,” said Alex’s mother to her husband.  “He wants to be you,” she said through tears, “and he never sees you cry.”

Another poignant situation features Kelby Johnson. Kelby is a 16-year-old openly gay girl living in the small town of Tuttle in the Bible belt state of Oklahoma. Her bullying is particularly tragic because hers comes from teachers, parents, and students alike. Although she offers a form of relief in the film as she is by far the most hopeful and optimistic, her story is nonetheless a tear jerker. Being the only openly gay person in her small town, she is subject to relentless torment. Kids tease her daily, ostracizing her and calling her “fa**ot.”

The most shocking scene occurs when she nonchalantly describes an incident where she was deliberately hit by a car while on her way home from school. The bullying was so intense that she even started cutting herself and, in fact, tried to commit suicide three times.  Her parents made it clear they were more than willing to pack up their life and move so as to spare her from the constant ridicule; Kelby was determined to stay and fight until things got completely intolerable. She eventually, out of fear for her own life, had to move. She was literally run out of her hometown.

^p ^p The last and most disturbing example of the effects of bullying was the suicide of Tyler Long. Tyler was a 17 year old high school student who hung himself in his bedroom closet because he could no longer stand the constant bullying he faced everyday at school. His story is told by his parents, who have to live knowing that the people responsible for his death remain, to this day, unpunished. Not only unpunished, but unrestrained. His father tells the chilling tale of how he found Tyler hanging in his closet and of how Tyler’s little sister witnessed her father stumbling upon the body. His parents now work as activists trying to put an end to an epidemic that is largely being ignored.

^p ^p Arguably the most disturbing aspect of the entire film is that everything that goes on- the beating, the swearing, and the abuse- was all done while the offenders knew they were being filmed. If the kids were bold enough to cuss, strangle, and threaten death while being filmed, one can only imagine what might go on off camera.
Another striking feature of  Bully was the controversy over the rating. While the movie is now rated PG-13, it was originally going to be rated R. An R rating requires viewers to be 17 or older. The star of the film, Alex Libby, is only 12 years old. That means that he wouldn’t have been able to watch a film about his life because it was deemed too violent.
“You mean I can’t watch a movie about my own life?” asked Alex while trying to convince the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) to lower the rating. His own life was too violent for him to legally watch. The message is clear.

^p ^p Bully brings to our attention an epidemic that has for too long been brushed off  as “boys will be boys” or “it’s just part of growing up,” all of which are just empty excuses.  The parents of the bullied kids in the film are fed up with these excuses. In one scene, the worried parents of tormented child Alex Libby go in to talk to the principal. Their main concern is the abuse Alex faces daily on the bus. When Alex’s mother says that he is not safe on the bus, the principal condescendingly replies, “He rides bus number 54? I’ve ridden 54. I’ve been on that bus. And let me tell you – they are just as good as gold.”
This single statement makes the audience wonder how someone so immensely ignorant was able to graduate high school, let alone get to the point where she runs one.  How could a well-educated, middle aged woman actually believe that the kids’ behavior on the bus with the principal two seats away was the norm?
Alex’s mother just stares back in disbelief. As she walks out of the school, she says, “We’ve been politicianed..”


^p ^p As if the endless bombardment of teasing and harassment weren’t enough, add incompetent administration and the tragic result is too often child suicide, as was the case with Tyler Long.

Teachers here at CCHS are beginning to realize the importance of Bully’s message. Economics teacher Mrs. Christi Harrington is one of these teachers and has offered extra credit to her economics classes if students see the film.
“This year 13 million American kids will experience some form of bullying, be it at school, online, texting, or otherwise,” she said. “I think the message of the movie is too important not to pass on to students. Even the best kids need to be reminded to take a stand, to do the right thing and put a stop to bullying.”
Students and teachers alike can benefit from the movie as it highlights an epidemic largely ignored in America.
“I hope students see that their (potential) actions can have life-long consequences and often affect far more people than the single student being bullied,” Mrs. Harrington commented.

The threat is real, the film is heart-wrenching, and the message desperately needs to be spread. All teachers should recommend this movie, and all students who haven’t seen it yet should head to the theaters.

Click -> HERE <- to visit the ‘Bully’ website.