Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bully pulpit

If you haven't seen the viral video of the Australian bully getting body-slammed by the kid he was tormenting, watch it. It's the real-life version of Ralphie beating up Scut Farkas, Daniel LaRusso winning the karate tournament, Peter Brady knocking some of Buddy Hinton's teeth loose, George McFly smacking Biff, Matt Dillon getting his nose broken in "My Bodyguard" and the neighborhood turning on Nelson Muntz.

I'm not advocating violence. I believe the best way to combat bullying is to make it so undesirable for the bully that he or she decides to not bully. That's why encouraging kids to tell a teacher or grownup (even if it's not happening to them) is a good method to preventing bullying. The bully operates knowing silence will allow him never to get caught; the more adults who know (and the more consequences the bully might face), the better. I don't think fighting back should be the first answer. The Hollywood image of the victim fighting back and winning carries a triumphant message -- comeuppance seems to be in our human nature -- but in reality, I'm guessing a good percentage of victimized kids standing up for themselves end up just getting hurt more. I hope this video is not going to encourage kids to unrealistically try fighting back. The bullied kid here (Casey) was older and obviously stronger than his tormentor. Most bullied kids don't have this luxury.

That said, I couldn't help but cheer for Casey in this video, not only for standing up to the bullying, but also walking away instead of continuing to pummel the other kid. Maybe he showed restraint, maybe he was so horrified at what he just did that he wanted to just leave, or maybe he was nervous one of the kids friends was going to do something (you can see the one confront him after, only to be confronted by a girl telling him to back off; hurray for that girl!). That's why I'm a little annoyed that some people are criticizing Casey for going too far in defending himself. This Salon story especially annoyed me, suggesting that maybe the other kid was the victim because he's getting harassed since the video went viral. I'm sorry, but no one forced the bully to harass Casey, no one forced him to get his friends to take video (and post it on YouTube), and no one forced him to punch Casey in the face. He started the fight, and Casey finished it. If you don't want to potentially get hurt or embarrassed, don't start fights. It's that simple. Don't pity the bully because Casey used force to defend himself against force.

The Salon story was also worried Casey might face retribution from his bully's friends. I don't think Casey should worry -- my guess is that the school, likely mortified that such bullying is taking place in its institution, won't let any bullying of any kind happen again. "Come to our school and get bullied or body-slammed" isn't exactly the best public relations.

We shouldn't condone violence, and we should teach our children to respect each other, stand up for one another, and not let bullying get to the point where it gets ugly. Grownups need to intervene to prevent bullying as well -- it's been proved that safe, non-harassed kids do better in school. So why has watching a 13-year-old bully get body-slammed been so cathartic for so many people? Maybe we remember our feeling helpless in our own childhoods to fight back, either out of fear or simple bad odds. Or perhaps the recent spate of bullying suicides has conditioned us to root for one story that delivers a happy ending.

The adult/parent in me thinks I should feel bad for watching the bully get his comeuppance. Oddly, but I hope not sadly, I don't.

I cheered.

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