The great social cause of the twenty-first century is “anti-bullying,” and school kids throughout the world have been making their contribution by producing anti-bullying movies. While these efforts may seem like spontaneous activities dreamed up by kids, they are usually activities encouraged or orchestrated by the school staff, who need to show they are doing something creative about fighting bullying.
In a previous article, I lauded South Park’s brilliant parody of these student-produced anti-bullying films. The purpose of satire is to expose hypocrisy, and South Park’s writers do an admirable job of showing the unpleasant truths about anti-bullying efforts that society would rather be unaware of.
I frequently receive requests to publicize kids’ anti-bullying productions. I generally decline, as my goal is not to promote bullyphobia but to try to save society from it. Recently, I received an unsolicited package in the mail containing a DVD of a play called, Analyzing the Bully, written and performed by teenagers of blank slate theater (they write the name without capitals), directed by Adam Arnold, and produced in collaboration with the Jewish Family and Child Service of Minneapolis. I thought to myself, “Oh, No! Another stereotypical piece about the disturbed nature of bullies.”
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the play was actually unique. Rather than contributing to the worldwide anti-bully hate-fest, these youngsters insightfully caricatured the condescending anti-bullying lessons they have been subject to since preschool. Rather than denouncing bullies, they lambast the bullying scientists who have been demonizing bullies and promoting prejudice, fear and hatred of them.
Three of the characters in the play are academic bullying researchers. Their pronouncements are not necessarily what real-life bullying researchers say, but they reflect the impressions that the kids have formed during years of anti-bullying education based on researchers’ teachings. The play perceptively portrays the fact that many adults who decide to become bullying researchers were themselves victims of bullying when they were children. They never understood why they were bullied, and never figured out how to stop being bullied. Thus, they grew up harboring an unresolved hatred of bullies and then made it their mission to eradicate bullies in the guise of scientists. As one of the bullying scientists smugly pronounces, “My favorite song is Bullies, Go Away, by The Bully Hatred Band.”
After instructing us on bullies and bullying, these three scientists proceed to interview–or, more accurately, interrogate–a bully. The setting is a dark, dreary basement that evokes the Spanish Inquisition and other witch-hunts of history. I couldn’t help thinking about past attempts by authorities to eradicate my own Jewish parents and ancestors from society. Similarly, the current generation of authorities is attempting to eradicate bullies from society.
What we discover during the interrogation is that the alleged bully is just an ordinary, angry, perplexed teenager navigating the trials and tribulations of life, sometimes acting and speaking badly, and ultimately getting into trouble. Hearing his side of the story, we become sympathetic. He hardly fits the stereotype, disseminated by leading bullying authorities such as Dan Olweus and Barbara Coloroso, of bullies as heartless, calculating, cowardly sociopaths. In Analyzing the Bully, the true bullies turn out to be the anti-bullying researchers themselves. How refreshing it is to see that there exist teenagers out there who have been sharp enough to resist the endless onslaught of anti-bully propaganda and seen through its hypocrisy. Perhaps there is hope, after all, that the current generation will one day bring an end to the twenty-first century witch-hunt they inherited.
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