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Bullying in the movies

July 2, 2010

I’ve never really noticed how often bullying is a topic or sub-plot in movies.  Last night, I “discovered” another one.  What’s odd is that this is one of my favorite movies to watch with my kids. I was dimly aware of the bullying aspect of this story, but it never really jumped out at me again like it did last night.

We were watching Hoot, the adorable story based on the book of the same name by Carl Hiaasen of three kids who take on a big pancake house developer to save a group of endangered burrowing owls. Features songs by Jimmy Buffett, who also plays Mr. Ryan, one of the middle school teachers. ‘Course, there’s a big bully — “Dana” — who picks on the new kid (our hero) on the bus (‘course, for the purpose of the story, the bus driver not only doesn’t DO anything about the bullying, he/she is nowhere to be seen).

This got me thinking: how many movies can I think of, just off the top of my head, that have either a main story or sub-plot of bullying in them?

I didn’t have to work my brain too hard; on the DVD of Hoot is a preview of another childhood story along the same lines: How to Eat Fried Worms. And, there’s Bridges to Terabithia — this time the “Dana” character is played by a bulky, big-boned girl who has her own “issues” but is a real terror on the bus and playground. How about the classic Stand by Me? And even Disney’s cartoon blockbuster The Emperor’s New Groove is all about the self-centered, self-absorbed Emperor Kuzco and how he manipulates everyone around him to do his way, even after he is turned into a llama by the scheming Yzma (played to exception by Eartha Kitt, by the way!). Even the current remake of the blockbuster Karate Kid…what’s THAT entire movie about?

It’s all around us, isn’t it?  But here’s the problem: in the movies, the bully always gets what’s coming to him/her. There’s a neat and tidy resolution, whether someone sticks up for the victim and the bully backs down. Or, the bully goes to jail, justice catching up with the perp for all the nasty, hurtful things he/she has done.  Or, the bully has their own personal epiphany and realizes you don’t treat people that way, and turns over a new leaf.

It doesn’t always work that way. I know that movies are meant to be entertainment and maybe the “bully gets his” message is supposed to be encouraging and uplifting. After all, the rule in Hollywood and other stories is that the good HAS to triumph over evil or we don’t feel the sense of “resolution” at the end that makes for a good and marketable piece. We don’t like downer endings. But in these movies, you don’t see the damage that bullying does. I know these movies are supposed to be light-hearted, and that’s great, but bullying is not funny.  Nor is it always resolved in a 90-minute screenplay.  Showing our kids — and maybe even ourselves — that it always turns out ok, no matter how bad it seems at the time, isn’t realistic.

‘Course, it does make good entertainment, and I’m not against a good story.  I think we should lookcritically at what’s out there, what’s up for consumption, and examine what it is the collective conscious is saying.  It’s actually a great opportunity to raise the topic with your kids, talk about what’s real and what isn’t, what do they think about what happens? Maybe even ask if it’s happening in their lives, in their schools.

The story behind Hoot was to raise awareness and consciousness of environmental issues, and that was a good thing. We should think about those issues — they’re important.  Now, let’s use this movie, and others, to think and talk about other issues that may be just as important, and just as critical to our daily lives. Bullying is going to affect 1 out of 4 kids before they even reach high school.  Are they prepared to stand up to that emotional bulldozer in the same way the heroes of Hoot were strong enough to stand up to the bulldozer that was going to level the lot and destroy the owls? That’s up to us, isn’t it? And hopefully, they won’t have to eat fried worms to prove their worth.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Tranquil1 permalink
    July 6, 2010 8:38 am

    “Odd Girl Out” is one of the only mainstream movies that deals with girl-on-girl “relational aggression” and the toll it can take on the target.

    Cinderella is the quintessential mobbing (group bullying) story. It wasn’t until “Ever After” directed by Drew Barrymore (and also reading “Cinderella and Her Sisters: The Envied and the Envying” that I realized the patterns we as females repeat.

    I believe there are some independent films out there that deal with the topic but I can’t remember them off the top of my head right now.

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