‘Bully’ makes us aware that “boys will be boys” is a lazy excuse for allowing psychological and physical torture to occur at school. The movie also reminds us that the “victim” is not just the child who is isolated and picked on, but their family who feel helpless and inadequate to cope with the issues. As one father who lost his son to suicide, presumably secondary to bullying, says “I am nobody. I love my wife, and I loved my son, but I am nobody.” That sentiment, perhaps because it was expressed by a father and not a mother, was so moving, because he conveyed how helpless he felt, thereby suggesting how helpless his son felt. How do some people feel like “somebodies” and others feel like “nobodies,” I began to wonder. Does the social dynamics of elementary, middle and high school, set down the identity of nobodies versus somebodies? The film made me think.
The administrators in this film were portrayed as shockingly insensitive, perhaps as the result of their defensiveness. They were confronted with kids who felt victimized by bullies, and hence by the school system who did not protect them. Predictably, the administrators gave the first shot at parental responsibility-an old trick. In the movie, this was so obviously a cheap shot. The parents cannot control what happens at school. They can help their child defend themselves, but that presumes that the child conveys to the parent what is going on, and as one very insightful mother said in this movie, it is humiliating for a child to confess to what they perceive to be a strong parent, that they are the target of human cruelty. Then, the administrators tried to deal with it on a case by case basis, and not as a systemwide problem. That also, came across as lame. The problem is not that one child is being bullied, the problem is the lack of adult supervision in hallways, school buses and recess yards. More staff, along with a more highly trained personnel, would help, but the cost implications seem to be the clear barrier to intervention. I surmise.
To see a movie where you see the parents who have not only had the unspeakable tragedy of losing their child, but they have had this tragedy as a result of suicide, is to see massive suffering and sadness. One might think that to see this kind of suffering would make this movie unbearable. I thought that. Surprisingly, the movie pointed our attention towards the children, who were so neglected at school that I actually felt positive that when we expose the playground, we can make an argument for highly trained people to monitor these kids so that when they grow up they learn to be respectful and kind human beings. I am reminded of a time when a young child was learning to ice skate and he accidentally hit me. His skating teacher told him ”you go apologize to that nice lady,” and so he did. Such simple interventions, I feel, are going to create a respectful society. Watching the movie drove that point home. If the bus driver, as one articulate mom said, could pull over and talk to those kids and set out her expectations for a respectful and cooperative bus ride, then most of those kids would behave nicely. The problem, as this movie so clearly shows, is that no one is paying attention and if they are paying attention, no one is talking to the kids in a meaningful and kind way. Most kids listen to adults. In this film, the adults either were not intervening or they would say things which revealed their lack of understanding of the dynamics on that playground. Psychological sophistication could have made a huge difference in those kids’ lives. Knowing that, I felt hope.