Bystander Bullies: audience as enablerApril 13th, 2012 | Posted by in IndieFlix filmmaker | IndieFlix in the Media
hen we imagine a bully and his victim, we imagine just that: two people, the tormentor and the tormented. But that’s not an accurate picture of what’s actually going on. Zoom out. What do you see?
A bully needs an audience.
A bully is a bully because he (or she) doubts her own power; his own value. Bullying is an expression of weakness; an attempt to manufacture self-confidence by creating a moment of artificial superiority over another person, thus elevating oneself to a position of “stronger than.” But this power, being applied rather than inherent, is conferred upon the bully by an external agent. The audience. A bully is an attention whore who uses violence, whether physical or emotional, to attract attentio n.
This part of the problem, the audience, the bystander who does nothing to stop the bullying, has been overlooked for too long. It’s a cliché, but all that’s required for a bully to thrive is for the people in his audience to do nothing. A bully borrows all his sham power from the people who pay attention to him.
Lauren Parsekian and Molly Thompson are two people who have chosen to step forward, to zoom the camera out and see that more is required, of all of us, to end bullying than simply saying “stop.” We need to find ways to engage the audience in the process; to find positive, proactive ways to change the setting in which the bully thrives.
Their approach, in making the documentary Finding Kind, has been to focus on the positive: to find ways, at those moments in our lives when habit or apathy might lead us to commit, or just ignore, thoughtless acts of cruelty, to commit instead an act of kindness. To accept our individual responsibility for the pervasive climate of bullying, whether actively as bullies or passively as onlookers, and to make a conscious effort to change that climate.
By driving across the country, talking to experts and kids, whose expertise on bullying is due to daily experience, Parsekian and Thompson have not only put together a documentary that shines a light on bullying. They’ve also discovered a practical, manageable approach to the seemingly insurmountable problem of reducing bullying in everyday life.
As a consumer of popular news and media culture, I’m aware that bullying is seen these days as something of a bandwagon issue. I realize that some people roll their eyes at the idea of “just another bullying documentary.” But you know what? Shame on the eyerollers. If we think of the individual child, the child whose school years should be spent learning, growing, finding out who they are and discovering the world, but who must instead get through life from day to miserable day, just trying to survive—sometimes literally, if teenage suicide statistics mean anything—then bullying is something like a civil rights crisis for one of the most vulnerable segments of society. It’s a bandwagon each of us is obligated to jump on.