By Mark W. Danielson
What makes films like A Christmas Story successful? The answer is we can all relate. Was this movie’s creator ever bullied? Probably so. And since people are either bullies or bullied victims, we will always see this theme in the fictional world.
Wikipedia says bullying is “a form of abuse that involves repeated acts over time attempting to create or enforce one person’s (or group’s) power over another person (or group).” The endless list of reasons for bullying includes, but is not limited to, sexual development (particularly in girls), economic disparity, immigration status, vocal accents, physical size, sexual preference, intelligence, social interactive ability, religious affiliation, and race. Bullies often have difficult upbringings and lack parental support. In many cases, a bully’s parents are bullies themselves. In A Christmas Story, the bullied Ralphie eventually strikes back. In 1999, two bullied Columbine High School students did the same, gunning down their peers before taking their own lives. Sadly, this act has been mimicked numerous times since.
I don’t normally address serious issues like this in my blogs, but the alarming rise in teen suicides and murders has drawn me to this subject. More than ever, our children are subjected to abuse from their peers. What used to be a problem at school has now spread to twenty-four hour bombardment through social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and cell phones. Too many television shows, particularly MTV’s Jersey Shore and Skins, encourage bad behavior and poor morals because yelling, fighting, and shallow values are the norm. In school, some coaches bully their students while some students bully their teachers. Bullying has even extended into the workplace. In fact, the bullying issue has become so prevalent that President Obama held an anti-bullying conference on March 10, 2011, to seek solutions to this global issue. To me, the problem is a simple case of us losing respect for one another. The solution isn’t as easy.
Audiences love fictional characters that fight back because so many people have been wronged during their lifetime. Clint Eastwood’s nameless character in High Plains Drifter played the ultimate vigilante hero by righting all the wrongs in a remote western town. If only life was that simple.
According to Rana Sampson of the Center for Problem Oriented Policing, eight to twenty percent of the population have been victims of school bullying, sixty-six percent of whom believed school professionals responded poorly to the problems they observed. I suspect the victim numbers are much higher because many don’t report their abuse out of fear or shame. Sixty percent of those who bullied eventually have criminal records. That staggering number is unacceptable and preventable. One thing is certain, so long as they live, bullies and their victims never forget their experiences.
There are multiple resources available on this topic, should you care to indulge. If you have children, it might be worth your time. If you are a writer, you might ask whether your personal experiences are the basis of your story. People need outlets, so in this regard venting novelists fill their readers’ needs. However, the real world needs respectful solutions, and monitoring our children’s’ behavior and what they are exposed to is as important as us listening to them and empathizing with their issues. Be as mindful of what your children are saying as you are about you are writing. Working together, we may find a solution.