Armond White on Bully: The Bully Pulpit

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New Doc Beat Up Viewers

By Armond White

Just as the contrived "Kids Killing Kids" hype for The Hunger Games was getting started, a new "Kids Killing Kids" documentary asserts its claim on public attention: Bully, directed by Lee Hirsch, could be one of the challenges in The Hunger Games. It makes a show of how school kids torment each other, using real-life circumstances where victimization goes unheeded. Hirsch starts with two suicides (Tyler, 17, Ty, 11), another boy's daily misery (Alex, 14), a taunted teenage lesbian (Kelby, 16), then the incarceration of a girl (Ja'Meya, 14) who threatened her oppressors.

These terrible incidents are meant to represent an epidemic of hatefulness?Hillary Swank could play each of these kids?but Hirsch showcases too many instead of simply concentrating on one story to reveal the basic cultural breakdown when "kids killing kids" becomes an everyday social occurrence and not just a tag line to promote a blockbuster.

It's the blockbuster-doc mentality that undercuts Bully. Hirsch's do-gooder impulse recalls Waiting for Superman, where the filmmaker's sanctimony confuses special pleading with the work of journalistic investigation. An additional problem arises from the film's test-group subjects: its red state/blue state prejudice implies that bullying only occurs in the South or Midwest.

Hirsch exploits these kids and their communities?though with the best intentions. But Bully's feel-good-about-feeling-bad approach is offensive because it's also the "That's-not-me" approach, allowing viewers to think they would react differently or more effectively than the helpless parents, clueless school officials and young, terrified "All-American" prey. Hirsch goes for sorrow when there is no sorrow in our Hunger Games culture, just an atmosphere of relentless competition?despite our inflammatory media's pious lip service to anti-bullying. This cultural disaster is exacerbated by social media?the open platform for incivility mistakenly celebrated as democratized, technological progress.

To read the rest of Armond White's review at City Arts click here.

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