The movie, Bully, is a powerful exposé of the pain inflicted by bullying. It chronicles the insidious degradation that children and families experience when students misuse personal power to attack their peers and educators fail to marshal their power to stop the bullying. The movie is also a reminder that we don’t have many answers when it comes to solving this problem. As a researcher and a prevention educator in the field of bullying, the point must be made that this movie offers all of us the opportunity to begin a dialogue about this problem, but by itself, this movie will not change anything.
The controversy surrounding the MPAA rating of Bully highlighted the fact that many people believe that showing this video to youth under the age of 18 will change the behaviors of those who engage in bullying. It is important to realize that single event programs are not an antidote to bullying. They heighten awareness and sensitivity for a short time, and perhaps even temporarily motivate children to change their behaviors, but in the long run, one-time presentations do not work. They are a good springboard for conversation, but they will not solve the problem of bullying in our schools.
As an educator, one of the most difficult moments to watch in the movie is an attempt by an educator to get a victim to reconcile with his tormentor. It was a perfect example of the failure to understand bullying. Bullying is the systematic and systemic abuse of power. In order to reduce bullying, we need systemic change that alters the power dynamics. Whereas most efforts to reduce bullying have focused on the bullies and their targets, and on changing them, systemic change is about changing the context in which bullying occurs. It means shifting power away from those who misuse it and increasing the power of those who can protect those who are targeted.