My primary research interest, and my intended career, is to work in and study film and theatre as means of social change. Obviously this is a broad area with many applications. One particular focus, and one that encompasses and requires the study of mass media as well, is on the phenomenon of and sociocultural response to bullying in schools.
Bullying has garnered much national attention in the past few years, in part due to the controversial anti-bullying laws passed in states such as Massachusetts and the increased reportage of suicide among young people who have been bullied, such as Phoebe Prince and Tyler Clementi. The media has even adopted a phrase for this horror: “bullycide.”
As many have noted, bullying was given new wings by the advent of social networks and an increased percentage of user-generated content. Current opinion in the field of child social psychology holds that bullies are not “kids being kids,” nor products of broken or lower-income homes, nor inspired by violent video games. Bullies bully because they can and want to. (See the writings of Barbara Coloroso and Jessie Klein for more information.)
Even the entertainment media reflects this change in attitude: no longer limited to childhood adventures in which the school or town bully (singular) is an obstacle or challenge to the protagonists, films like Mean Girls and Bachelorette, and TV shows like “Glee” and “30 Rock” address cruel behavior among teens and adults, in school, work, and social venues.
Thankfully, the same technology that empowered bullies can now be used to stop them, and, we hope, to dispel information and ideologies to cut bullying at the roots.
The media has a pivotal role in the campaign against bullying: by portraying the victims of bullying in a sensitive, if sometimes oversympathetic light, and reporting in full detail the nature of the incidents, they change what would have been a sad but pointless story into a piece of a larger story that is depressing enough to motivate action. Their real challenge, though, is not to demonize the bullies for the sake of a dramatic story, but to report them as people who made costly mistakes that, to an unbiased observer, are able to see how to prevent those mistakes from happening again:
The first step, however, is to dispense with the image of bullies as mere Scut Farkases waiting to be challenged and conquered. Bullies are not adverse object lessons for an educational system; they are the very antithesis of education. They are no more a natural part of learning than is parental abuse a natural part of growing up. (source)