Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bully for us

The documentary “Bully” will be released without a rating, its distributor, the Weinstein Company, announced Monday in a news release. The decision to release the film unrated comes after a contentious battle between the MPAA and “Bully’s” backers, including its director Lee Hirsch and Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein. 
The MPAA gave the film — which followed bullied children around for one year and spoke to the families of kids who committed suicide — an R-rating over six uses of the “F” expletive, a decision the Weinstein Company appealed to no avail. Despite criticism from celebrities, including Meryl Streep and Justin Bieber, politicians, educators and writers — who believed the film would be unable to reach its target audience without a PG-13 rating — the MPAA and its chairman, former Senator Chris Dodd, did not back down from their decision.
Like most kids, I had my share of bully problems. I vividly remember two in particular from third grade; their names, if I recall correctly, were Eric and Patrick. My biggest problem as a kid was my great big mouth. It got me into more trouble than I care to remember. At some point in my early childhood, I developed a sense of machismo, and if insulted, I had to respond in kind, which inevitably led to fisticuffs.
Eric and Patrick knew they could bait me, so they did, and often. I don't remember with what; it was probably fat jokes. I got a lot of that growing up. Anyway, they wouldn't even have to beat me up all that often. I got much more verbal abuse from them than anything else. I almost always ended up throwing the first punch, though, and as a result I'd be the one who got in trouble, not them.
I told my father about these guys, and one day he met me after school so that he could see them for himself. Now, I've written here before about what a people person my father was, how gregarious and charming he could be with others. And he wasn't looking for a confrontation per se. He just wanted to talk to Eric and Patrick. And he did.
And he ended up doing the absolute last thing I wanted him to: he befriended them! Why would he do that? I wondered. I wanted him to strike down upon them with great vengeance and furious anger! What good was becoming their buddy?
Plenty good, as it turned out. Eric and Patrick eventually laid off on me, though it took awhile. Not a solution I would've imagined, but then, it was exactly the sort of thing my father would've thought of. He was not a violent man. Quite the opposite, in fact. He was intellectual in a down-to-earth way, one might even say he was street smart. He knew enough to keep a level head when it came to dealing with bullies.
As a social worker, he'd absolutely have to. He dealt with kids all the time. That's why I know he'd be quite disturbed to read about how serious the problem of bullying in school has become. I believe he'd be in favor of a film that tried to document this situation using real case studies.
But I don't believe he'd be put off by the language such a movie would have. My father wasn't nieve; he worked with enough children to know that many of them use profanity, though he himself never did (and frowned on it in our house). His great gift was the ability to relate to people on multiple levels without the need for profane language of any kind, without coming across as being elitist or judgmental. (Even he had his blind spots, though, but that's another post.) Too many people tend to think that you won't be taken seriously unless you swear, but not my father.
My wonderful sixth grade language arts teacher, Ms. Brooks, once imparted to us that yes, there were indeed times when she said "shit," which shocked and amused us at first - ooooh, teacher said a curse word in class! - but in that particular case she was making a point, that just because she stands in front of a blackboard talking to ten-year-olds all day doesn't make her any less human.
Obviously, I'm in favor of the movie Bully being shown as is, profanity and all, and it's good to see that it will be, MPAA be damned. Language is imperfect, but it's the best thing we have when it comes to communicating. Deciphering what's behind language - the things that go unsaid as well as said - is tricky, and difficult to learn, but if we remain hung up on the words themselves we'll only get so far. And bullying is too critical an issue to let language get in the way of finding solutions.


  1. I'm kind of looking forward to this, but I suspect Bully won't be out in my neck of the woods, at least not in some place easily accessible. Like you, I'm in favor of it being released as it was intended. Let people decide for themselves if they dare risk the profanity or not.

  2. The kids in the doc are all from Middle America and yet it'll open in NY and LA. It may indeed be awhile before it reaches a wider audience, and who knows if an 'unrated' movie will have an easier time with individual theater owners than an NC17 one? I hope it reaches you sooner rather than later.


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