An anti-bullying PSA for VH1 is a huge viral hit, tapping into the easy feelgood satisfaction of revenge. But ultimately, the message it sends about bullying is complete and utter bullshit.
You've probably seen this video in your Facebook feed by now. Maybe it was forwarded to you by your dad, triumphantly braying about how he was right all along about you should have dealt with that time in junior high those kids picked on you for having braces. The theme of this video is "Nerds Today, Bosses Tomorrow," one that tries to simultaneously terrify bullies with fear and give hope to the ruthlessly bullied.
I fucking hate this video. It rubbed me the wrong way ever since I first saw it. Am I glad that there's united effort in the mainstream media to focus on bullying as a major issue? Of course. But videos like this send the absolute wrong message.
In the video, (which contains absolutely no adult presence whatsoever) several children sing about their future revenge, while being bullied in brutal ways. The video focuses entirely on physical bullying—there's a swirlie scene, a wedgie scene, etc.—stereotypical bully stuff that most people recognize from all those times Screech on Saved by the Bell had to endure similar abuse. It's the bullying trope at this point. It's something we're familiar and comfortable recognizing as "bullying." However, the video is surprisingly lacking in any mention of online bullying, which is probably one of the biggest threats facing young children these days. I don't know how popular swirlies still are today, but I know way too many young people get bullied online, some (such as Amanda Todd) to the point where they simply cannot take it anymore.
The creators use a version of Gloria Gaynor's breakup anthem "I Will Survive" with new, revenge-themed lyrics.
All my power I will abuse. I'll be the CEO, you'll be the one who shines my shoes. I'm going to call night and day and on weekend I'll send texts....making sure you never rest. You'll never get a single raise. You'll get the same pay until the end of your unhappy days. And behind a tiny desk you'll be saying your regret. You'll be my pet, you'll be my pet
The lyrics to this song basically say "Shhhhhh, bullied kids. Just be quiet and take all this horrible abuse because in 20 years you're going to become some asshole CEO who will probably get to bully lots of other people. So what if you're getting the shit kicked out of you now, because in a few years you'll be eating lobster on a yacht Jordan Belfort-style!"
So it's all good because one day the bullied will get to become the bullies? And conversely bullies shouldn't harass and torture their peers because one day it could happen to them? We've reverted to telling kids that two wrongs make a right and that's kind of horrific.
First of all, instilling excitement about getting revenge is the easiest and dare I say laziest way of handling complicated situations such as bullying. Telling kids that they shouldn't worry about abuse they are encountering now because someday they'll lord over their bullies like evil Game of Thrones villains is not the solution to bullying. That's more nonsense propaganda. Honestly—it's a fucking myth. It's a dangerous lie that we have been trying to force down children's throats for years.
Not everyone who experiences bullying and torment automatically gets a guarantee of revenge, or even the satisfaction of success. Having your face flushed down a toilet or being violently beaten by your peers does not secure you a seat on the board of some Fortune 500 company. It doesn't mean you're going to wake up in 10 years on the cover of Vogue, laughing about all your haters.
But that's the delusion people behind this dumb myth want us to believe—that all we have to do is magically fix the way kids perceive or handle problems like bullying and it will all just magically go away. It's the same logic that was behind the decision a Nebraska school made to send home a half-assed, victim blaming flyer teaching kids they should learn not to be a "sore loser" and not tell on their bullies. It's thinking like this that allows schools, parents, guardians and adult supervisors to wipe their hands of the whole mess and act like they've done their due diligence.
I'm not discounting powerful movements like "It gets better." There's a huge difference between teaching a young person that there is more life than the very narrow window of their childhood and teenager years and teaching them they should lurk in the shadows and wait for life's cosmic justice. Young kids and teens should definitely get the message that these few years in school are absolutely not the end of the world. But that's not the message of this video at all.
I get it, VH1. You want to make a cool and funny anti-bullying PSA so you can pat yourself on the back for taking a safely non-controversial stance against something like bullying, because that's all the rage these days. I know your heart is absolutely in the right place (or the hearts of the public relations/marketing team who came up with this are). But telling kids they should grin and shake it off because someday they might live out some classist revenge fable is some serious head-in-the-sand fuckery.
Bullying is not something we fix simply by trying to teach kids who are bullied all the ways they can tolerate it, nor is it solved by threatening kids who are bullies that they might themselves be on the receiving end of the same torture. That doesn't work and it's fucking dumb.We need to be pointing the finger of responsibility squarely at adults who should be taking charge and protecting kids in these situations, not shuffling them off with feel-good video clips and shitty so-called "educational" fliers.