Wednesday Opinion: Why Is Bullying Endemic?

(photograph not associated with this blog)

By Nanny X (c) 2012

What does the case of bullied school monitor Karen Klein teach us? For one it demonstrates how technology is increasingly being used to perpetuate bullying, allowing it to penetrate further into a victim’s life. It has also created greater public awareness of bullying in schools. Increasingly, violent content appearing on You Tube and other forums is presented as entertainment. The viral nature of such uploads demonstrates the value of promoting violence. 
But can sites like You Tube provide us with an opportunity for self-reflection? For example the boys who took part in Klein’s assault have issued statements revealing how they did not recognize themselves in the video. Klein herself states: 

“Despite the incident, she said she does not believe
her harassers are bad kids. “Not deep down. But when they get together,
things happen,” she said. As the intimidation unfolded, she tried to
disregard the harassment and didn’t hear everything that was uttered, she said.At one point, she said, she (Karen Klein) told two children, “I am a person, too. I shouldn’t be treated this
way.”

Although disturbing, Klein’s bullying is not an isolated case of teen violence. The media – particularly juvenile media – is saturated with sarcasm, sexuality and anti-social behavior. Children are deluged with negative messaging from popular channels like the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. In typical programming  teens are portrayed as savvy, surly and duplicit while parents are either unreasonable, over-bearing or clownish. Characters also constantly put one another down verbally.  As the book Nurture Shock recently highlighted even innocuous ‘educational’ shows such as Berenstain Bears, or Sesame Street feature conflicts that permeate episodes with little actual air time left for resolution. The consequence is that children are learning to be verbally cruel and disruptive. 
Jersey Shore, Teen Moms, Mob Wives
Other shows, particularly the genre of Reality TV, also glorify conflict and verbal smack downs. In the case of Jersey Shore the characters who exhibited the highest amounts of actual violence, drunkenness and promiscuity became more popular famous and wealthier later on. Mob Wives effectively demonstrates that a luxurious lifestyle derived from crime is a desirable thing. Teen Moms, despite its creator’s best intentions to run as cautionary tales, has in fact established celebrity status for those who make poor choices. 
The message our young people are consistently hearing is that being a bad-ass is cool and something to emulate. How else are our young people being negatively targeted?
        this is not Kayne West
Music & Violence
While music has always been the medium of teenage rebellion the content, imagery and lifestyles currently promoted by singers like Kanye West, Jay Z and alike border on necrophilia. For example Kanye West’s song ‘Monster’: 
“Monster” has been has been heavily criticized for its heavy use of violence against women. Carrying themes of misogyny and violence against women, this video shows dead women dangling from the ceiling, naked and deceased women splayed across Kanye’s bed, and other images of violence towards females. The video is seen by many critics as a glorification of  violence and sex, portraying a dead female body as an erotic object for men to control. A Wikipedia article explains more of the criticism.
“[The] video not-so-subtly suggests that complete female passivity, lifelessness, and even death are erotic […] Monstrous men – the ones who treat women as inanimate objects – are sexually attractive, which means that, by extension, monstrous behavior on the part of men is sexually attractive, while, for women, what’s sexually desirable is passivity, lifelessness, and death.”
– Mikhail Lyubansky, Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign 
Jay-Z includes some explicitly misogynistic attributes as he raps in the song as well.

I kill a block I murder avenues
rape and pillage a village, women and children
everybody wanna know what my achilles heel 1.

The aggressive misogyny of male singers like West and Jay Z are in complete contrast to female singers like Lady Gaga, Rhianna, Katy Perry Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. These women are constantly offered up as alluring sexual objects.  Katy Perry’s track “ET” explicitly invites violence: 

Kiss me, k-k-kiss me
infect me with your love, and fill me with your poison
take me, t-t-take me
wanna be your victim, ready for abduction
boy, you’re an alien, your touch so far away
its supernatural, extraterrestrial

When popular female singers are not begging to be violated they continue to project the idea that a woman’s only function is to gratify men. In other words the idea is formulated that people are simply things, objects that can be used for personal gratification. 
The central problem with this ideology is that any woman who does not fit into the category of sex object, must be worthless, a piece of human garbage fit only to be ridiculed for entertainment. 
When 68 year old school monitor Karen Klein pleaded with her aggressors: “I am a person, too. I shouldn’t be treated this way” the boys simply could not hear her. 
Popular culture reflects our own values and if the media teaches us anything, it’s this: we have lost our value to one another and a sense of respect. 
When pondering the case of Karen Klein it is easy to reach for outrage, but surely we must ask ourselves as the custodians of Western society why wouldn’t Klein’s attackers emulate the violent, misogynist, sarcastic and anti-social behavior of their TV and media heroes? After all teenagers are not the ones profiting from the promotion of these ideas : their grown-ups are. If our children are being sold the concept that everything – including other human beings – are there for gratification, why shouldn’t they exhibit this behavior themselves? 
Bullying is a narcissistic activity and the consequence of a sociopathic society. It is endemic because we have failed to stop the tide of negative media messaging.  Our culture rewards violence – even economic violence – and the platitudes expressed in our churches, schools and our homes have failed to act as a firewall. Until we reclaim our social morality we simply do not have the authority to ask it from our children. 
Check out tomorrow’s interview with Lisa Bloom author of SWAGGER. How can we protect our boys from becoming monsters?
Footnotes