5 Bad Ideas for Dealing With Bullies You Learned in Movies
Recently, I've had several people ask if I could talk about bullying. I'll be perfectly honest here, I had no idea what I could possibly say about the subject. When I was in school, we just kind of had to deal with it as best we could, any advice coming from sitcoms and movies about nerds overcoming jocks by recording their girlfriends naked in the bathroom. Unfortunately, I never found a magical, cure-all solution that made it go away, and I didn't realize until I was all grown up that the sitcom words of wisdom weren't all that reliable. Advice like...
Tell an Adult -- They'll Teach You to Fight
This is the very first thing they suggest when you find yourself discovering that putting makeup on a black eye just makes you look like David Bowie. And it makes sense. If you're pulling shoes out of your ass every day after school, you turn to the people who are bigger, smarter, and have the authority to do something about it. Diff'rent Strokes tackled that one back in 1980.
How they handled it:
Arnold tells his family that he's being picked on by a bully named "The Gooch." Mr. Drummond (his foster father) immediately signs Arnold up for a Taekwondo class and then leaves him to his own devices. At one point, Willis (Arnold's brother) convinces him that he has a "killer foot," which causes Arnold to challenge The Gooch to a fight. In the end, he finds out that he doesn't actually have a killer foot, but the bully is scared away because he believes it's true.
So keep that in mind, kids. If you have a bully up your ass, just convince him that you can kill him -- problem solved.
But in reality:
Arnold is slightly larger than a toddler. When he went down to confront the bully, had that kid not believed in magic feet, there's a pretty good chance that Arnold would be shitting out his own intestines after The Gooch beat them loose.
See, most sane adults will go straight to the school. Barring that, they'll go directly to the kid's parents. What they usually try to avoid is cramming the kid into a financially draining martial arts class and hope they master it in the next 24 hours. Remember that Mr. Drummond spent the majority of that show reporting to the Adoption Agency to show that he was providing a safe environment for the kids. I'm pretty sure they would have frowned upon the solution, "Here's an Asian guy. Learn."
"You do know it's school policy to torture you with acid, right?"
It's bullshit like this that kept my brother quiet during his own bully fiasco. What good would telling an adult do? They'll just make you learn martial arts -- he just wanted to play like a normal kid after school.
When my brother was in elementary school, he had a couple of kids who would regularly push him around at recess. It got to the point where he would eat his lunch slowly and then attempt to stay in the cafeteria while the other kids played outside. It wasn't until he was cornered by a teacher that he finally came clean about what was happening, and the school officials took action.
Parents were called in, and the bullies disappeared into the Principal's office. Now, neither me nor my brother can tell you what took place behind those closed doors, but I like to think that it involved a flaming chainsaw and a nine-iron. Regardless of what happened, the kids took extra care in avoiding my brother at all costs from that point on. As an adult looking back, I'm sure it wasn't so much what the Principal said, but the severe beatdown they got from their parents when they got home.
We heard they sold tickets.
Just Ignore Them -- Unless You Can Verbally Slay Them
"Just ignore them" is more for the verbally abusive situations. Let's be honest, it's pretty hard to ignore a rage-fueled sociopath throwing elbows into your kidneys. And even if you did, you're just making it easier for him to achieve his goal of making you piss blood. But there are plenty of other types of bullies out there, and the name-callers are some of the most common. Just One of the Guys is one of many, many movies that couldn't resist having a main character put the bully in his place.
How they handled it:
That guy from The Karate Kid is bullying some kids in a lunchroom. He's been doing it for a while, and up until that point, the lead male character has been doing his best to ignore him. But he finally reaches a breaking point, and decides to lay a verbal smackdown that the bully will never forget.
Not only does he start loudly belting out insults to a guy who is known school-wide for beating the shit out of people, but he does it from the top of a cafeteria table, perched tall so that everyone can see who is delivering the burns. The bully gets shut down so badly that his girlfriend dumps him and even the nerds rub it in.
But in reality:
That would have lasted about six seconds with an actual bully before he jumped up onto that table and fed him the rest of his lunch through his ass. You have to remember that these people thrive on ego, and the character in the movie was getting his stroked by fucking with weaker kids and ruining their lunch. He didn't beat them up because he didn't have to. But when that guy took away the one true power he had over them, the bully resorted to, "I'm gonna beat the shit out of you!"
In my experience, I've found that if you can manage to pull it off, ignoring works in most cases. Since the asshole is looking for attention fuel, if you're not providing that, they'll simply get bored and find someone else to pick on. It really is just that simple. At least it was in my case.
"You know, it's strange, but that guy we call 'fag'? I desperately want to have sex with him."
Most of my school life, I was called a "fag." I was a tall, skinny kid who was timid around girls and hung out with all guys. I detested assholes talking about which "bitch I fucked last weekend," and it was pretty obvious when I checked out of those conversations. So when the bigger, more aggressive kids came around, I got tormented to no end.
But to my surprise, I found that when I kept walking and just didn't give them any response whatsoever -- not even eye contact -- the comments just sort of faded a little each day until they finally realized that they were wasting their breath. Again, it's hard to do that. Every part of your brain will be screaming at you to yell something smartass back. You'll think of a hundred brilliant things that will put them all in their place. But you can't win that battle, no matter how original or witty you come off. All that can happen there is for them to up the stakes and get physical. That's the thing with bullies: they only pick fights they can win. And if they can't win a verbal battle, they'll try the next thing on the list... your ass.
Some of the less dangerous ones have to go pretty far down the list to find their niche.
Run! You'll Have Your Victory Soon Enough
I grew up in a criminally poor section of an already financially repressed town. Fights were a weekly occurrence, and you either learned how to do it or became an expert in first aid. The problem with most bully characters in Hollywood is that they're depicted as comical obstacles that the main character has to put in his place. Someone has to gain victory over him in order for the bullying to stop. But when shit gets physical, there's most definitely a time to run.
A Christmas Story has a pretty famous example of that.
How they handled it:
We all know the scene. The kids are scared shitless. They try to run a couple of times and get blocked on each attempt. One of them is caught by the bully and gets his arm wrenched behind his back until he screams. When he breaks free, the kids get their opening and they run like hell.
Later in the movie, Ralphie (the main character) finally snaps and beats the living shit out of the bully. And the last we see of him, he's broken and humiliated, crying in front of a group of onlookers. Ralphie's hell is finally over.
But in reality:
In the real world situations like that don't end there. They get worse. Kids like the bully in A Christmas Story are so desperate for power, they couldn't let it lie without a few years of dedicated counseling under their belts. He's proven time and time again that his only joy in life comes from physically hurting weaker kids, and now he's got revenge as a motivation. Ralphie's going to need both eyes, and a real goddamn rifle when school starts up again.
Through most of middle school, my brother and I were terrorized by two brothers who lived down the block. They had pretty severe emotional problems. They came from a family of career criminals who were openly abusive to them, and in turn, they took out their anger on anyone they considered weak.
We regularly woke up to find our mom's car vandalized. Tires slashed on one occasion, and windows busted out on another. But the whole thing came to a head one afternoon when one of them caught us outside of the community pool and threatened us with a knife. We ran until we were sure we'd lost him and then continued to run until we were safe inside of our own living room, a mile and a half away.
"I know not of the John in which you speak. I am just some blankets."
Running is usually a method that leads to other solutions -- ones that don't require fighting -- because once you've run, you just let them know that anytime they need a power fix, their drug of choice can be beat out of you like a pinata. But if you're being threatened to the point of knowing you're going to be hurt, you have to run. In our case, it was what finally caused our mother to say, "Enough is enough" and we got the fuck out of there. We not only moved out of that neighborhood, but we changed towns and school systems.
That obviously isn't an option for everyone, but that's not the point. The point is that when we were forced to run, we were then forced to confront the problem with our parents and the police. It let the adults know that this was no longer a sitcom type situation where "boys will be boys," but had instead escalated to the point of "legitimate fear for our lives."
Once we ran, we never looked back. There was no final showdown where the bully got his comeuppance, and even if there was, they sure as hell weren't going to stop after the fight. But we'll get to that shortly.
Fight Back -- You'll Always Win!
Here it is. Every movie, every TV show, every bullshit fight story at a drunken party ends with this one. Finally, the good guy has enough and snaps. The bully gets put in his place, and that's the end of it. Because "once a bully knows you're not going to take their shit, they'll leave you alone." Right?
How they handled it:
We all remember the famous punch from Back to the Future.
That punch literally changed history in that universe. It not only got him the girl, but the bully ended up falling into a downward spiral that turned him into McFly's bitch. When we got back to the present, we found a poorly dressed Biff washing McFly's car and stuttering in fear in his presence.
Watch just about any movie with a bully in it, and you'll find the same ending. The good guy beats up the bad guy, and the situation is resolved. Forever.
But in reality:
Biff is twice the size and has the confidence and fighting experience to go with it. As soon as he woke up, he would consider it a lucky shot, and immediately dismantle the awkward geek who landed it.
The truth is almost every bully I've ever encountered in the real world had acquired his fighting skills, defending himself against a full grown, two hundred pound, drunken man at home behind closed doors. He's had a lot of practice at fighting, and that puts him at a distinct advantage that most of you don't have. Not only does experience count for a lot, but they're used to taking punches. They're not afraid of the pain.
They're like hockey players, except without all that hockey.
I've fought bullies. I was even lucky enough to win some of them. But there has never been a case where the fight marked the end of the problem. They always came back for more because as it turns out, all I did was bruise their ego. And the only way they knew how to repair that was to start throwing punches until they did win.
Look, I'm not telling you to never fight because if you're being pounded on, you need to defend yourself. I'm just saying to avoid it when possible. You don't know what these people go through when they're not at school. You don't know if they have a knife in their front pocket or a gun in their jacket. And weapons aside, you don't know how far they'll go once they start.
Fight Back -- There are no Consequences
There's a very dangerous message that's been passed down through every storytelling medium you can think of since the inception of the fight scene. And that is, "As long as the good guy is vindicated, then justice has been served. Nothing to see here, people -- move along." Road House has my favorite example of this.
How they handled it:
The bully here is trying to escape on a dirt bike after doing some evil. Dalton can finally take no more, and the fight is on. He knocks him off of the motorcycle, and what happens next is one of the most classic fight scenes found in American cinema.
And Dalton is totally in the right here. The bad guys burned down his house and killed his friend. They were murderous house-burners, and they had to pay. So for three minutes, they beat the piss out of each other, and just when it looks like the good guy is going to lose (or be shot), he tears the guy's fucking throat out. He then goes to the main boss's house, kills him, and when the police arrive everyone pretends they had no idea what happened. The good guys win.
"Oh, well if nobody saw anything, I guess our hands are tied."
But in reality:
He'd do motherfucking prison time. He didn't fight and kill the guy to protect his life in the heat of the moment. The bully was actually running away, and Dalton purposely ran after him with the intent of doing bodily harm. Did the bad guy deserve it? Absolutely. Would the courts care? Not on your fucking life. All they'd see is a guy who didn't bother calling the police, and instead took the law into his own hands.
And even on a schoolyard bully level, there's the problem: schools aren't courts. When you're caught fighting, they don't consider evidence and attempt to sort out who was right and who was wrong. They have a set in stone rule: no fighting. And if you break that, right or wrong, your ass is suspended -- no trial, no investigation. For the bully, that means nothing. The guys I knew would consider it a vacation because they weren't planning on going to college or even finishing high school in the first place. They were there until they weren't, and as sad as that is, that was the story of their lives.
The upside is that most of the ones I knew back then now live rent-free.
But for you, it means quite a bit. If you get trapped in that cycle of fight, rest, fight again, it's going to suck you into a hole that's very hard to climb out of. You'll be missing school from suspensions (or worse, being in the hospital or jail), and your grades will suffer for it. You'll fall into the horrifying emotional state of fear and rage every day that you walk through those doors, and that is devastating. Christ, I know that first-hand. I spent the majority of my childhood in that depression inducing sewer.
But even if you find yourself knee deep in the shit through all of school, at least keep this in mind: it eventually goes away. Adulthood means not having to be anywhere remotely near those scumbags.
For more on why Hollywood is a bad source of information, see John's 8 Scenes That Prove Hollywood Doesn't Get Technology. For additional practical advice, see 5 Ways You Know It's Time to Get Married.