Bully – Some Thoughts About the Controversy

Warning: This post contains adult language and adult conversation

A few weeks ago I was sitting at the movies, waiting for whatever was about to start, watching the trailers.  After some trailers that clearly did not make an impact on me, the following trailer came up.

I’d heard about this movie Bully before.  And we’ve all heard about the topic.

From the official movie poster

More than ever, bullying in schools has become a problem.  Not a problem like an annoyance or something that needs a teacher to say “settle down”.  A problem where children as young as 11 are killing themselves rather than have to face going back to school and their tormentors.

I was extremely lucky.  Sure I faced my own slew of mean girls and had been on the receiving end of some nasty and snide remarks, but the magnitude and the scope was never severe.  I always had at least a couple of friends to help me through things and eventually everyone grew out of it.  I never had to face anything like what these kids are going through.

And what are they going through? Violence both physical and emotional.  Daily harassment, crushing insults.  Enough suffering that there’s even a phrase for it all, “bullycide”. There are even government sites like Stopbullying.gov which have strategies for recognizing and dealing with bullying situations.

So with all this, how could a movie about how bullying effected five families and led to two suicides not be considered required viewing for all students and middle school children?

Turns out, because of “naughty language”, this might not be possible.  The film was given an R rating.

According to the Motion Picture Association of America, this is why a movie would get an R rating:

An R-rated motion picture, in the view of the Rating Board, contains some adult material. An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously. Children under 17 are not allowed to attend R-rated motion pictures unaccompanied by a parent or adult guardian. Parents are strongly urged to find out more about R-rated motion pictures in determining their suitability for their children. Generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated motion pictures.

Roger Ebert recently wrote about this controversy. It would seem the movie got the R rating for using the word “fuck” too many times.  According to his post, the director Lee Hirsch was asked if he would bleep out the curse word if it would give the movie a PG-13 rating.  The director told someone at the Washington Post:

 “If you take that away [the impact of the actual abusive words that are being used], it’s one more notch against that experience. It’s one more big societal minimizing, or sort of, negating, of the full extent of terror that comes with bullying.”

Ebert gives some background to entire ratings system and censor boards, and suggests that there is a possibility the movie might be released unrated, bypassing this whole mess.

But what if the movie is branded with an R rating after all?  Isn’t it more important for kids to see the far-reaching impact of their actions rather than “protect” them from a bad word? A word, I might add, that I would imagine most of them know already.

And why is hearing the “f” word worse than seeing the violence and bloodshed that permeates so many of the PG-13 movies out there? One of last year’s biggest moneymakers was Transformers: Dark of the Moon.  This PG-13 movie showcased violence so gratuitous it was a miracle the city of Chicago was still standing at all by the end of it.  Is it better that a 13 year-old sees an office building full of people struck down by a murderous robot than see the real life pain of a fellow human caused by other human beings?

By trying to protect children, it seems we are doing them a huge disservice.   Turning a blind eye to the problem is adding just adding oxygen to fire and this whole debate is like adding a can of lighter fluid.  It is far less dangerous to your child to have to explain that we don’t use words like “fuck” in polite company if at all, than having to explain to your child why someone they know thought it would be better to end their own life than continue receiving abuse.

I haven’t seen the movie and don’t know how successfully the film deals with this problem. But don’t we owe to everyone who has been hurt by a bully to watch it and see?

For more information on the movie and the Bully Project visit their website.  I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on the matter…if you have them.

About ilmozart

Pop culture addict. Reading enthusiast. Music lover. Occasional believer in the city of Atlantis.
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8 Responses to Bully – Some Thoughts About the Controversy

  1. i really hope kids get to see this. maybe schools can show it if the mpaa doesn’t grow a pair.

  2. Mandy says:

    They need to show this in schools, because the fact is that most middle and high school students have already been bullied or participated in some form of it. This problem has been swept under the rug for years, and it’s time to stop ignoring it and hoping it will go away. I was bullied when I was a kid, and I would have given anything, ANYTHING, to have an adult actually step in and stop it, or to have my peers understand how much it hurt.

    Without having seen anything more than the preview, I can already tell that this is not like other movies. This is not something that people will spend money on for entertainment. In an age when teen suicide is an epidemic (see link below), preventing kids from seeing a movie that could actually save their lives because someone in it says “fuck” is like getting shot and not going to the ER because you don’t like hospital food. The MPAA, an organization that exists solely to safeguard our moral values in entertainment, has an ethical and moral responsibility to ensure that they don’t restrict this from the people who need to see it the most.

    And if you haven’t read this article about bullying, you should do so right now.

    • ilmozart says:

      I like your analogy with the ER. But I think it is worth thinking about whether the MPAA is really there to safeguard our moral values in entertainment. While that seems to have been the original intent I just don’t believe that is the case anymore. And now that I think about it, why do we need this random organization to tell us what is morally correct? Whose morality is it that is deemed “correct” anyway? Based on a Judeo-Christian morality, isn’t violence worse than saying a naughty word? Clearly not according to the morality of the MPAA.

      • Mandy says:

        Oh, I definitely agree with you about the MPAA’s morals. I was just saying that the way they justify their existence is that they protect children from the entertainment industry (at least that’s my impression). If their goal is to protect children, then they are violating their raison d’etre by denying children access to Bully.

  3. Lisa D'Ambrosio says:

    I think they should bleep out the “F” word so the movie can get a PG-13 rating. That way all the “hysterical” parents out there will let their kids see it. If it’s “R” or “Unrated”, too many parents won’t let their kids see it. This way they can show it in schools.

  4. Pingback: Bully to be released unrated | Movies, TV, and all things Pop Culture

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