Eminem, for all his lyrical violence—threatened and skillful (i.e. killin’ y’all fools on this lyrical shit)—is not a bully. He is the bullied, the victim. He is the wee scrawny white kid from a predominantly black part of Detroit, rescued from peer and parental abuse by his gift of gab. The violence he suggested (“kicking ass in the morning/taking names in the evening”) was vengeful, desired vengeance not uncommon to victims of bullying who transcend their lame-arse bullies to become strong, potent adults (memorably, Adam Sandler’s character in _Anger Management_ assaults his high school tormenter—a reformed, pacifist monk).
Following his recent well-publicized recovery from prescription pill addiction, Em has transmuted those violent threats into a more educational approach against bullying. His collaboration with Lil’ Wayne (who is now imprisoned on drug charges) on “No Love” from Recovery deals generally with people who have stepped on them in the past. The video, though, in scarlet dodgeballs hurled at a helpless boy and brusque shoulder-bumps by big boys in small hallways, deals directly with bullying—specifically of adolescents.
Fo sho, there is the violence of yore: “It’s a little too late to say that you’re sorry now,” Em laments, “I smell blood.” But the more thoughtful message against bullying appears, too, especially when refracted thru the video—this message is less a PSA and more an allied, cool-people’s “screw you, you’re lame” to bullies around the world. The bumped, bruised boy returns to the aggressor and reciprocates. He has overcome his sorrow, internalized the song’s sampled refrain—“you don’t hurt me”—and, through physical dominance, asserted his own worth. He is the victim who transcends.
Unfortunately, the release of this video coincides with the devastating story of a Rutgers student’s recent suicide. Tyler Clementi, a student at Rutgers, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate filmed and streamed online a sexual encounter Tyler had with another man in his room. His roommate made numerous references to Tyler’s homosexuality in tweets promoting—what the fuck? Seriously—promoting?—_promoting_ the streamed encounter; Tyler, in a post on web discussion board, complained about his roommate’s invasion of privacy (invasion, destruction, savaging) and his focus on Tyler’s sexual orientation.
Even though Tyler’s persecution is not typical bullying, which we think of as sustained (even linguistically, the gerund evokes duration). But it was bullying; in a flash, he was targeted and tormented for being, in the mind of his roommate, weaker—impotent, vulnerable.
And, unfortunately, Tyler’s case is part of a seeming spate of similar incidents. Last winter, at South Hadley High School in Massachusetts, the DA charged nine students for a “three-month campaign” of verbal torture, web harassment, and sexual assault against their classmate Phobe Prince, an Irish immigrant who committed suicide in January. Her persecution took place publicly, violently, under the knowing but ignorant eye of the administration; Tyler’s was broadcast over the internet.
Perhaps the most publicized case of bullying in recent years is that of Megan Meier, who committed suicide after a mother of her “friend” impersonated a teenage boy—impersonated a teenage boy—who, over a number of weeks, pretended to be her friend and then abruptly severed the “friendship.” Megan had been troubled by depression her whole life and the mother decided to hurt her after Megan fell out with her daughter.
That all three tragedies involved the internet is troubling, as is the internet. Online, bullies can bully unseen and unknown, targeting and manipulating and hurting vulnerable youths—kids who, troubled in the real world, often turn to the web as a place in which they (theoretically) have control and where other souls like them roam. Bullies can gang up on kids on message boards, posting disparaging comment after disparaging comment. They can hack others’ social networking accounts and send personal, embarrassing messages to their victims’ crushes or friends. The web, as a sped-up world of instant response, intensifies bullying; it becomes, for victims, a minute-by-minute torture.
And the victims are unprotected on the web. The good Samaritans who stand up for goodness in lunch rooms and hallways—the humans who respond to seen inhumanity—are extinct there. Who inhabits the chatrooms? Only those fleeing the painful daylight and cowards who seek to steal their freedom.
Even when the internet bullying is public, it is protected as free, opinionated speech. Recently, much coverage has been given to the private blog of Michigan’s Assistant Attorney General, Andrew Shirvell. The blog is a single-minded, evil assault on the University of Michigan’s student body president, Chris Armstrong, who is gay. Shirvell follows Armstrong’s every move, attacking him as a “RADICAL HOMOSEXUAL ACTIVIST, RACIST, ELITIST, & LIAR” who is trying to turn all of Ann Arbor gay. He posts private videos of him. He stalks his Facebook to find hints of the “homosexual conspiracy” he and his friends are advancing.
In one, particularly frightening post, Shirvell posted pictures of Armstrong and his boyfriend embracing. He introduced the post as “the potentially biggest scandal (to-date)” that is “about to overwhelm Armstrong and his young administration of MSA (Michigan Student Assembly).” He proceeds to reveal that Armstrong and his VP have a “clandestine, on-going sexual relationship;” he describes Armstrong as “over-confident” and his boyfriend as “glassy-eyed.” Shirvell then debates Armstrong’s boyfriend’s sexual orientation and conclusively concludes that “one thing that all sources do agree upon is that Armstrong basically seduced Raymond.” What really irks Shirvell, though, is that Armstrong did not only seduce Raymond, but he also turned him into a “hard-core leftist” and proponent of the “radical homosexual agenda.”
_This_ is undoubtedly bullying. This is public, horrific bullying of a single person—a child, truthfully. And it is condoned by the Michigan AG as free speech. I shudder to think what would happen if Armstrong was a weaker man, who was not supported by most of Michigan’s student body. What Shirvell does on his blog (Chris Armstrong Watch) is far more evil and far more public than what killed Tyler and Megan. And, yet, it is condoned.
But, thankfully, the web is also being used to fight bullying—or, at least, support its victims. Free speech is being used to fight the enormous cost of that “free” speech. Media pundit Dan Savage, who is gay, has launched a YouTube channel called “It Gets Better,” on which teens and adults post videos about their own struggles with bullying and suicidal thoughts—specifically resulting from their sexuality. The message—that even though life might suck at the moment, during the bullying, during the painful process of coming out, it gets better and so beautiful—has been spread through hundreds of videos, hundreds of thousands of views and comments.
Awareness. People—men, women, boys, girls—speak honestly, breathtakingly, humanly about how painful their persecuted lives were, how they stood on the side of the bridge over the beckoning current or with the dull side of the knife squeezing the skin on the underside of their wrist—and how they didn’t jump or turn the blade over. How they decided to live one more day, and how that day was better than the last. And the next day was better than that one. And the next day, too. And how, eventually, they escaped their bullying—not through death, but through growth. And how, now, they love their lives, their jobs, their friends, for some, their families and children. Over and over, how much the sun’s rising and the trees and wind moved them. How much they would have _missed_ had they succumbed to the safety of death.
If that message has reached millions, maybe it has saved tens or hundreds—it doesn’t matter. It matters, but if it has saved one, it is divine.
Ellen Degeneres, one of the most prominent gay celebrities, whose daytime talk show has millions of viewers and who has hosted both the Oscars and the Emmys, recorded a video last week in response to Tyler’s and others’ tragedies. Calling teen bullying in America an “epidemic, a crisis,” she reaches out to every kid or teen who is the victim of bullying, saying, “I know how you feel.” She encourages them to endure, to have hope, because “things will get easier, times will change.” Other celebrities, including Nicki Minaj, Paula Abdul, and Dr. Phil, have also spoken out against bullying and in support of its victims. Perez Hilton did, too.
Hopefully, these messages, and even the one sent forth by Eminem and Lil’ Wayne—which is, in essence, the same as Ellen’s: you can endure; you can overcome—will reach those who are bullied and victimized and seriously considering if life is worth living. And hopefully Tyler’s death, even though it was not prevented, in rallying prominent voices of home, will prevent future deaths.
But the bullying itself is much more difficult to prevent. In a unanimous vote, in response to Phoebe Prince’s death and others’, the Massachusetts house passed an anti-bullying law, requiring school officials to report and respond to bullying and to undergo training in how to respond to bullying—both cyber and real. News reports from last week suggest New Jersey is formulating a bill in response to Tyler’s death. A number of other states have passed or are in the process of passing anti-bullying laws.
Unfortunately, few of them (which can be found compiled on www.bullypolice.org) have real punishments in place to reprimand inaction. The bullies are punished, for certain, but the knowing, ignorant onlookers aren’t. And, often, they are truly at fault for allowing the terrorizing to happen: the classmates who read Tyler’s roommates tweet and did not stop the evil, invasive broadcast; the classmates and _administrators_ who saw Phoebe being harassed and assaulted; the Michigan Attorney General, an elected state official, allowing his assistant’s depraved harassment of Chris Armstrong to continue as free speech.
Whether on principle or out of ignorance or meanness, bullying should never be allowed. It should not be protected as free speech, because it imprisons its victims in their scared skins and comes all too often at the cost of the human life. It should be punished as a manipulative, cowardly, evil act—that of attacking the vulnerable.
We don’t need to start websites or broadcast PSAs. But seriously, honestly, wholeheartedly, we need to stop it as we see it. Within reason, we should not allow such persecution—as large as assault, or as small as an off-hand remark about weight or attractiveness or intelligence—to go unbridled because it’s the _norm_ or _it’s bad to be politically correct_ or _it was just a joke_. We don’t know how much it hurts—we _really_ don’t know how much it hurts—and it is always better to be safe, and be a loser or a party pooper, than to be sorry.
After all, Tyler’s roommate claimed it was just a joke. LOL, my ass.