Sunday, December 9, 2012

Laughing at Bullies - Part 2

The first subject that I ever posted on this blog was about bullying.   Specifically, my bully Lisa when I was 11 who used to harass, belittle and punch me every chance she got.  Even after I had lost weight, got taller than her and was an honor student,  in her eyes, I was still stupid and fat.   One of my last run-ins with her included a pretty good impression of Carol Burnett's Ms. Wiggins which had the element of surprise since Lisa assumed I would start to panic and cry.   When I used the power of comedy to deflect her barbs, eventually she lost her power over me and faded away like so many other unpleasant childhood memories that if they don't kill you - they make you stronger.   But  now as a mother of two kids who have been and still are victims of bullying, the stakes are higher and the ways means that bullies have at their fingers go way behind the school yard.   They have Facebook, Twitter,  YouTube, and a host of other internet resources to humiliate their prey even if they are miles away.  Even worse, there are so many misguided role models on TV who bully in the name of being "honest" that somehow you are supposed to give them a pass - but this brutal honesty is nothing more than one person trying to have emotional dominance over another person - or a bully. 

I honestly think the cyber world got meaner once Simon Cowell arrived on American Idol and he was able to justify his behavior as judge as someone who is just trying to save those singers that he deems unworthy from following a path that will lead to disappointment.   Somehow,  his brutality is saving them from themselves.   I've never been able to watch American Idol or it's new counterpart, X Factor for very long because criticizing people as he does goes against how I feel you should treat someone.  I've been producing and directing comedy improv since the early 90's and if I've learned anything it's that everyone - if they have the desire - can improve their skill set.  It might not lead to fame and fortune, but practice can make better.  I would never tell anyone who auditioned for me that they just don't have it, never will and to just give up.  Trust me, I've seen some really bad improvisors in the 25 years that I've been doing this.   I would not tell them to "hang it up" but I have suggested that they take additional workshops to hone their skills and that I would be more than happy to see them back auditioning next year.  This way I've given them constructive criticism and offered them a goal to work for.  I haven't destroyed them and whose to say the might not came back next year and blow my socks off?   You can't just dismiss someone because they might not be at the place they need to be at that point time but there's nothing to say that they not might get there.   Sometimes you have to take a few steps back to take a giant step forward. 

I guess I'm sensitive to that kind of bullying because when I was in my 20's I actually had three guys in an improv troupe in Miami tell me that I was no good.  They decided to kick me out after I had been in  the group for three years and had developed my own fan base.   What hurt more was that I thought that other people in the group, including my boyfriend would stand up for me.  But alas, they sat silently as I was berated because they didn't have the balls to stand-up to the snarky triad.   I was put on "inactive" and expected to help the group without performing.  I put up with it for a while and then developed a backbone, said "To Hell with it" and started my own comedy group.  In a weird way, I'm grateful to those three bullies because I would have stuck around being treated like crap and never feeling completely valued because those douche bags tried to make me feel like I was unworthy.   But not everyone has that resilience and cruel words can leave wounds that will never heal.  I have to wonder how being told that you are a horrible singer on national TV will scar your psyche. Those people leave with hope and end up shattered all in the name of reality TV.   

My kids love the show Glee which has had a parade of bullies over the last four seasons.   Sue Sylvester started off as this very outspoken, musical hating cheerleader coach who would do anything to stop the glee club.   Her evil was was always stopped with innocent optimism that the world is a place that can always be made better by the sound of music.  She had a vulnerable side too when you found out that had a sister with Down's syndrome that she adored.   She even took a young girl named Becky who also had Down's under her wing to be part of the Cheerio squad because she knew what her sister when through with bullies.   Her jibes were funny because most of them were directed at people who could stand up to her or she got her come uppence by the end of the episode.   Kurt, an openly gay glee high school student was constantly menaced by a closeted football player named Dave Karofsky.   Kurt finally confronts his bully only to find out that this gay bashing jock is also gay and in a lot of pain.  Unfortunately, Karofsky's bullying escalates and Kurt has to transfer out of his school.   Eventually, people find out about Karofsky's homosexuality and he becomes the victim of vicious bullying to the point that he tries to commit suicide.   His attempted suicide leads to some serious discussion about bullying and I thought those episodes gave kids something to really talk about.   It also helped kids who found themselves being victimized at the hands of bullies for a myriad of reasons whether it was their sexuality or just being different a show to watch and feel accepted.   To me, using theatre and music to combat the ignorance of bullies was one way to help elevate a tough situation.   In the end, good always triumphs over evil even if it takes time. 

This season, Glee has a much darker overtone to it.  All the optimism is gone and the bullies are even talking their victims into eating disorders.   Marley, the new girl on Glee ends up face planting during sectionals and losing it all for the group because she believes Kitty, a mean spirited cheer leader, who tells her that she is getting fat and even alters her costumes to make her think she's getting fatter.  When Marley goes days without any real food, is purging and taking laxatives, she faints during their big number and gets the group disqualified.  Unfortunately, Kitty does not get blamed, only Marley.   Rachel, the glee club former diva, is now in New York and being bullied by a failed Broadway actress who is now her dance teacher.   This bully is older and uses her position as a teacher to belittle Rachel who does fight back but the banter between the two is so mean spirited, it's not even fun to watch.   Rachel's bully reasons that she's not nearly as bad as what she'll face in the real world of show business so she better get used to it.  It feels like the lesson to be learned is that mean is lean and evil will win in the end.   It's getting harder and harder to watch the show each week with both of my kids who get upset about how characters they really like are being treated - probably because they have been victims of bullying themselves. 

Amber has autism and is overweight so she's an easy target for stupid people who feel better by putting someone like her down.  The Marley story has had her very upset because she feels like fat people are being made fun of without anyone really standing up to the impossible standards of thin being set on the show.   A few years ago, they had a young woman named Lauren who was on the show who was obese, but she was so self confident that the hottest guy in school wanted to be her boyfriend.   She could kick-ass, take names and was not about to take crap from anyone about her size.  She was a breathe of fresh air in a world of size 0 to 2s that you usually see on the show.   I wish she was still there to offset the negative comments about weight. 

My son Daniel is smart, sensitive and sweet - a tripled threat to most bullies.  He's been told to line up with the "girls" by one boy at school and was picked on by the other boys in his karate class which is what we ironically put him in so he would learn how to protect himself from bullies.  After finally having enough, Daniel asked his fourth grade teacher if he could talk to the class and then launched into a lecture about the effects of bullying including the fact that it can hurt people so badly that they want to take their own life.   He had printed pictures of children who had killed themselves because the pain of being victimized was just too much.   He told them the story of how Phoebe Prince was bullied by six kids in her high school.   He told the story of Jon Carmicheal who was treated terribly in the locker rooms and put into garbage cans.   He told the story of Carl Walker Hoover, a well mannered boy who was bullied because people mistook his kindness for being gay.   All three of these bright young children were dead by their own hands.  Daniel got these stories from a Nickelodeon Nick News story called Sticks, Stones and Cyberslams (  It's a great show to start a conversation with your kids and to send the link to school administrators to ask them to use it as a guide to handle bullying.  The response to his lecture was amazing, just about every kid in class admitted to having been bullied and a few even admitted to being a bully.    The teacher was very impressed in the dialog it opened because it as initiated by a student and not a teacher.   After that discussion, he was not bullied for the rest of the year in elementary school.  But now that he's in Middle School, it's a different playing field.  We keep an eye on the situation and have had help from his teachers and school administrators.   We're lucky that they take these things seriously and are not prone to the "kids will be kids" mentality - because that way of dealing with things can be deadly. 

While my way of handling my bully was to deflect her barbs with humor  -  but that was back in the 1970's before the internet, Facebook pages that could be set up to put hateful messages about another person, or setting up fake Twitter accounts and tweeting obscene things about someone you hate.   Bullies are not just confined to the school yard or bus, they can strike and make their vitriol viral pulling in more people to their sick world.   Kids these days can laugh it off for only so long.  They can switch schools but it's hard to leave the cyber world behind.    There are places on the web like the It's Gets Better Project where kids who are facing bullying can get perspective and learn that as much as their life might suck right now, chances are those bullies will be working for them one day.   

On an September episode of X Factor, a young girl named Jillian Jensen auditioned for the show and told how she had been bullied to Demi Lovato, a person who has also been a victim of mean people and has launched a Cyber Anti-Bullying Campaign.  Jillian sang a hurt felt version of It's Okay Not to Be Okay.  (see clip here  The clip shows a girl whose been hurt but who has used that pain to help her art and to help heal.   Demi got up and gave this sweet young lady a hug and told her that their bullies are home and they are on TV.    There is so much truth to that.  I have no idea where my school yard bully Lisa is, probably making other people miserable or maybe she's gotten help.  The three guys who kicked me out of that Miami improv troupe are probably not still doing improv and yet I have an award winning company with people I truly love working with.   Humor helped me cope with my past bullies and has helped me face the bullies I've met in adulthood (I'd like to tell you that bullies end when you leave school, but the good news is that as you get older, you get better at handling it as long as you don't buy into what they are saying).   After  you have the luxury distance, you can look back though your mind's eye at that picket fence of sorry memories and even laugh at how stupid those mean people are.   Those bullies had nothing on me and yet I cry for the kids who didn't know that and gave up too soon.   There will always be bullies, but raising awareness and learning to love yourself is the greatest defense of all.    Stay strong, live long and smile because you'll be stronger than you ever knew you could be.  Every great person of substance has had to overcome adversity or were told they were totally incompetent by those that know only how to inflict harm on someone else.   Sure it sucks, but it pushes you harder to achieve your personal goals because you need to prove them wrong.  Push through the dark times with all your might, because I promise you will find yourself on the other side of that twisted picket fence in a brighter place where it's finally safe to be laughing at bullies.  

No comments:

Post a Comment