Muting the “Bully” pulpit

About a year ago, while my older son and I were browsing in his school’s book fair, he asked me if he could read The Hunger Games. I hadn’t read it, but since it seemed like enough of a cultural phenomenon (and a way to support the school), I bought the hardcover trilogy. Then I asked Twitter whether it was a cool idea to let  a 9-year-old boy read it, the 90% of the responses fell along the lines of “HELL NO.” So I decided I had to read it first and judge for myself.

And then I forgot all about it, until the ubiquitous marketing campaign began in earnest after the Super Bowl. And now that I’ve read it, I’m adding my HELL NO to the top of the pile. Nor will I see the movie, in part because I already know the story, and I want it to exist in my imagination. But also: A movie about kids killing other kids is just PG-13, because it was released by a deep-pocketed studio, but an indie-doc like “Bully” gets an R?

Oh, MPAA. You’re such a bunch of MPAA-holes.

The lack of reason behind the MPAA’s ratings is not news. A film is more likely to get an R rating for showing someone caress a breast than for showing someone slice it off. I remember when the South Park movie came out, and Trey Parker and Matt Stone said they purposely ended the film with a bloody war featuring bodies destroyed and rent to pieces with spectacular arterial gushes to see if the MPAA would make them edit anything. And the only scene the MPAA vetoed was of Saddam Hussein holding his little general (which was later re-cast as a sex toy).

For me, the controversy over “Bully,” which opens today, goes beyond that. My son is only in 4th grade, and like most parents, I’ve actively encouraged him to think freely and creatively. He’s getting the age when kids start to pay the price of nonconformity, and I want to help him recognize the game, see bullying for what it is and where it comes from. He says he’s dealing with a kid who likes to run up and punch him in the back for no reason. Is this kid a bully, or just a jerk? Either way, I want to nip this in the bud and make it clear to my kids that this kind of crap is unacceptable. Because jerks who don’t get called on their jerkhood grow into bullies that create more problems, for themselves and others.

As a man with sons, I also hope I can forestall a boy’s instinct to answer a punch with another one.

As a former high school teacher, I know how prevalent bullying is and want to support fully the social shift that no longer treats bullying as “just one of those things.”

And as a parent in the 21st century, whose own experience with bullying was far less sophisticated than it is now, I want as many parents and kids to see the film and recognize that an elevated discussion might save some kid’s life.

I signed this petition today, and I hope you will, too.

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Read more of Doug’s work on his personal blog, Laid-Off Dad.
Check out Doug’s Twitter feed @LOD.
Read Doug and Magda’s blog about co-parenting, When The Flames Go Up.
Check out the Dad 2.0 Summit’s Twitter feed @dad2summit.
Read all about him on his About.me page.

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