I went to the movie all by myself yesterday afternoon – a first for me!
I can’t tell you whether the “f” word was used or implied with a bleep. I can’t tell you how many times the bullies did horrible things to the boy on the bus. I can’t even tell you if what I saw was rated R or PG-13.
What I can tell you is that I will be taking my youth group to see this film. The movie is called Bully. I hope their parents will come with us, not because of the rating but because the parents of one of the boys in the movie had NO IDEA how bad it was until the filmmakers showed them footage. Because the parents of the bullies would have been stunned to see their kids in action – I hope.
I’ve been trying to figure out why The Hunger Games is such a hit with youth, when the premise is so horrifying. I’ve asked myself, are our kids that comfortable with violence that the idea of children being forced to fight for the death is entertainment for them? Or are they that terrified of the future that they see possibilities in the story?
In the middle of “Bully” I began to form a new thought, which was reinforced by the conversation two gentlemen were having with the ushers outside the theater. Our kids are intrigued by The Hunger Games because they don’t trust that the adult world treasures and protects them. The relate to Katniss because she has decided that the only person who can protect her, her little sister, her surrogate little sister and anyone else she decides is deserving of her protection in the arena is herself. The adults are either dead, emotionally checked out, or exploiting her for power and entertainment. I fear that our kids relate to her because they recognize this in their own lives on some level. The bullied children in the film would certainly agree – their parents didn’t know how bad it was, one even blamed their son for not standing up for himself, and put the responsibility for his little sister’s safety on his shoulders as well. The school administrators’ reactions and interventions would be funny if their ineffectiveness wasn’t sickening. The parents of children who killed themselves to escape bullying had no idea their children were in such a terrible position. The girl who fought back nearly went to prison for protecting herself. On and on and on.
It all comes down to community, I believe. Parents and families are isolated by the way we live in the 21st century. The village is not outside our doors anymore. Multiple generations are not living together in community. Isolation reduces empathy. Isolation reduces compassion. Isolation encourages a ‘me first’ outlook.
Of the vast grace God has granted me and my family in this world, our church community is among the most precious. The children and youth at our church have their village within these walls, and the relationships carry outside the doors as well. The young person who called me a few weeks ago when she and her parents were having a blowout. The mom or dad who turns to one of the elders at the coffee hour to talk about what to do about middle school for a very active and bright boy, knowing that the elder raised a similar child successfully. Most of us drive across town to be with our village, and thank God for our ability to do so.
But what about the millions of children, youth, and parents who do not have a such a community?
One of the dads in the movie started a series of vigils during which they honor children who have been lost. He also works to build community among youth hoping that they will not stand by and allow bullying to continue in their own schools. If these children begin there, if they learn empathy and compassion, if they learn to look at their schools as a community, if they begin to give these outcasted children a hand up, they may then to say to their friends, “This kid is one of us, I won’t stand around and watch him being bullied.” If this movie inspires even a few of them to do this, and if the adults in their lives reinforce that message, community will begin to form in schools where it is desperately needed.
The kids in my youth group are more likely to be bystanders and bullies than victims. They are smart, confident, middle to upper class, good looking and healthy – less likely to be outcasts. So in my view that makes it incumbent on them, and on me as their leader and on their parents and our community, to be a part of the solution to problems like bullying, the environment, civil rights, poverty and homelessness . . . all the social justice issues where we as a community focus our energy. After all, “To those to whom much has been given . . .”
Anyway, see the movie!
Christina Clark is the Family Minister at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Denver.