Censoring ‘Bully’ Does Not Undo the Bullying

Some may be aware of the recently produced movie Bully, which focuses on the lives of five students who faced bullying and shows the very real impact of what bullying does to children. The vast majority of people can agree that bullying should not be an omnipresent facet of the lives of teenagers. The controversy surrounding the movie, however, began when the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) issued an R rating due to “language.”

What does that mean? The movie will not be able to be shown in American schools. Worse still, the vast majority of American high school students will not be able to see this movie even in their own free time because of age restrictions. The idea is that children should not have to hear certain words in movies, that we have to protect them from those words. And in a sense, the MPAA is right on that count. But here’s the thing: When our children go to school every day, there’s no censor to block out the slurs hurled at them in the hallways. There’s no one to edit out the physical assault that 18% of LGBT students face in their schools. It pains me to say it, but these things have become a sad fact of life for millions of children.

Katy Butler, a 17-year-old victim of bullying, started a Change.org petition to change the MPAA rating, where she wrote:

When I was in 7th grade, a few guys came up behind me while putting my books in my locker. They called me names and asked me why I even bothered to show my face at school because no one liked me. I ignored them because I was scared of what else they might say and who else they might tell if I stood up to them. When I went to shut my locker, they pushed me against the wall. Then they slammed my locker shut on my hand, breaking my fourth finger. I held back tears while I watched them run away laughing. I didn’t know what to do so I stood there, alone and afraid.

These ratings that are in place to “protect” our children from words they should never be subjected to are only as effective as our school policies to prevent bullying. The conversation we should be having is why students are forced to encounter these words and other forms of harassment every day, not whether they need to be shielded from listening to them in a 94-minute film that could have the power to change the way we – and, more importantly, they – view and respond to the epidemic of bullying in schools.

And I’m not the only person saying this. Roger Ebert, the renowned film critic, writes (emphasis mine): “Not many years ago, the word rape was not used in newspapers, on television–or in the movies, for that matter. But there is a crime, and the name of the crime is rape, and if you remove the word you help make the crime invisible.

He’s right.

There is a crime being perpetrated against American children. The crime has a name, and its documentation cannot be done justice without the “F-word” and the other hateful words shouted at our children. And to censor that movie, in the name of “protecting” children, is in fact to do our children harm by erasing their suffering.

Image courtesy of The Washington Post

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Noah Baron

About Noah Baron

Noah Baron is a 2011-2012 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. He is from Princeton Junction, NJ, and a graduate of Columbia University.


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