Netflix Fix: Documentary "Bully" tackles bully-related suicides
April 10, 2013 at 3:03 p.m.
Updated April 9, 2013 at 11:10 p.m.
I never liked dressing out for gym class in middle school. I thought it was weird that students were punished for not dressing properly for a class where all you had to do was run around. I had run around and played sports through elementary school in jeans. Why couldn't I do it in middle school?
For a while, I would just wear my gym clothes to school so I wouldn't have to change in front of everyone. But it wasn't long before other kids started picking on me - calling me out for it. It never got too bad, but I realized I was now more embarrassed that they were picking on me for not dressing out than I would be changing in front of a locker full of guys. I started dressing out.
One day, weeks after I thought I had mastered changing in the locker room with no trouble, I came back to the locker room after gym class and found my regular clothes wet.
I was completely perplexed. They smelled familiar, but I couldn't place it. Everyone else in the locker room acted as if nothing had happened. I just packed it away and stayed in my gym clothes, not thinking anything of it.
I wasn't picked on too much growing up - I guess what anyone would consider a normal amount. All the mean words maybe you were called, but mostly I was called that "f" word for people like me - gay, I mean.
But I had friends and didn't let it get to me. So that's why I didn't realize what really had happened with my wet clothes until I started explaining it to a friend.
"They smell funny, but not bad," I said handing my friend my clothes to smell. "No one said anything or did anything and mine were the only ones like that."
My friend was staring at me, saying nothing, and I finally placed the smell - toilet water.
"Bully" (PG-13), a documentary by Lee Hirsch, was released at the zenith of what seemed like a bullying epidemic. There were many, but it seemed like after the death of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student who jumped off the George Washington Bridge because his roommate secretly broadcast Tyler kissing another man in their dorm room, you couldn't get away from hearing about other young people who had killed themselves because of bully-related issues.
Tyler killed himself in 2010, the same year "Bully" was filmed.
It's hard to imagine what could make someone so desperate at such a young age to act out so violently against yourself or others, but "Bully" paints a very clear, painful picture.
The students - diverse in geography and situation but common as kids who just don't fit in - all seem to vacillate between seeking the best place for refuge. They don't want to disappoint hopeful parents, they don't trust administrators who have brushed past issues off, and they can't find the answer within themselves either.
There is Alex, a 12-year-old in Iowa who is socially awkward and gets beat up on the bus almost every day. He seems like a sweet kid, but during his interviews he seems like he's on the edge of something awful - as if you can just see the future before him where he becomes violent, turning on his classmates. "Sometimes it gets so bad that I want to be the bully," he says. He is much like Ja'Meya, a 14-year-old girl in Mississippi who stole her mother's gun as a way to make her bullies stop bothering her.
Kelby, a lesbian in Oklahoma, wants to make a difference in her hometown that has basically shunned her family. Devon in Iowa says he had to stand up for himself because no one else would.
And Ty and Tyler, 11 and 18, respectively, both killed themselves, leaving their friends and families on a crusade to end bullying nationwide.
I kept dressing out after I realized what had happened to me - I didn't want whoever did it to think it affected me.
"Bully" doesn't have any answers and is probably only a sliver of this large, complex problem, but it's assuring that at least the conversation has started. It's assuring that the mission of the families who lost their children is one step closer because of it.