Documentary Review: “Bullied” gets at WHY it happens among schoolkids

Back in a simpler or — let’s face it — more “simplistic” time, we didn’t seem to have this “bullying” problem that has taken hold of the national consciousness this past decade.

We thought we understood “Bullying is bad” as a culture. Movies from the dawn of Hollywood reinforced an idea that became a national credo, and even worked its way into our foreign policy.

How was Hitler described to us? A bully. We all got it. You don’t let a bully get away with it

From FDR and Jimmy Stewart’s “Destry” to Andy Griffith and columnist Mike Royko, the lesson was always the same. You stand up to bullies. They come for you, you “aim for the nose” Royko remembered his old man lecturing him.

But something has shifted in the culture, and that’s one of the threads tugged at in “Bullied,” the latest documentary on this subject.

Some of what we and who we see in “Bullied” is so familiar that you may confuse Professor Thomas Keith’s film with “Bully” or other films on the subject.

But where this collection of interviews, of schoolyard and school bus cell phone videos, CCTV footage, reality TV and Donald Trump rallies breaks from the pack is looking at root causes of bullying and trying yet another version of “What we can do about it” solutions.

Keith, who teaches Philosophy and Gender Studies at Cal State Polytechnic, gives us more anecdotes from grieving parents whose bullied children died — often at their own hands — and traumatized kids talking about facing bullying even now.

He also rounded up scores of academics as well as parents turned activists and media analysts to talk about “Why kids bully” in addition to repeating the awful statistics on teen suicides spiking in an age of cyber-bullying and five years of relentless coverage of a “Bully in Chief.”

Yes, it’s another thing that got a lot worse during the Trump years.

We hear about “Bully Culture,” how it is born because “bullying is a route to popularity…Kids would not bully if there was not a social benefit.”

Who gets bullied? Kids who don’t conform — “any minority,” Black or Hispanic or “foreign” or “LGBTQ” or the disabled or “on the spectrum” children with “social deficit” issues.

Why is such such a problem in youth? Because the “impulse control” area of the brain — the pre-frontal cortex — is the last part to develop.

Not that plenty of people never outgrow that impulse control. It’s almost triggering to see the athletes, coaches, rappers and others captured on tape name-calling, threatening, gay bashing and picking fights.

We see examples of “Bully Media,” from faux tough-guy Trump’s taunts from various podiums to reality TV’s other textbook illusion of conflict, the idea from assorted “Real Housewives” shows that “women (going) at each other is a natural state,” reinforced by faked, dramatized conflicts on every show in the Andy Cohen empire.

The controversial and canceled Netflix adaptation of the book “13 Reasons Why,” about bullying and why a character kills herself, is linked directly in a “Here’s how to kill yourself as a way out” connection to the suicides of bullied teens.

As this review suggests, “Bullied” covers new ground even as it feels, at times, as if it’s all over the place. Remember, an academic made it, not a professional filmmaker.

It’s still a useful addition to the national conversation, even if we’ve lost that cultural cohesion that recognized this hateful practice as wrong, to be resisted at every age, even when it’s a rich, incompetent businessman who never got in a real fight in his entitled life who lied and cheated his way into the Oval Office.

MPA Rating: unrated, violence

Cast:  Ron Avi AstorJennifer DavisKimya Dennis, Kirk Smalley, Eric James Borges, Thomas Keith, many others.

Credits: Directed by Thomas Keith. A Majestas Group release.

Running time: 1:07

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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