A Rough Injustice

‘Bully’

The issue of bullying is everywhere in schools these days. My daughter’s grade school sponsors anti-bullying workshops and plays, keeps an “incident log” in the office, and plasters its halls with hortatory slogans, all indicating a concerted attempt to lower the threshold of tolerance for peer intimidation.

Bully should be seen as part of that effort—and it should be seen. Lee Hirsch’s documentary portrays the tribulations of victimhood with agonized attention to the last stinging detail.

For generations the schoolyard has been a juvenile frontier where outlaws run wild, rough justice is handed out by the mob, and the sheriff is either absent or ineffectual, operating under the disabling mantra that “kids will be kids.” It’s a tricky question: What level of adverse interaction is simply, even necessarily, part of growing up? Does name-calling constitute bullying? What about a punch on the arm? For schools, the challenge is partly definitional and, inevitably, bureaucratic, a vexing policy question. For a parent—not to mention a child—it is far less abstract. How much nastiness should be allowed? The take in Bully is clear: very little indeed.

Hirsch did his research with a high-definition Canon camera so compact (6 x 4 x 3 inches) that his subjects seemed to forget they were being filmed. The movie he...

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About the Author

Rand Richards Cooper, one of Commonweal's film critics, is the author of two works of fiction, The Last To Go and Big as Life.