I’d planned to post about something else today (Amber Publishing, who are publishing the Downside books in Poland, have posted the cover and blurb on their site, in Polish [of course], which is totally cool), but that, along with the online translation of it, will have to wait. Because I’ve had this post in mind for like a month now, and I want to get it out there. Settle in, guys, this is a long one.
You may have heard of Young Adult Authors Against Bullying, a Facebook group made up of–as the name implies–YA authors who disapprove of bullying. I’m not technically a YA author but I’ve joined, as have a lot of others. And a few weeks ago many writers posted their bullying stories on their blogs. I didn’t; not because I don’t have bullying stories or wasn’t bullied as a child/preteen/teen (believe me, I was, horribly) but because I didn’t learn about it until it was already in progress and I already had this post sort of planned, as I said above.
A lot of this is in reaction to the death of Phoebe Prince, a high-school girl driven to suicide by a gang of less-than-human teenage shitweeds who decided she deserved to be mocked, bullied, teased, insulted, and otherwise abused because she *gasp* dated a guy who used to date one of the aforementioned shitweeds (and the guy later joined in, which just makes me lose hope in the future of humanity, but then, this whole story does).
It reminds me a bit of the Megan Meier case, in which a girl was cyber-bullied not just by kids her own age, but by the mother of one of her acquaintances. A grown fucking woman, who thought it was a good idea to harass and play tricks on a young girl online.
And that’s sort of what I want to discuss. Adult bullying, and the society of mean.
One of the most troubling–of many extremely troubling–aspects of the Phoebe Prince case was the fact that school administrators and teachers knew what was happening, and did nothing. They watched this girl being harassed, and did nothing. Prince’s mother spoke to the school on at least two occasions, and still…nothing.
I’d like someone to explain to me how we live in a world where school administrators seem to think it’s their job to police what sort of food and drink I give my children (even at home), send home letters telling parents their kids are obese, tell me I can’t send my daughter to school with pale pink nail polish on her nails, oversee the moral and/or religious education of my children (whether pro or con), expose my children to the internet over my objections and insist they use it to do their homework, turn my children into salespeople, or encourage my children to lecture me if I have a glass of wine with dinner or a cigarette after, and yet they do not think it’s their job to protect the children in their care and foster a safe learning environment for them.
It infuriates me, but it doesn’t surprise me. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn the teachers joined in, frankly; some of them certainly did with me, when I was in school. I lost count, for example, of the number of times my eighth-grade Social Studies teacher smirked while the other kids in my class picked on me, then gave me demerits the second I opened my mouth to defend myself. Or the drama teacher in seventh grade who decided I was whiny, and encouraged the other kids to make whining noises every time I tried to speak. Just because someone is a teacher and/or an adult doesn’t mean they’re mature and decent; I remember quite a few teachers with malicious smiles in their eyes as they watched me or someone else get picked on, teased, put down. I remember quite a few of them who tolerated or even fostered such behavior in their classes. I remember them playing favorites.
You see, they apparently still wanted to be one of the Cool Kids.
They still wanted to be popular; they still wanted to be liked by that little gang of socs (that’s what we called them) with the money and the fashionable clothes and the perfect hair. And if a few kids got left behind, got their feelings hurt, got destroyed by it? If the only reason some of us didn’t commit suicide ourselves was because we had a cat to take care of? Not their problem, man. Hey, it’s not their job to make people like each other. (NOTE: I want to make it clear that I am talking about a few teachers, the proverbial bad apples who spoil the bunch. I in no way think or intend to imply that all teachers feel or behave this way, okay?)
But it’s not just in schools, you see, that this atmosphere of bullying–this attitude which I feel is a desperate attempt to prove that you are indeed one of the Cool Kids–is present. Not just in the workplace, either, though it certainly can exist there. Hell, we’ve seen it in publishing–particularly epublishing–with authors being intimidated and abused by editors or publishers. We’ve seen it outside of epublishing–though nowhere near as often–with writers being bullied by agents or editors or publishers. In fact, I can think offhand of at least one “industry” blog which seems (to me at least) to exist solely so the owners/bloggers can feel like Cool Kids and make fun of others, using the most inflammatory language possible.
We all remember when Corey Haim died last month. It was a terrible shame, and it was awful to see a man just a few years older than me who’d had so much and lost it all. The night he died Corey Feldman went on Larry King, and the hubs and I watched it. And–it pains me to admit this–I really admired what he said, and agreed with it (yes, I know. A world where I admire and agree with Corey Feldman? Shocking).
What he said, basically, was that Haim had problems, yes. Serious problems. But those problems were exacerbated by a society which seems to think it’s okay to pick on people, to kick them when they’re down. That failure isn’t bad enough; that failure must be made into a joke, and constantly shoved into the face of the one who failed. A society, in fact, which doesn’t just think this is okay, but that’s it’s fun. It’s a good, acceptable thing to do; it shows you’re one of the Cool Kids, if you can think of the snarkiest, wittiest insult for someone who, as Feldman said, “never deliberately hurt another human being in his life.”
Haim’s crime was to grow older, and not be a cute teenager anymore. Sure, he probably became arrogant and difficult. And maybe if he was, people were justified in turning their backs and not wanting to hire him. Hell, we all know what kind of business the film industry is; if you’re not hot anymore, you’re out. And you know, that’s the way it works and that’s okay. But to turn someone into a punchline because they’re no longer hot? To spend long, happy hours making fun of them, insulting them, laughing at them, because they no longer have a career? That’s not okay. Do you call up your relative who was made redundant at his job and laugh about how he’s a failure, how he can’t support his family, how he’s never going to find another job and he should just give up? No? Why not? It was okay to call Corey Haim a loser online, where he might see it (and in fact did on at least one occasion). Why wouldn’t you call other people losers to their faces?
Corey Haim was a human being. Phoebe Prince and Megan Meier were human beings. Just as we are all human beings, even though some of us don’t act that way.
A discussion has been going on in the PublishAmerica forums at Absolute Write recently where a PA author is claiming, basically, that PA only acts the way it does because some disgruntled writers are meanies and blah blah blah. He was, essentially, accusing those who contribute to those threads of being cruel to PA. This is of course not true; PA is a vanity press with terrible customer service which misleads writers and at times outright lies to them, and that information should be spread. But it did get me thinking about what the difference is between making fun/snarking on and providing a service/warning others. The line is definitely there. I believe the PA forums at AW provide a valuable service to writers. I believe all the threads in the Bewares & Background Checks forum provide a valuable service to writers, as does Writer Beware and many of the reader blogs which will pass on information about publishers treating their authors badly or whatever. That’s not snark and it’s not making fun. It’s exposing a wrong, and it’s the right thing to do, I believe.
So I suppose there is a point where you can say, “So-and-so brought this on themselves.” Certainly when I see writers who go off on readers who left them less-than-stellar reviews, I find myself thinking said writers are kind of fair game; they started it. But even then I find there’s a point after which I think it should stop. It infuriates me when writers behave that way, yes, for a number of reasons. But does one mistake really mean someone deserves to have their career ruined? Does one mistake mean it’s okay for people to pile on in droves and start making fun? I’m not talking about condemning the behavior; I’m talking about personal comments. I’m talking about name-calling and insults. Yes, we all get carried away sometimes, myself included. I’m not perfect. But I regret having been carried away like that, and I resolve not to do it again, whereas I know there are people out there who do not feel such regret, who don’t think about what effect their cruelties and jokes may have had on another person, and just move on, often patting themselves on the back for a job well done.
Bullying is bullying, whether the victim is a celebrity or someone whose name you don’t know and never will.
I’m not the most sensitive person in the world, I’m really not (as many of you probably know). The hubs jokes that I would make a great government assassin. And I think he’s right, actually. Lots of things, feeling-and-emotion-type things seem to go right over my head. But I do know that it hurts when people make fun of you, when they have a feeding frenzy over your cheap clothes or your hairdo or height or weight or glasses or flat chest or big stomach or hobbies or that you said something dumb. I can imagine it feels the same when they’re doing it because you were once successful and aren’t anymore, or had a drug problem, or whatever.
Yes, sometimes people’s behavior should be pointed out as wrong. Yes, sometimes people who bully and intimidate others need to have their actions exposed. And sometimes those people get a taste of their own medicine when they are exposed.
But there’s a difference between pointing out that bullying or intimidation in order to help others, and making the perpetrator an object of ridicule, and encouraging others to make fun of them. The former is, even if there are unintended consequences, a positive act, an attempt to make a positive difference in the lives of others. The latter is an attempt to show everyone, once again, that you’re one of the Cool Kids. It’s a power play; it’s the equivalent of calling all your friends to jump the guy who bumped into you on the street, just because he didn’t apologize (not that it’s okay not to apologize, of course). There’s no public service being done, no aid being given to those who might have become victims. The object is to intimidate, to hurt, to show someone you’re better than they are.
I’m tired of it. I’m tired of seeing it. I’m tired of dealing with it. I’m weary of all the anger I see online these days, everyone furious about something, everyone ready to place blame and point fingers and act like everything is a personal affront. I’m tired of seeing insults and bullying and intimidation. I’m tired of people being treated like objects, tired of their feelings being treated as if they don’t matter, tired of hurting others being seen as sport.
When did we all become so fucking important, so fucking special, that we no longer need to take other peoples’ feelings into account? When did we all become so perfect that nobody else is allowed to make a mistake? When did hurting people cease being something we were ashamed of and started being simply an afternoon’s entertainment?
I’m very opinionated here, I know. And I hope I’m often funny here, and that we have fun. I know I joke about people and things. But I also know that I try not to make it personal (well, yeah, I’ve said some pretty icky things about Madonna and Princess Diana in the past, and yeah, I can think of one person who I’ve always been civil to but who makes it extremely difficult for me to be so, and I have no qualms about being mean to that person because that person is mean to everyone else and it literally makes me see red). But in general I try not to step over the line between joking and cruelty, I try not to be mean. I don’t see the fun in hurting people; I’ve been on the receiving end of those kinds of jokes my whole life, and they generally don’t make me laugh. And yes, the barrier is a little lower when it comes to people who have put themselves in the public eye. They have invited us to have an opinion on them–demanded we have an opinion on them, demanded our attention.
But the barrier still exists, I think, at least publicly. I believe it should exist for all of us. Hurting people isn’t a game. At the risk of sounding like a “One to Grow On” spot, hurting people doesn’t make you one of the Cool Kids. And quite frankly, if it does? I’m glad I’m not a Cool Kid. Because that’s not the person I want to be.
What kind of person do you want to be? Where do you draw the line? Are you seeing this “new mean” online and elsewhere as well? Please feel free to share any stories of your own in comments (anonymously if you like), too, especially if they relate to adult bullying or adults who bully, or of course the publishing world.
And…if this post made you think, please pass the link on. Please write your own post on the subject and leave the link in the comments. I know I’m coming to this late, but the YA Writers Against Bullying had the right idea, a great idea; let’s make this part of our dialogue, let’s reach out our hands and hope someone who needs it will see it, and grab on, and find a place where they’re accepted.