Monday, December 05, 2011

Bullying, 1970s Style

Trumwill’s post on bullying inspired me to make an observation about the 1993 movie Dazed and Confused, which I just now got around to watching.  If you’ve seen the movie, you know that it shows the artists vision of what high school was like in 1976:  a binge of sex, drugs, and low-level violence in the context of “freshman initiation” at a public high school.  If you haven’t seen the movie, the YouTube clip below contains the first 14 minutes of the movie, although I’ve indexed ahead to the scene that I want to write about.

I haven’t been able to stomach the entire movie yet, so if anyone happens to know if the filmmaker looks back on high school with anything other than sentimentality, you’ll have to tell me.

When I was a preschooler, I would sometimes be playing in my front yard when the school bus disgorged its occupants at the stop near my house.  One of the things the school-aged children (“the big kids,” my brother and I called them) did to amuse themselves was to throw rocks at me as they walked by.  (For those of you keeping score at home, these were white children in a middle- to upper-middle-class neighborhood, much as in the movie).  I was five years old.

Life got a lot worse before it got better.

Fortunately, I missed out on any savage initiation rituals as appear to be institutionalized (as in involving the tacit complicity of adults) in Dazed and Confused, and I exercised sufficient self-preservation to avoid any physical injury.  But I lived in a constant climate of fear.

Trumwill writes:

Last spring I mentioned a story at Pitts Elementary where two kids got into a fight, of sorts, and when the detention slips were sent out one of the kids was crying and the other was showing it off to all of his friends. How, precisely, do you punish a kid who shows off his punishment slips to all of his friends?

Which is what brings me to the moment in the film.  Here you have a larger, stronger student, a football player, who violently raises his fist to a weaker, possibly younger student.  No, he didn’t hit him.  But he made it perfectly clear that he could have hit him if he wanted to.  No one was there to witness it.  There would have been no way for the weaker student to defend, deter, or retaliate.  So the message gets sent.  And the administration would have to be exceedingly vigilant and discerning to take action against it, even were it to recognize the dynamic at play.

It is common in our corner of the blogosphere to criticize “helicopter parenting”.  The excellent blog Dusk in Autumn makes a point of this, and glorifies the 1970s for its relative absence.  But it occurs to me that the much closer supervision that my generation provides its children (and as a homeschool family, we are helicopter parents squared) over what we ourselves received narrows the window in which bullies can operate.  I don’t know if this is really true – even in Φ’s lily-white little burg, I’ve heard stories about bullying – but it is, then helicopter parenting gets three cheers from me.

1 comment:

Professor Hale said...

I was in high school in 1976. It was nothing like that.