Why Hating Justin Beiber Means the Failure of Anti-bullying Campaigns

[Image] A young child reading a pamphlet called "No Bullying Allowed!"

No Bullying Allowed, Unless you are rich, or famous, or old enough to know better or…
Photo by: Working Word

Just about every week, a new campaign comes out with the mission of ending bullying amongst youth. These programs are often praised by parents, teachers, and school administrators alike as they seek to reduce or eliminate the most negative of negative outcomes associated with bullying. Sometimes these programs are even tasked with, or credited with, saving the lives of children and teenagers who have been bullied to an extreme. However, despite this positive press and no lack of funding, these campaigns will ultimately fail in their task and waste thousands or even millions of dollars doing so.

Of course, the reason that these well meaning programs will fail is not for a lack of trying. Rather, these programs will fail because they neglect to address the much larger and more present issue: the culture of bullying that already exists in our society. This culture, which is created through our continued production of media that is negative, attacking, or harshly critical of other people, is sustained through our perpetuation and unquestioned support of this media despite its negative messages. This media then teaches our children, whether we counter it or not, that teasing, taunting, and bullying are acceptable actions with few, if any, negative repercussions.

A perfect example of this culture at work is in the case of celebrities and other television personalities. It is no secret that celebrities are subject to a fair amount of abuse, both inside and outside of media representations. Sometimes these concerns can be chalked up to whether we like or dislike their work, but far more often the discussion steers away from such constructive criticism and opinion and towards attacking them as a person. When this happens we start criticizing the person for gaining or losing too much weight, questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity, calling their fans names for enjoying their work, complaining about the clothing choices they made, or something else to that effect.

We start discussing these topics back and forth amongst our peers, joking and laughing about how gay Justin Beiber is, how Kristen Stewart can’t display emotions, or how stupid Jessica Simpson is. We joke, in full view of our children, about the people from the Jersey Shore. We publish facebook statuses or forum comments that claim hipsters are nothing more than entitled kids who need a bath. We openly air our biases about women, children, trans* people, other races, foreign nationals, or people we just disagree with. And then, when it comes time for these children to go to school, we expect them to know better than to tease, taunt, or bully someone else.

We expect, even though we live and take part in a culture that actively bullies, criticizes, and debases others, that our children shouldn’t do the same. We assume, despite watching television networks that develop and produce shows designed specifically to allow the audience to talk about the misgivings of the characters, that our children will somehow not take this as permission to say the exact same things to their teachers, friends, or peers. This is why these anti-bullying campaigns will ultimately fail: because systemic problems require systemic solutions.

So, until we, as adults, understand that to end bullying amongst youth we must first end bullying amongst ourselves, we are merely telling youth to do as we say, but not as we do. And, that has never worked.


A Letter to the Reader

A feather quill resting on a number of scrolls of parchment

Original Photo by Hc_07

Hello again everyone,

I am really excited to announce that, once again, I have decided to make writing a larger part of my life. This is something that I have been thinking about for some time now, but I just hadn’t worked up the courage to do so. And when I say courage, I mean courage. You see, I think the issue was just some combination of fear, anxiety, and stage fright that held me back from creating the material I wished to create. (What? Those are the same thing? Darn.) That’s right, what a lot of my avoidance to writing (and creating in general) comes down to is fear.

I mean, I am not really afraid of what people will say about my work. After all, everyone has the right to like or dislike my opinion all they want, and I am completely fine with most of the ways that people express this like or dislike. So, if it isn’t that, just what am I afraid of?

Well, for the most part, the biggest things that I am afraid of in the process of creating content for the world are 1) that people could misrepresent my work or 2) that I might change my mind at some indeterminate point in the future.

For the first of these, I think that the issue is really quite simple. The work that I create, I create within a certain context. It is extremely meaningful to me, and I set out for my words to mean one, clear, poignant thing. However, when you, the reader, are reading this, you are not sitting in the contextual bubble in which it was created. This means that what I thought was a clear, meaningful commentary could be completely lost on you, or, worse, it could mean something entirely different! This makes me nervous at the best of times, but when I am writing opinions that challenge some of the main tenets of society, this nervousness turns to fear, or even terror.

Somewhat related to this is my fear that I might change my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that I am a fallible human being and that I grow over time. But there is something about the permanence of the internet that scares the bejeebers out of me. I am constantly paranoid that one day I am going to go back over the work that I have created and think “What the hell was I doing?” 

So, with all of that, how can I claim that I am going to continue writing here? Well, you see… I can’t, and I don’t want to make any promises of that sort. However, I do want to acknowledge my fear and acknowledge that I am wanting to try in spite of it. And also, I want to make my motivations and my plans clear; not just for the readers of this, but for myself.

This coming fall, I will be attending graduate school. I will be taking class with people set to become accomplished academics and theorists. I will be pushed to write, write, and write. And in all of that, I want this place, this blog, to be my space, my draft board, and my jewel of subversion. I seek to make available here, not only my thoughts and opinions, but also the work that I complete, the works that I seek to publish in journals and conferences. I seek to distribute the work that I do to whoever wants to read it or (more likely) whoever happens to stumble across it.

So, today, I am claiming this space again as my own, and making the plans to use it to accomplish my goals. And hopefully, one day, all that fear that I mentioned above will just be an after thought as I publish my thoughts for the world to see.