"He's big, he's dumb, he's got the IQ of gum, he's got the brain about the size of a sourdough crumb! But he'll beat on your head, like a big-bass drum! His behavior is truly unruly; He's a Bully!"
Chains, hulking physique, and the complexion of a zombie. Yep...typical Middle School bully
In fictional works involving young characters, school bullying is commonly used to create conflict and/or build sympathy for a Woobie protagonist, but it is often limited to physical bullying, with comparatively few works acknowledging or depicting psychological and social bullying. The ideal "Hollywood Bully" is invariably a physically imposing, thuggish, Obviously Evil
bigot who terrorizes victims through overt, obvious physical force that can easily be recognized by anyone.
This kind of bulling easily lends itself to the visual media, since a loud, fleeting schoolyard scuffle is much more interesting to watch on the big screen than hours of more subtle psychological torment. A climactic fistfight with a bully also provides a much simpler (and easier) way for writers to resolve a conflict, whereas psychological/social bullying doesn't give viewers a loud spectacle, it is harder for adults to recognize and resolve (and harder for victims to prove), and it requires far more attention to Character Development
to make it convincing (since a bully has to be believably popular to have the circle of friends needed to pull it off). At the end of the day, delving into the consequences of scrapes and bruises is a far easier job for writers than delving into the consequences of depression, self-loathing and social isolation.
Interestingly, this represents something of a gender Double Standard
as well, since thuggish bullies in fiction will almost exclusively be male, whereas the few times that psychological bullying is
shown, it will exclusively be the domain of petty, giggling Alpha Bitches
who torment less popular girls with verbal barbs. With female bullies, physical fights will shown to be the incredibly rare exception to the rule, while the opposite is true of male bullies. Much like with brutish male bullies, though, dealing with a bullying Alpha Bitch
will invariably be as simple as dispatching her with a cathartic series of pranks or a simple verbal smackdown.
This is on its way to becoming a Discredited Trope
with the recent rash of cyberbullying and bullying-related suicides making news, but it only makes the few works that cling to this misconception stick out like a sore thumb. With tighter security in schools in the post-Columbine era, fistfights in crowded high school hallways in full view of crowds are also far less believable that they once were. For this reason, it also tends to be far more common in works that are at least a decade old.
of The Bully
. Compare Women Are Delicate
(the reason for the above-mentioned distinction between male and female bullying), Obviously Evil
, and Card-Carrying Villain
- The Karate Kid is a major offender, since it ends with a bullied kid solving his problems by besting his tormenters in a karate tournament. It operates under the belief that victory in a fight always stops bullying, which is a big contributor to this trope.
- In The Amazing Spider-Man, Flash Thompson's Establishing Character Moment involves him dangling a kid upside down over a picnic table in the middle of a crowded high school quad while dozens of other kids cheer him on. And a few seconds later, he beats the snot out of Peter Parker in full view of said kids, and somehow manages to get away without any consequences. Even Gwen Stacy doesn't bother to help Peter beyond telling him to see the school nurse (because, as per this trope, the damage inflicted by bullies can always be solved with a trip to the nurse and a few bandaids).
- In Harry Potter, Dudley Dursley and his gang are introduced like this (with Dudley's game of "Harry Hunting"). Averted with Draco Malfoy, who is a far more complex, conniving portrayal of the high school bully who ultimately does a Heel-Face Turn.
- Tom Browns Schooldays does this with the bully Flashman and his crowd. The episode of Ripping Yarns mentioned below is a parody of it.
- The very first episode of Smallville involves a Jerk Jock and his buddies dragging Clark Kent out to a cornfield and leaving him chained to a post in his boxers like a scarecrow. Despite the stunt being grounds for arrest, this is said to be an annual tradition of the Smallville High football team.
- 'In "Tomkinsons' Schooldays," the first episode of Ripping Yarns, "School Bully" is an actual title. Tomkinson is bullied by the School Bully, and actually earns the job by the end of the episode.
- Loca from That's So Raven is a female version of the classic thuggish bully.
- Family Matters IS this trope. In fact, here's a fun challenge: watch the entire series from start to finish and name one under-20 male character (besides, of course, Urkel and Eddie) who isn't a thuggish bully or complete jerk.
- Subverted with Alan on Freaks and Geeks, who's neither athletic nor popular. He tends to use psychological torment more often than physical torment, only really resorting to physical torment when it's convenient (ie. after school).
- In Bully, there's an entire "Bully clique" that consists entirely of brawny thugs who spend all of their time beating up and extorting other kids. They're not the only clique in the game capable of committing the act of bullying, but their portrayal (and the fact that they're the only clique in the game explicitly called "the Bullies") shows this trope in action perfectly.
- A young Australian called Casey Heynes became an instant internet celebrity and received tens of thousands of messages of support in a matter of days after a video of him throwing a bully to the ground went viral. Fans were impressed that he had stood up to the bully in a physical way, comparing him to Zangief.
- The Nostalgia Critic find this In-Universe to be a Pet Peeve Trope.
- In The Simpsons, Dolph, Kearney, and Jimbo are an Obviously Evil gang of petty criminals with intimidating looks and dress (skull t-shirts, spiked wristbands, etc.) who are identified more than once as being "from the mean streets", and get into fights every chance they get. They're also unambiguously identified as "the bullies" by everyone, and they're the only kids at Springfield Elementary who are explicitly labeled as such.
- Averted in Pelswick. Since the title character is in a wheelchair, the school bully Boyd knows he can't punch him because "you can't punch a kid in a wheelchair". However, Pelswick is still his favorite target and Boyd picks on him using psychological means such as taunting on the stairs, forcing him to grovel for a rare trading card, or manipulating a popularity list.
- Wolfgang from Hey Arnold! is a perfect example.
- Buford von Stomm in Phineas and Ferb is a card-carrying bully who spends nearly every other scene pounding a weaker kid (usually Baljeet), to the point that it comes off more as a pastime than an act of violence. He also has the stature and IQ of a troll, and wears a black skull t-shirt 24/7. The musical number about him provides the page quote.
- Francis in The Fairly Oddparents. He's about twice the size of everyone else at his school, he wears heavy chains on his clothes, he has grey skin, he apparently feeds first graders to his dog, and he's brought medieval weapons to school on at least one occasion. You know...just like bullies in real life.