Created By: TheMightyHeptagonJuly 14, 2012 Last Edited By: TheMightyHeptagonMay 9, 2013
Troped

Barbaric Bully

In fiction, bullies are big, dumb, and Obviously Evil

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"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!"
Phineas And Ferb, "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.

Sub Trope 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.

Examples

Comic Strip

Film
  • 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).

Literature
  • 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.

Live-Action Television
  • 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 Thats 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).

Video Games
  • 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.

Web Original
  • 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.

Western Animation
  • 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.
Community Feedback Replies: 34
  • July 14, 2012
    TheMightyHeptagon
    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.
  • July 14, 2012
    TheMightyHeptagon
    • 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).

    • 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. It's hard to get more overt than that (likewise, the bullies get away scot-free, despite the stunt being grounds for arrest in most places).

    • 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.

    • In The Simpsons, Dolph, Kearney, and Jimbo are a similar 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.
  • July 14, 2012
    randomsurfer
    re Spider-Man - I haven't seen the film but I ass/u/me you mean Flash Thompson, a member of Spidey's ensemble? Flash Gordon is someone else.

    • Ripping Yarns: In "Tomkinsons's Schooldays," the first episode, School Bully is an actual title. Tomkinson is bullied by the School Bully, and actually earns the job by the end of the episode.
  • July 14, 2012
    TheMightyHeptagon
    Oh, damn...sorry, unfortunate typo. Thank you for correcting me.
  • July 14, 2012
    Waterlily
    "Ripping Yarns: In "Tomkinsons's Schooldays," the first episode, School Bully is an actual title. Tomkinson is bullied by the School Bully, and actually earns the job by the end of the episode."

    I think that's a spoof of the classic book Tom Browns Schooldays which is probably also an example of this trope using bully Flashman and his crowd.
  • July 15, 2012
    ceen
    Seems like there is a gender double-standard. Male examples of bullies in fiction are typically focused on physical conflict, but for female examples a physical bully is almost an aversion of the typical social bullying that we see in fiction.
  • July 15, 2012
    TheMightyHeptagon
    I think you're right. I'll add that to the draft.
  • July 15, 2012
    Blubble
    Web Original
    • 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.
  • July 15, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
  • July 15, 2012
    TheMightyHeptagon
    In response to the "Better Name" tag: how do you think "Hollywood Bully" would work as a trope name?

    (following the same model as Hollywood Homely, Hollywood Dateless, Hollywood Atheist and similar tropes)
  • July 15, 2012
    LordCirce
    Moe, from Calvin And Hobbes, is a premier example of this. So is Dudley, from Harry Potter, with his game of Harry Hunting.
  • July 15, 2012
    MartyD82
    I, too, think Hollywood Bully would be a better title, since you're actually describing the core template Hollywood typically uses for bullying.

    One thing you should also mention: Bullies, particularly in high school shows and movies, will always be star athletes (Jerk Jock). Football and basketball seem to be the two main sports in this respect, given that they're the most popular and significant sports at most real life high schools. Of course, the bullied protagonist will have zero athletic ability (even if the actor himself is quite athletic in real life). Once again, this is because it's a lot harder to create an interesting conflict with a more nerdy and/or athletically rudimentary bully than it would be with a ridiculously athletic bully.

    I think the "Epic Schoolyard Fight" should maybe be a trope itself, given how common it is in kid and teen movies/shows and how heavily exaggerated it is compared to the generally clumsy and awkward schoolyard brawls in real life.

    Lightly averted 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).

    Actually, The Karate Kid example tends to be truth in television... if you're in grade school. Maybe Junior High. But, once you're in high school and girls are on both your and your tormentor's minds, simply winning a fight against him won't stop him from bullying you. He'll just plot some kind of revenge scheme, since his own pride has now been damaged.
  • July 15, 2012
    MartyD82
    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.
  • July 15, 2012
    captainpat
    We're having a lot of issues with our Hollywood Style tropes. How about Thuggish Bully?
  • July 15, 2012
    TheMightyHeptagon
    Well, that would work if we're limiting the trope to male bullies, but I think the gender Double Standard is an important part of it, and Thuggish Bully wouldn't necessarily make that clear.
  • July 16, 2012
    MsCC93
    Wolfgang from Hey Arnold.
  • July 16, 2012
    MsCC93
    Loca from Thats So Raven, even though she is the female version of a thug.
  • July 16, 2012
    MartyD82
    Just a note: Such bullies are usually male, because in real life, women (unless they're bipolar, lesbian, or abused at home) usually don't resort to physical violence when bullying. Their style of bullying is typically completely psychological, albeit just as bad in its own way (for example, a woman may bully another woman by pretending to be her friend, making her do a ton of outrageous things and then laugh at her behind her back).
  • July 16, 2012
    Routerie
    Thuggish Bully seems a much better name.

    Judging from the examples, this isn't a trope about all bullies being thugs, or about any aggregate statement about bullies. It's just a list of examples of one common kind of bully. (Which is a trope.)
  • July 16, 2012
    TheMightyHeptagon
    Well...it's not necessarily that all bullies are thugs, just that it's far more common to depict them as Obviously Evil thugs in fiction (even though bullying is far more complex than that in Real Life).

    The issue is that in fiction-land, bullies frequently come off as something akin to pint-sized James Bond villains, and dealing with them is quick, cathartic, and cool to watch. It ignores the fact that, in reality, anyone can have the personality type of a bully, bullying is more frequently a drawn-out affair with no clear end, and psychological bullying can be just as damaging as physical bullying (if not moreso).

    That's why I'm leaning towards Hollywood Bully now, since the trope has more to do with a complicated issue being grossly oversimplified in fiction.
  • July 17, 2012
    MartyD82
    It's also important to recognize that fiction generally likes to paint the victim as being completely innocent. This is not necessarily Truth In Television. In many instances, a bully will pick on you, because he/she feels burned by you in some way (usually over something really petty, but these are kids, so what do you expect?). This is particularly true of the more personal bullies that specifically target you but act pretty decent with everybody else. So a bully, in real life, may very well be an otherwise good kid.
  • July 17, 2012
    Routerie
    This entry seems to try to cover too many different things. Thuggish Bully? That's a trope. Bullies Are Bond Villains? That's... maybe a trope, but it's completely unrelated to Thuggish Bully and is kind of the opposite of it. All Bullies Are Guys? Unrelated to either of the two points. Beating The Bully Catharsis? Independent of any of these three, and we probably already have it.

    If you want to write an essay on ways the media depicts bullying that's great but that's not a single trope. Rather, you seem to have identified several different tropes, some of which conflict with each other.

    Do not call this Hollywood Bully. Every single one of the Hollywood X pages are currently broken, and we're working on a renaming campaign.
  • July 17, 2012
    MartyD82
    I think All Bullies Are Stupid could be a trope (if it isn't listed here already). That's a pretty common depiction of them in fiction and, in many instances, it's not Truth In Television (many of the bullies I dealt with as a kid were among the best and brightest students in school).
  • July 17, 2012
    Telcontar
    I also support Thuggish Bully; the current, All Bullies Are Thugs, is a snowclone of the All X Are Y type.
  • July 17, 2012
    TheMightyHeptagon
    I see what you mean.

    I guess Thuggish Bully would help focus it, since its more of a specific character archetype. (Apologies, I didn't know about the renaming campaign on "Hollywood" tropes).

    If we don't already have it, the Beating The Bully Catharsis that you mentioned could probably work as a separate trope, possibly grouped together with the Epic Schoolyard Fight mentioned above.
  • May 8, 2013
    TheMightyHeptagon
    Alright, I abandoned this one for a while, but I just changed the name and the Laconic description as per criticisms.

    I'd agree that "Thuggish Bully" is a good summation of the trope's implications, but I made it "Barbarian Bully" for Added Alliterative Appeal.

    Thoughts?
  • May 8, 2013
    Hodor
    "... because in real life, women (unless they're bipolar, lesbian, or abused at home) usually don't resort to physical violence when bullying" (my emphasis).

    Wut.
  • May 8, 2013
    TheMightyHeptagon
    Yeah, that's definitely not going on the final draft
  • May 8, 2013
    DracMonster
    Howzabout Brutish Bully?
  • May 8, 2013
    KingZeal
  • May 8, 2013
    TheMightyHeptagon
    Added a page quote from Phineas And Ferb.

    Unless anyone has a better idea, I actually think Buford von Stromm might make a good page image too. Does anyone know if there's a policy against having a page quote and a page image from the same work?
  • May 9, 2013
    Arivne
    If I saw the title Barbarian Bully I would think it was about a barbarian (e.g. Conan) who bullies people, not a bully that acts barbarically.

    Barbaric Bully?
  • May 9, 2013
    DracMonster
    ^That works, although a page about Conan or Genghis Kahn stealing your lunch money would be awesome.
  • May 9, 2013
    TheMightyHeptagon
    Alright, name's been changed to Barbaric Bully, and I have a page image and page quote.

    If there are no objections, I think I might be ready to launch this.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable