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Barbaric Bully

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To see the nerds driven before me, and to hear the lamentations of their math club.

"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"

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 bullying 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, with the most common of such being the Jerk Jock, 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.

Most of the time, the teachers never really do anything to stop the bullying, either because they're oblivious, the bully is very good at playing the Wounded Gazelle Gambit to get off scot-free and paint their victim as the bully, or they get a kick out of seeing the victim suffer, possibly even using the bully as their attack dog.


On the flipside, though, these kinds of bullies tend to be all brawn and no brain, sometimes bordering on Too Dumb to Live. In this case, their victim tends to find a way to outsmart them, maybe even humiliate them in the process.

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. However, due to Values Dissonance, it is still Truth in Television in the United Kingdom, especially as there have been well-publicised reports of teachers being unable to control their students there - so it is still an Omnipresent Trope in British educational programmes (e.g. Waterloo Road) and a Cyclic Trope elsewhere in British society, despite cyberbullying being common.

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.


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    Anime and Manga 

  • Moe, from Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin has occasionally compared him to a Neanderthal. To his face. Though Moe is very much the Dumb Muscle, so sometimes Calvin's insults fly right over his head.
    Calvin: If I'm going to get beaten up, I'd at least like to deserve it.
  • Skinner, Barrow and Cheeseman, from The Sandman story "Charles Rowland Concludes His Education", are a particularly dark spin on this. When they were alive, their bullying involved murdering another student as part of a Satanic ritual. When they're brought back as ghosts, their bullying of the titular protagonist extends to them torturing him to death.
  • The Bryer brothers from the New 52 reboot of Shazam (and the 2019 movie adaptation) who attack a smaller, disabled kid two-on-one just because they can.
  • Robin Series: The brutal bullies Mark Meachum and Josh Stanzland get transferred to Tim's high school along with a bunch of other students due to school shutdowns in the wake of the devastating man-made earthquakes that lead to Batman: No Man's Land. The campus and staff were not equipped to deal with the influx of students and after getting away with repeated cruel acts in public they eventually dragged their favorite victim to the wooded area behind the football field and beat him to death.

    Fan Works 

  • The Karate Kid is a major offender on a casual level, 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. A closer look however, will reveal that Mr. Miyagi actually solves the bully problem more indirectly well beforehand: when he and Daniel agree to compete in the tournament at all, he forces the bullies' karate instructor to make them leave Daniel alone during his training period. Further, Daniel earns the respect of most of the bullies not by beating them up, but by showing his determination and good sportsmanship. The one who (reluctantly and under the instruction of his corrupt sensei) cripples Daniel's leg is bawling in apology immediately afterwards, having realized that his actions crossed the line.
    • The Karate Kid's bullies are referenced in The Social Network, where the Winklevoss twins worry that attempting legal action against Zuckerberg might make them look like thuggish bullies.
  • 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). Eventually, though, he sympathizes with Peter after Uncle Ben is killed, and ends up becoming a friend.
  • The Nasty of The Neverending Story 3. Led by Jack Black.
  • Scut Farkus in A Christmas Story, full-stop. He's about twice as tall as Ralphie and his friends, he has a near-constant maniacal laugh (which is about the only thing that ever comes out of his mouth), and he allegedly has yellow eyes. And, of course, a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown late in the movie ends up solving all of Ralphie's bullying problems forever.

  • Harry Potter:
    • Dudley Dursley and his gang are introduced as a bunch of big, muscular bullies whose animosity towards Harry (complete with Dudley's game of "Harry Hunting") is matched only by their dimwittedness. Averted with Draco Malfoy, who is a far more complex, conniving portrayal of the high school bully and leaves the physical stuff to Crabbe and Goyle, who do very much fit this trope. Both Dudley and Malfoy eventually get a dose of reality and grow up.
    • Harry's dad is eventually revealed to have been a bully like Draco in his early years, with young Sirius fitting this trope the way Crabbe and Goyle did as his more physical enforcer type. He too grew out of it.
  • Tom Brown's Schooldays does this with the bully Flashman and his crowd. The episode of Ripping Yarns mentioned below is a parody of it.
  • Discworld
    • Pyramids, the first section of which is also largely a parody of Tom Brown, has Fliemoe (because one of Flashman's cronies was called Speedicut, which is also a make of lawnmower, so...) The Assassins' Guild Diary notes that the school does not regard bullying as a problem, but an exercise in the guild-related skills — and if the victims turn out to be surprisingly skilled at making the bullies pay in unexpected ways, they don't regard that as a problem either.
    • In Hogfather, the student wizard Mr Sideney, having fallen in with a criminal gang, finds that one of them strongly reminds him of Ronnie Jenks, the bully at his old dame-school (quasi-medieval primary or elementary). This is foreshadowing, since when the gang members are forced to confront their greatest childhood fears, Sideney realises he's back at the dame school.
      Adult memory and understanding said that Ronnie was just an unintelligent bullet-headed seven-year-old bully with muscles where his brain should have been. The eye of childhood, rather more accurately, dreaded him as a force like a personalized earthquake with one nostril bunged up with bogies, both knees scabbed, both fists balled and all five brain cells concentrated in a kind of cerebral grunt.
  • The Bad Unicorn Trilogy: Ricky "the Kraken" Reynolds. In one of his first appearances, he provokes a fight with a girlnote  Taken Up to Eleven when he is turned into a monster.
  • Stephen King has a very, very long list of examples, like Chris Hargensen from Carrie, but his crowning example is without a doubt Henry Bowers from It, the poster boy of this trope. Some of his misdeeds include trying to carve his name into Ben's belly with a knife, killing Mike's dog by feeding it poisoned meat, and smearing snow in Stan's face until he bleeds. And this was way before Pennywise took over his mind.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
    • Even Waldo, before being rewritten as a Kindhearted Simpleton, was originally a bully in his earliest appearances.
  • 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).
  • Averted for laughs in one episode of Modern Family, where Manny and Luke try to retrieve a lost model airplane, and find it being held hostage by a gang of skinny, bespectacled nerds who immediately start taunting them and pushing them around. A confused Luke says, "I can't tell if they're bullies or nerds," and the leader of the gang indignantly responds, "Don't pigeonhole us! We can be both!"
  • The Jerk Jock clique that appears on the Criminal Minds episode "Elephant's Memory" is a spectacular case-both because of the bad things they have done to the Unsub of the Week (and made him an "injustice collector"), and because of how the bullied kid takes them out.
    • In the same episode it's revealed that both Reid, as a "ten year old in a Las Vegas public high school", and Morgan were physically bullied at school to various degrees. The "highlight" of Reid's experience was being lured to the football field by a pretty girl, ambushed, stripped and tied naked to a goal post in front of half the school.
  • Troy from the first season of Stranger Things starts off as just a typical schoolyard bully. The worst he did was trip Mike, making him bang his chin against a rock. But then, during the wake for Will at the school, Mike sees Troy and his friend James actaully laughing while the principal is giving a eulogy. And when Mike calls them out on it, Troy has the nerve to make a cruel joke about Will. Eleven gets back at him by using her powers to make Troy wet his pants in front of the whole school. At this point, Troy is more psychotic as the next time we see him, he chases Mike and Dustin to the cliff where Will's body was found, points a switchblade at Dustin's mouth and threatens to cut out his teeth unless Mike jumps off the cliff. Even Troy's friend James thinks he's gone too far
    • In season two, we are introduced to Max's older brother, Billy, who is ten times worse. He is always putting Max down and even tries to run over Mike, Dustin, and Lucas with his car just because Max talked back to him.

    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 and is led by a giant, hulking brute that speaks in pidgin. 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.
  • Angelface in Skool Daze and its sequel Back To Skool punches fellow students pretty much constantly, even in view of the teachers.
  • Susie in Deltarune smashes Kris against the lockers of their school, and threatens to bite their face off in her introductory scene. Susie spends much of the game trying (with variable success) to solve her problems with violence or fear, even resorting to a Face–Heel Turn over how "lame" she finds the more pacifistic Ralsei's options. She mellows out by the end.

    Web Animation 
  • Deegan in Recess Reindeer hangs Richie from the monkey bars by his antlers and flies about, socking Richie every time he passes until Svetlana saves him.

    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, partly because the bullies tend to be so one-dimensional, and partly because they never seem to be having fun with their bullying (just doing it because they're evil).

    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. Principal Skinner actually introduced Jimbo to his students as their school bully.
    • Depending on the Writer, Nelson Muntz. Not as tall as the previous three, but definitely heavier and more thuggish-looking than the other kids (and on his first appearance requiring Bart to band together an army of fellow kids and make him sign an armistice pact in order to make him stop beating up Bart daily). In later seasons he his given Hidden Depths and his bullying is largely restricted to taunting.
    • The episode "Bye Bye Nerdie" has Francine, who is a rare female example of a physical bully.
  • 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.
  • Roger Klotz in Doug is a mild case. He has the stereotypical "tough guy" looks (chains, black leather jacket, and slime-green skin), and is usually threatening people with acts of violence, but generally confines his bullying to the occasional name-calling, as even he would never actually go through with his threats, and is terrified of people who actually want to beat him up. In the show's defense, though, the writers usually don't attempt to use bullying as a major source of drama, and Doug always manages to resolve his conflicts peacefully.
  • Gelman from Recess
  • Gilda from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is never seen physically assaulting anypony, but she fits much of the stereotypical bully: A hulking brute who terrorizes Ponyville and drives Fluttershy to tears with her roar.
  • Flatts the Flounder, from the Spongebob Squarepants episode "The Bully", has only one known goal: kicking Spongebob's butt for no apparent reason, other than possibly because of the events of "Sandy's Rocket", or because of Fantastic Racism against sponges.
  • Stelio Kontos, Stan's childhood bully from American Dad!. Stuck a bat in his pants. Enough said.
  • Reggie Bullnerd from ChalkZone.
  • Penny from The Mighty B!.
  • The Amazing World of Gumball makes plenty use of slapstick, bullying included, although it's never been resolved by fighting back. Notably, both prominent bullies at Elmore Junior High are girls, Tina and Jamie, and physically torment students of both genders:
  • Wish Kid had Frankie Dutweiler.
  • As with everything childhood related, Codename: Kids Next Door exaggerates this to epic proportions, depicting bullies as equivalent to dinosaurs in Homage to Jurassic Park. Named species of bully include the Noogieraptor, Spitballosaurus, Wet Willie Mammoth, and the fearsome Wedgiesaurus Rex.
  • Dash from Danny Phantom is a Jerk Jock that fully expects his life to go downhill once he leaves high school and has decided to enjoy it (and the living hell he can inflict on other kids) while he can. On one episode he is explicitly asked to put Danny in passable shape for PE grading purposes and what he asks his teacher is: "is 'broken in half' considered a shape?"


Video Example(s):



Shaun from "The Birch" ruthlessly bullies Kris in a way that most would find morally questionable and relentlessly cruel. He even pulls a knife on him in a way that implies that he feels offended by Kris' very existence.

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