Depressingly Truth in Television. If a bully attacks a kid and the kid fights back in a school environment, often both of them will end up being punished for "fighting", with the bully getting kinder treatment.
This is an Aesop in which fighting back against a bully is portrayed as a bad thing. Often involves the message that sinking down to the bully's level will make you no better, or even worse, than they are and may be a way to maintain the status quo of the bullies picking on the main characters. Countless numbers of books and professionals about bullying will almost always say that fighting back is the wrong option.
This can apply to more serious villains as well, but fewer shows will take the extreme stance that fighting back against serious threats is wrong. Another consequence of this trope is that the bully fights back and may kill the good guy and eventually The Hero Dies, another aesop that you should stay away from making this. Also may lead to Arrested for Heroism. According to law, if someone attacks you, you have the right to defend yourself with equal force. Not so in schools - they're not teaching kids to resolve problems with violence, after all.
It's rare for the works to mention any alternatives to deal with bullying, or to say that bullying is something you have to stand against, even if you don't fight it head on. Most commonly it's to report to the authorities; for school settings, it's commonly the teacher. If Adults Are Useless, though, all bets are off - your only good option is to become a Badass Pacifist.
If a show like this features a Bully Hunter they will be portrayed as misguided or really just bullies themselves. Compare to Turn the Other Cheek, Actual Pacifist, Suicidal Pacifism, Made Out to Be a Jerkass and Crime of Self-Defense. See also If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him, If You Taunt Him, You Will Be Just Like Him, Perfect Pacifist People and He Who Fights Monsters.
- Batman. Bruce Wayne had promised his friend Thomas Elliot that his parents would be saved by his father (Dr. Thomas Wayne). After Dr. Wayne was only able to save Mrs. Elliot, Thomas lashed out and attacked Bruce for the false hope he gave him. When Bruce tried to fight back he was reprimanded by his father, who consoled Thomas.
- Wonder Woman (1987): The Amazons' backstory has them being drugged, raped and enslaved by Heracles. The Olympic goddesses free them under the condition that they do not retaliate against their aggressors. The Amazons kill Heracles's men in revenge anyway and are punished by being forced to guard Doom's Doorway for thousands of years.
- Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness Act II: A big part of the act is Tsukune and his friends being bullied and harassed by virtually everyone at Yokai Academy, and Headmaster Mikogami punishing them for fighting back against the other students while ignoring those who deliberately go out of their way to harass and torment them; it reaches the point that he threatens to separate them if they get in another fight. Deconstructed when the other students find out and use it to their advantage to actively harass and taunt Tsukune's crew without fear of retribution, gloating they can't do anything or they'll dig themselves in deeper with the headmaster; this climaxes when Nagare Kano exploits it to blackmail the girls into letting him take dirty pictures of them and nearly rape them. After Kano is dealt with and he learns of all this, Mikogami thankfully wises up and agrees that if the other students try to persecute them like that again, Tsukune and co. have every right to defend themselves.
- Defied and rejected in Parting Words and its sequel The Great Alicorn Hunt. Celestia finds this mentality ridiculous and damaging for victims of bullying and notes that if this were the case, then Equestria would still be suffering under Discord's rule and a great number of other injustices throughout history would've continued to go on unanswered.
- In Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Sherman bites Penny in retaliation to the latter tormenting him for being a "dog". Only he ends up in trouble for this (though the principal did seem to understand the situation), and this puts him in danger of getting separated from Mr. Peabody by Ms. Grunion.
- ParaNorman: The Aesop of the story is that bullying is wrong even if they did it first. The villain is trying to get revenge on the people who killed her, but in the end Norman makes her realize that she has become as bad as they are.
- Hancock: When Hancock has dinner with Ray and his family, Ray's son Aaron talks about being bullied by a neighborhood kid. Ray's teaching him conflict mediation skills, but Hancock advises a Groin Attack which sends Mary through the roof. Ray later gets understandably mad at Hancock for throwing the bully about a mile into the air for calling him an asshole.
- Iron Man 3: Parodied and subverted. When Tony meets a kid who tells him about being bullied at school, Tony starts talking about the best way to deal with bullies... which turns out to be a nonlethal flashbang-like weapon that he gives the kid to defend himself with.
- Accel World: As Kuroyukihime is introducing Haru to Acceleration (essentially a mental time stop), they are interrupted by Haru's bully Araya. Kuroyukihime responds by taunting Araya, and Haru Accelerates for the first time with Araya's fist an inch away from his face. He initially suggests that he could use his new abilities to dodge the punch and fight back, but Kuroyukihime points out that this isn't likely to accomplish anything - instead she tells Haru to roll with the punch and knock over her table, then she slams herself into a wall and plays dead (complete with blood). Since they're surrounded by witnesses and security cameras, this results in Araya getting expelled and arrested. In other words, it is a reconstruction. Punching the guy, i.e. fighting, is not the answer, but doing something to punish the bullying is definitely okay. Unfortunately, he gets out on bail and tries to run them over with a car.
- Averted (or possibly predated) in The Andy Griffith Show. Opie admits that he's being picked on by a bully in school, and Andy's advice is to hit him. At the end of the episode he comes back with a black eye and a proud story, and everyone is pleased by this turn of events. Obviously TV values have changed since then.
- In the first Christmas Episode of Community, "Comparative Religion," Shirley tries to stress the Christ aspect of the Christmas holiday by attempting to forbid Jeff from fighting a group of bullies who picked on Abed. She gives Jeff and the other study group members an ultimatum: anyone who fights the bullies or attends the fight as a spectator will be banned from the Christmas party. Ultimately inverted when Jeff finally gives into Shirley's demands, saying "What Would Shirley Do?" and gets punched several times; Shirley joins the rest of the study group in beating the bullies senseless.
- Cobra Kai plays with this: the first students of the reactivated titular dojo are all bullied kids looking for a method to defend themselves, and Johnny wants them to develop inner strength and not have it become a Thug Dojo like it happened when he was a student and Kreese was the sensei... but because the only way Johnny knows how to teach is based on Kreese's methods, most (if not all) of his students become raging bullies anyway who "fight back" against their own bullies in a severely escalated fashion.
- An episode in the Chilean version of Lo que callamos las mujeres tells about a mother who had a son who went to the wrong side of the law, but eventually thanks to her love and teachings he reformed and stopped some of his former gang to prevent a murder. Before the episode ends, one of the members of his former gang kills the boy close to his house and died in his mother's arms, seeing the last scene of the mother in the cemetery with his son's tomb.
- Cleanly averted in the Burn Notice pilot. Based on his experiences with an abusive father and as a soldier and spy, Michael gives his client's bullied son some basic self-defense tips on how to take out the bully ringleader.
Michael (voiceover): As a spy, it doesn't matter if you're helping rebel forces fight off a dictator or giving combat tips to a third-grader. There's nothing like helping the little guy kick some bully's ass.
- In Episode 10 of Ambition, when Duke takes over your taxi with the goal of kidnapping and murdering you, one of the options for the player to deal with this situation is to punch him in the face and try to escape. This gets the player immediately killed when the car collides with a speeding city bus with the word "KARMA" on the front display. (And lest the player assume this is Duke's karma, this doesn't happen if you choose to simply go along with being kidnapped and try to talk your way out of it later, which is actually the correct answer to proceed in the game.) It is at least true that punching out the person driving a vehicle that you're riding in is probably a dumb thing to do, but there aren't very many people who would try to argue that fighting (non-lethally, even) for your life against a serial murderer is an act of heinous evil worthy of a Karmic Death.
- The Law for Kids webcomic has some examples about why fighting bullies back is wrong.
- In Unsounded a frustrated Jivi is unnecessarily cruel to Sette and embarrasses her in front of a bunch of other kids, she responds in kind and a deeply upset Matty makes it clear that being mean and then being mean in response is an endless cycle that he wants no part of.
- Jane The Killer, an alternate telling of the Jeff the Killer story from the point of view of a girl named Jane, features the titular character watching the confrontation between Jeff and Randy at the bus stop. Her reaction to Jeff beating up the school bully is to consider him a monstrous person hiding an inner evil. Bad Creepypasta pointed out how horrible this thinking is, pointing out that Jeff did nothing but defend himself and defeat the kid that everyone else, including Jane herself, is afraid of. The original story also uses this trope, as police show up at their door that afternoon to arrest Jeff for "attacking" Randy.
- American Dad!: Played with and subverted in "Bully for Steve", where Steve is having bully troubles and Francine tells him that fighting back is not the answer... until she finds out that said bully is her own husband.
Francine: Steve, I've told you that violence is never the answer. But it's just become the answer!
- The Arthur episode "Arthur's Big Hit" is infamous for this. Long story short, Arthur builds a model airplane, but D.W. breaks it. Arthur tries telling her several times not to touch it, but it never works, and he hits her in anger and gets punished for it.
- Animaniacs: In one Slappy Squirrel episode, Skippy is constantly being picked on by a school bully. Slappy suggests fighting back, but Skippy refuses because of his counselor telling that is the wrong thing to do and instead tries everything his counselor suggests to him. When nothing the counselor suggests works, Skippy gives up and gets Aunt Slappy to help him get back at the bully, and the end result not only stops the bullying, but the bully also becomes Skippy's friend. When the chairman of the FTA and Skippy's counseler arrive to lecture Slappy, she deals with them too.
- One episode of C Bear And Jamal sees Jamal trying to deal with a bully and fighting back, only to fear that he's becoming a bully himself. C-Bear advises him to find a way to find common ground with the bully instead.
- Danny Phantom: Danny is regularly bullied by Dash, but every time Danny uses his powers to retaliate it often backfires on him. One episode even has Danny apologizing to Dash and he gives Danny a wedgie before accepting the apology.
- In one episode of Doug, Doug accidentally punches Larry, leading to Doug being challenged to fight him again, which Doug considers. However, his father finds out and isn't encouraging, giving him the saying "Show me a man who resorts to violence and I'll show you a man who's run out of good ideas". In the end, it turns out Larry doesn't really want to fight (he had pressure from the AV club since it embarrassed them), and Doug felt pressure from the rest of the school to go through with the fight, so they end up pretending to fight behind closed doors, with the other students watching on a deliberately bad monitor, thinking that they are actually fighting.
- The Fairly OddParents: One episode involves Timmy turning Vicky into a kid so he can bully her for once. Though his actions toward her were much less serious than her actions toward him, Cosmo and Wanda chew him out for mistreating her, and eventually become her godparents when he makes her miserable enough. Somehow, though, her using Cosmo and Wanda to get revenge on him isn't seen as wrong.
- In an episode of Fillmore! the bullies are presented as being bad people. But the Bully Hunter targeting the bullies with pranks in a manner similar to a G-rated version of a serial killer is presented as being just as bad, if not worse.
- It should perhaps be noted that this example actually calls out the potentially broken message of the trope. Filmore chides the Bully Hunters for taking extremes against their tormentors, they retort that he's telling them to just sit back and take their abuse. Filmore points out there are other more lawful ways to deal with these problems, talk to guardians or seek assistance from the teachers.
- In an episode of Hey Arnold!, Helga and Arnold were fighting over some paint to use in their art project. Helga spills the paint on Arnold and Arnold (uncharacteristically, but understandably) spills it back on her. The classroom gasps collectively and Arnold gets in trouble from Mr. Simmons. Helga gets away with it.
- The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "One Bad Apple" displays this with Babs Seed, Apple Bloom's visiting cousin. Babs joins in with the local Alpha Bitches when they begin teasing the Cutie Mark Crusaders. The Crusaders come up with a revenge plan to get back at Babs, only to learn the reason for Babs' bullying was that she was being bullied herself back at home and didn't want to be the victim again. This makes the Crusaders realize that they were becoming bullies themselves in response.
- This episode also plays with the trope at the end. After all of the above and saving Babs from their revenge prank, the Crusaders befriend Babs properly and, when the Alpha Bitches tear into them at the end of the episode, Babs stands up to them and makes them back off by threatening to tell on them. Possibly meant to show that it isn't bad to stand up for yourself, but how you go about it is important.
- In the The Powerpuff Girls episode, "Schoolhouse Rocked", Truant Officer Jack Wednesday sends the Gangrene Gang to Pokey Oaks Kindergarten to give them an education. The Gangrene Gang bully the other students, and whenever Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup try to stop them, Ms. Keane reprimands the girls for fighting in class, allowing the Gangrene Gang to get away with their bad behavior, even to the point of making the girls stay inside the school for time-out during recess. When Ms. Keane discovers the Gangrene Gang beating up the other students during a game of dodgeball, she encourages the girls to play dodgeball to stop them.
- On Rolie Polie Olie, an episode introduced the character Screwy who was being an arrogant bully to the other kids (and keeps that role throughout the series). After introducing himself as an all around jerk, Olie is reprimanded by his father and teacher when he commented about his rusty hands. Billy and Olie had to apologize while Screwy got away with his behavior.
- Parodied in the South Park episode "Butterballs", as there's a derogatory status in school for nearly every way you can try to repel a bully:
Stan: That's the third day in a row. You gotta tell the teacher.Butters: Naw, I'm not a tattle-tale.Stan: Well then write the principal an anonymous letter.Butters: Naw, I'm not no Anonymous Andy.Craig: So then just get a bigger bully to beat the bully up.Butters: Naw, I don't want kids calling me a Cliche Conflict Resolution Kevin.Cartman: He has a point.Kyle: Well, then you gotta ride it out, Butters.
- In the Theodore Tugboat episode, "Theodore and the Boat Bully", Oliver the Vast, a Jerk Jock tug visits the Big Harbor to take Owan the Oil Rig out to the ocean to work there. During his visit, Oliver bumps Theodore in a hurtful way. At one point, Theodore thinks about bumping Oliver back, but decides against it. When he explains his problem to the Dispatcher near the end of the episode, the Dispatcher is proud of Theodore for not fighting back, and tells him that if he did that, it would only make the problem worse.
- Thomas the Tank Engine: In "The Railcar and the Coaches", Daisy has been saying rude comments to Annie and Clarabel. The two coaches decide to return the favor by saying rude comments about her, which had gone all too well. They are scolded by the Fat Controller who tells them that two wrongs don't make a right and just because Daisy was rude to them doesn't give them the right to be rude to her in return.