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Peer-Pressured Bully

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One common theme with bullies is that they won't be alone. Whether it's a small Girl Posse devoted to their Alpha Bitch or the entire football and cheerleading teams backing the local Jerk Jock, a good bully is nothing if they don't have minions to help them out. But not all of those minions will necessarily be bad people- and some of them might not want to be a bully at all. Enter this trope.

When a character is forced into a situation where they either need to join in on bullying someone or become a victim themselves, it may seem like they should always choose the side of the victim regardless, but that doesn't usually happen. Often, characters in this scenario are insecure and afraid of the bully. That combination of fear and low self-esteem means that they'd do anything to stay on the safer side, thus they follow the bully and may even partake in it themselves. They won't enjoy doing it and will sympathize greatly with the victim, who may eventually become their friend or love interest, but would be too afraid to actually stand up for them- at least for a while.

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Most often, this is one of the bully's sidekicks, who act more as participants or bystanders than the actual aggressor. They may even be the bully's actual friend and willing to overlook their bullying behavior to stay friends with them, but this is rare. Even more rare, though, is for the lead bully to be the reluctant one, acting the way they do because they feel peer-pressured by everyone else around them. In that scenario, the bully is forced to live up to what everyone thinks they should be, while their followers are the ones who actually want to see the victim get hurt.

This doesn't always end well. While more forgiving works and characters will be willing to see the reluctant one as redeemable, more serious or deconstructive works will instead portray this character as a Dirty Coward, someone who is just at fault for the bullying as the actual bully is and who may be punished accordingly. It's also common to explore the backlash this situation has on the character's social life and psyche, showing the depths of their insecurities and how stable their actual dynamic is with the bully. All in all, this can either be a flawed-but-sympathetic character whose biggest problem is insecurity, or they can be far less sympathetic and far more flawed, depending on the work and how it portrays the issue.

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See also Minion with an F in Evil, Reformed Bully, Hidden Heart of Gold, The Quisling, and Trapped in Villainy. A subtrope of Peer Pressure Makes You Evil and Popular Is Evil.

Compare Hates the Job, Loves the Limelight.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • One Piece: In their childhood, when Sanji was repeatedly bullied by his twin brothers, their older sister Reiju would simply laugh it off. However, she only did so to avoid being their bully target; she's secretly caring towards Sanji.

    Comic Books 
  • Kenny "Kong" McFarlane in Ultimate Spider-Man is quite civil towards Peter, MJ and Gwen when Flash Thompson - who is more vicious than in the mainstream continuity - is not around. Later discussed and deconstructed when, following Gwen Stacy's murder and Peter, MJ, Flash, Kong, and Liz Allan getting detention together, Kong tries to state Flash "isn't a bad guy" after he leaves the room. Peter then brutally and bitterly spells it out for Kong that Flash is a complete piece of shit, Kong has spent years enabling Flash's rotten behavior even though Kong is a better person than Flash could ever hope to be, and the only reason Flash hangs around Kong is specifically because he can get Kong to validate his behavior. In short, Kong gets peer pressured by Flash to act like a bully because he lets Flash do it.
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    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • In Balto, Nikki, Kaltag, and Star join Steele in bullying Balto and praise him for it. However, when Steele is out of earshot, the three other dogs express their disgust for his despicable behavior. It's clear from this that they only kiss up to Steele because he's the most popular dog in Nome and they don't want to be on his bad side.
  • This trope was a major part of Anastasia's Character Development in both Cinderella II: Dreams Come True and Cinderella III: A Twist in Time. In Dreams Come True, she gets her own story segment where she falls in love with Dmitri, a kindhearted but simple baker. Since her mother Lady Tremaine is a social climber who wants her to marry rich and looks down on Dmitri, Anastasia turns to Cinderella for help; their relationship makes it clear that she only went along with the infamous "wicked stepsister" routine because she was bullied into it. In A Twist in Time, Anastasia is a lonely, misunderstood young woman who is desperate for someone to love her, and so does whatever her mother says because she thinks it's her only chance of finding a relationship. The film's ending has her pull a full Heel–Face Turn and fight back against Lady Tremaine, which in turn redeems her and gives her a happy ending.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Breakfast Club: Andy Clark, the seeming Jerk Jock of the group, turns out to be a genuinely Nice Guy despite his mean pranks on other students. In a twist, it's not pressure from his peers but from his father that goads him into the cruelty. Andy admits to hating bullying weaker kids and feeling ashamed about what he's done but feels he has to live up to his father's vicious expectations.
  • Calogero from A Bronx Tale likes hanging out with the local punks and wannabe hoodlums that he grew up with, but he doesn't have a malicious bone in his body. Most times he's trying to be a voice of reason to the rest of the group in some ways, and when his friends attack a group of black teenagers passing through the neighborhood, Calogero just basically holds one of them down, and essentially tells him to act like Calogero is beating him up while Calogero doesn't actually do anything to him.
  • Cool Cat Saves the Kids: When Cool Cat confronts Butch the Bully's cronies for spray painting a wall, they admit they only do bad things to look cool and stop when Cool Cat explains that's not actually cool. Butch himself, on the other hand, is not reluctant at all about being a bully.
  • In the Cinderella retelling Ever After, Danielle is bullied by her mother and stepsister. Stepsister Jacqueline is not only reluctant but disgusted at her mother and sister's behavior, helping Danielle when she can. By the films denouement when Danielle and the prince are married, she is in a Pair the Spares relationship with the Prince's valet, and the lone member of her family not to be exiled for the mistreatment of Danielle.
  • In the second act of Moonlight, Barbaric Bully Terrell coerces Kevin into punching out Chiron, despite the fact that they're long friends and have recently had a homoerotic experience together. In this case, it's less "to be popular" and more "to keep a target off his back" because Kevin doesn't want to have that same sadistic bully turn his sights on him.
  • Rags: As a Cinderella retelling, Charlie is bullied by his stepfather and his stepbrother, Andrew. The other stepbrother, Lloyd, is actually a Nice Guy who's visibly uncomfortable whenever Charlie is being harassed; he only keeps his mouth shut and follows his family's lead out of fear, as displayed in the only scene he ever insults Charlie in- which happened in a panic after his father interrupted the two of them talking amicably. At the end, he stands up for Charlie and is rewarded for it, becoming a backup dancer while the others get toilet duty.

    Literature 
  • In Flawed, Colleen used to be Celestine's friend, but turned on her after her Celestine didn't offer any sympathy or help when her mother was deemed Flawed. Thus, when Celestine herself became a Flawed, Colleen ended up siding with Logan, Natasha, and Gavin in bullying her. However, the others were pressuring her into it the entire time by reminding her what Celestine did, and she still seemed less comfortable than the others when Celestine was being abused.
  • Remus Lupin from Harry Potter remained close friends with the rest of the Marauders despite disagreeing with their treatment of Snape. He felt bad for him while his friends bullied him, but didn't stop them because he didn't want to lose them as friends.
  • In A Little Princess, Jessie occasionally feels sad for Sarah after the latter becomes Riches to Rags. The narration states that Jessie isn't wicked, just too weak-willed and easily influenced by the opinions of Alpha Bitch Lavinia.
  • In The Year of the Rat, the blacksmith's son Varik is the only village kid who feels sorry for Ryska and the Half-Breed Discrimination she endures. When he is by himself, he even plays with her. But when he is accompanied by the rest of the village boys, he joins them in bullying Ryska, since he is afraid he will be bullied as well if he defends her. Ryska realizes it, hardly bears him any ill will, and, after she grows up, even considers marrying him as his childhood affection develops into a crush. Circumstances force her to leave the neighborhood, though, and Varik is Put on a Bus.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Good Times: Michael joins the Junior Warlords gang purely out of a sense of self-preservation.
  • One episode of The Haunting Hour, "Wrong Number," features two female bullies named Steffani and Danielle who antagonize an elderly woman and her Goth granddaughter. While Steffani is a clear Alpha Bitch, Danielle shows traces of kindness. As such, when their victims turn out to have genuine magical abilities, they spare Danielle since they "sense the good in her" and think that she can be redeemed once Steffani is out of the picture.
  • An episode of Sesame Street features Big Bird wanting to join the "Good Birds Club." The leader, a nasty pigeon, repeatedly tells him that he can't be a member because of various flaws (his feet are too big, he's too big, he's too yellow...). Abby Cadabby uses her magic to change these supposed issues, but the pigeon keeps coming up with new problems. The other birds in the club seem more willing to accept Big Bird, but keep quiet whenever the pigeon bosses them around. When they realize that the pigeon is a full-on jerk who will never let Big Bird become a member, they leave the club in disgust and join their new friend in the "Happy to Be Me" Club.

    Video Games 
  • Freddi Fish 3: The Case of the Stolen Conch Shell: In the ending where Claw turns out to be the conch shell thief, he admits that he only stole the conch shell because the other bullies in his "Bullies Club" pressured him to do it. Though we don't get to see these other bullies, Claw claims that they're even bigger bullies than he is.
  • In Undertale Migosp, an enemy found in The Ruins, acts rude and aggressive when other monsters are around, refusing all efforts to talk or settle things peacefully. Checking its status, however, yields some flavor text saying "It seems evil, but it's just with the wrong crowd..." and sure enough, if you eliminate all other monsters, Migosp immediately drops the tough guy act and starts peacefully dancing and hanging out. This is the only way Migosp can be spared in a Pacifist Run.
  • Yandere Simulator: According to her profile, Kokoro Momoiro claims to oppose bullying, despite hanging out with this type of crowd whom she never admonishes for their cruel behaviour, but rather takes part in it. According to sources outside the game, she used to be a victim of bullying at her old school, and after she transfered to Akademi, she joined their crowd to avoid becoming their target. If all the other bullies disappear or get killed by the player, she will drop the act all together.

    Western Animation 
  • Arthur: Binky Barnes is this in the episode "Arthur's Big Hit". He doesn't want to punch Arthur (especially after hearing about how he punched D.W.) but does so anyway out of peer pressure from his friends.
  • Danny Phantom: Kwan is a regular partner of Dash Baxter in bullying other kids. However, when he is temporarily kicked out of the popular kids' clique, it's revealed he's truthfully a very lonely and insecure individual, who only bullied others to fit in.
  • Family Guy: In one episode, Peter loses his driver's license because of a DUI and has to have Meg chauffeur him and his friends around. At first, they indulge in the usual bullying, but upon seeing Meg offer a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown to a rude guy, Peter realizes that his daughter is a lot cooler than he initially thought. They hang out more and actually begin enjoying each other's company as they have a lot of fun together. At the end of the episode, Peter gets his license back, and Meg realizes that, since Status Quo Is God, he'll probably go back to bullying her again. Peter admits that he will, but only because of peer pressure from the rest of the family, and promises that from now on, they'll be "secret best friends," which he proves by winking at her after making another wisecrack (which is about as close to a Throw the Dog a Bone moment that Meg gets on the show).
  • The Fairly OddParents: The first two seasons imply that Trixie Tang, Timmy's popular girl crush and a wealthy Alpha Bitch, isn't as mean as she lets on. She only behaves that way for image's sake. After season 3, flanderization hit, and Trixie's hints of Hidden Depths were discarded.
  • Jesse from Infinity Train is a basically good-natured kid, but he's also absolutely desperate for approval from a group of toxic friends, so when said friends act as bullies, Jesse does too, even though he feels guilty about it afterward.
  • Babs Seed from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is this in her introduction episode. She was bullied in her old town due to having no Cutie Mark yet and didn't want to be bullied while visiting her cousin, so she ended up being a bully to the CMC.
  • The Owl House: From a young age, Amity Blight's parents impressed upon her that she should only associate with the most powerful of witches. This led her to end her friendship with her best friend Willow (who her parents looked down for being a magical late bloomer), and made her outwardly callous and mean, allowing the "suitable" friends her parents made her hang around with to bully Willow. A glimpse into her diary in "Lost in Language" shows that she regrets being mean, but thinks that as a Blight, she can't show any kind of weakness.

    Real Life 
  • This is a component of "Dedovshchina" ("Rule of the Grandfathers") in the post-Soviet Russian Army, the widespread hazing of new conscripts by conscripts nearing the end of their term of service; late-service conscripts who do not want to subject new conscripts to this hazing are often threatened into doing so by their peers.
  • Shamus Young noted that this was the case with some of his classmates in school; he noticed that some of the children who bullied him were egged on by their peers, and were less mean to him (and a couple were actually nice to him) when they were alone with him.

 
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"Gruntmuffin" Scene

Charlie and Lloyd have a nice talk, until Arthur shows up.

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