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School Bullying Is Harmless

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Jimmy: I said you could've fooled me, this place is full of bullies and maniacs.
Dr. Crabblesnitch: Nonsense. That's just school spirit. High jinks. Why, in my day, we felt nothing of castrating the new boys.
Bully

In Real Life, school bullying happens when a child knowingly tries to destroy another child by using various means (insults, bashing, rumours...) The Bully manipulates perceptions of adults and often manages to make them believe that their target is to be blamed. This can last for months, sometimes years, can be really traumatizing and often leads to PTSD or suicidal thoughts. The term 'bullycide' defines what happens when these suicidal thoughts caused by bullying are put into action, and this is before considering the scores and scores of victims who reached this point but were able to be brought back from the brink. Some kids may be bullied even though they have a black belt in karate, have a lot of friends, are very beautiful or have a great sense of humour (in fact, comedians have higher rates of suicide, since comedy is usually used to cover pain).note 

Occasionally, there'll be a lighter, softer take on bullying, often in children's shows:

  1. [X] bullies [Y] because [Y] is nasty, socially awkward or ugly. The viewers are supposed to side with [X] because [X] is better-looking or the narrator. Sometimes the bullying just stops just after [Y] stops "being difficult", "being weird and creepy", or gets a makeover.
  2. [X] bullies [Y] but it turns out that [X] is secretly in love with [Y] or envious for any reason. [Y] decides to have a talk with [X] and at the end of the episode, [X] and [Y] become best friends forever.
  3. [X] bullies [Y] until [Y] decides to learn kung fu or just says, "Stop bullying me, I don't like it." Then [X] gives up bullying forever. "If you stand up to bullies, they'll back down, because they're actually cowards." Note that [X] never uses [Y]'s decision to take a latter stand as ammunition for more bullying, nor does [X] follow [Y]'s attempt to fight back via former by responding with even more force, escalating with greater and far more brutal acts of violence until [Y] is simply too injured to continue to defend themselves.
  4. [Y] mentions that they were bullied at school and was made stronger by the bullying. [Y] never suffers from any kind of trauma.
  5. [X] harasses [Y] not out of sheer malice, but rather because [X] views it as a game or harmless teasing and genuinely doesn't see what they do to [Y] as a bad thing. On the plus side, however, if [X] ever realises that what they're doing is wrong, they may try to patch things up with [Y] and they may or may not end up becoming friends for real.

The most common counter argument against bullying, aside from Blaming the Victim, is that no bullying, in fact, is taking place. People using this line of argument will state that a given situation is simply a case of:

Also see Kids Are Cruel and The Bully. Contrast with Bullied into Depression and Bully Brutality.

As stories about bullying appear more and more often on the news and online, particularly ones involving cyberbullying (which takes the abuse far beyond the school itself), this is becoming more and more of a Dead Horse Trope except that stories of Type 2 can and do happen, as proven by British magazines, i.e. so it's in limbo between Dead Horse Trope and Undead Horse Trope. In any case, works in the 21st century give a much more honest take on bullying, often with advice that can actually help.


Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Completely Deconstructed in Suterareta Yuusha No Eiyuutan: the victim, Katsuragi Daichi, is not only blamed for the bullying he receives, by the bully ringleader, and the rest of his class, but is ignored by the teacher, with the teacher actively making the bullies' job easier by dragging him to class when he tries to hole up in his dorm room, for fear of his life. When the tables are turned after getting to the world of Randolia, and the bullies find themselves on the receiving end, they suddenly realize his trauma wasn't so "harmless" after all.
  • In My Hero Academia, Izuku Midoriya (The Hero) starts the story having endured the constant bullying of his former childhood friend mad current bully Katsuki Bakugo for ten years straight, constantly getting hit with attacks from Bakugo's Quirk (the capacity of sweating nitroglycerine and setting it off at will), being called names (his nickname "Deku" is (at first) a Malicious Misnaming Pun on the kanji of his name that means "puppet" (in the 'you're as useless as...' sense)) and in the first chapter even a Suicide Dare, all of this brought up by Fantastic Ableism (Midoriya being Quirkless in a world where Everyone Is a Super) and Bakugo's absurd sense of superiority. Throughout the whole story Izuku absolutely refuses to consider Bakugo as nothing else but a friend and even shrugs off some of his behavior as "Kacchan being Kacchan", and even when Bakugo endures Character Development into a more standard Jerk with a Heart of Gold, the idea of asking for forgiveness for such a long period of being a bully is never even hinted at by either boy, even when they eventually have their colossal rival-on-rival fight including Izuku telling Bakugo that he's not afraid of him anymore (the reason? Katsuki wants to commit professional seppuku for being a big part in the Disaster Dominoes that forced All Might to retire, and Midoriya is gonna be dragged down with him unless he makes Katsuki get the hell over it. Again, the bullying is never brought up).
    • This may in part be due to Japanese attitudes toward bullying and it becomes clear that Izuku does have some deep-rooted psychological issues, but they are less linked to Katsuki per say and more toward the failure of the people around him (including unfortunately his mother) to properly help and cope with Quirklessness. As for Katsuki, it's revealed that part of his beef toward Izuku is out of a warped belief that Izuku looks down on him (or rather, that he lashes out at anyone he perceives as looking down at him; Izuku just got the worst because Izuku never stopped associating with him and being Quirkless rubs salt into it). However, later implication shows that Katsuki actually fears Izuku or rather his potential, that the so-called "Quirkless loser" is worthier of being a hero than him.
  • Defied with a literal vengeance in Gun-Ota ga Mahou Sekai ni Tensei Shitara.... The main character, Lute, when he was a Japanese high-school teen, was viciously bullied because he and his best friend were "otaku" fascinated with the military, and he viewed this as "normal". He was moved to another class, but his best friend wasn't. In a Moment of Weakness, he turns away when he accidentally stumbles on his friend being brutalized by the bully ring-leader. The victim commits suicide, leaving Lute with Survivor's Guilt. The Bully, having his life destroyed as a direct result of his own actions, blames Lute for it, hunts him down, and stabs him to death as he's heading home from work, and Lute believes he deserved it!

    Fan Works 
  • Subverted in Hit List. The reason a lot of the attackers participate in Ganondorf's plan is because they were bullied, ignored, or marginalized and wanted revenge. This shows up pretty early on, when Link stops one of the shooters from killing Ruto and Darunia out of bitterness over Darnia's popularity and Ruto turning him down when he asked her out. The end of the fic has Link, when giving a speech commemorating those who died in the attack, calling for special attention to be given to bully victims, so something like that could be prevented in the future.
  • Parting Words: Deconstructed in the third chapter of the story, which takes place right after the end of the canon episode "One Bad Apple". Part of the reason why the bullying the Cutie Mark Crusaders (and to an extent, Babs) have suffered through has gotten as bad as it has is that the adults didn't do anything to really help the kids because they didn't think the bullying could possibly be that bad; it was just harmless teasing and a part of growing up. This is continued in the sequel...
  • In Mudsnake, the Headmaster has this viewpoint. When Snape confronts him about Ron mocking Hermoine behind her back, he lets Ron off easy because he's just a growing boy. He also tells Snape that he needs to get over the bullying that occured to him twenty years ago.
  • The Sleeper Hit AU deconstructs the My Hero Academia example above: since Bakugou's cruelty goes unchallenged and unexposed for so long, he never changes his ways, even after becoming a Pro Hero. When his closeminded notions finally are challenged, he's completely unable to handle it, doubling down to the point that he insists that it would have been better if Midoriya had taken him up on his Suicide Dare.

    Literature 
  • Harry Potter:
    • Done weirdly with Harry James Potter, who deals with bullying in his own school fairly easily, but only because he had experience with major trauma from his abusive and unhappy childhood. Harry does have a great deal of empathy for other bullied kids, to the point where he's shocked when he sees his father and godfather screwing with Snape in a Pensieve Flashback. When queried on it, Sirius mostly writes it off as adolescent idiocy though he’s also ashamed of it and Lupin feels guilty about it.
    • Luna Lovegood just smiles and shrugs it off when people steal her things or give her nicknames, though her bedroom reveals that Harry & co.'s friendship is a bigger deal than she let on.
    • Played With regarding Severus Snape. On the one hand, he maintains an unhealthy vendetta against James Potter, who shared a mutual hateship with him as an adult, long after James is dead. On the other hand, Snape's issues stem further from his Abusive Parents and he in turn was a bully (by proxy) and became a Sadist Teacher growing up.
    • The behavior of characters such as Draco Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson could also be considered bullying and Rowling has received letters before from fans that said that something they read in the books helped them to deal.
    • Harry's abusive uncle Vernon Dursley is a firm believer in this, which isn't the least bit surprising, and he enrolls his son Dudley in the same all-boys school he went to; Smeltings, where the uniform includes a knotted stick the students are encouraged to use to assault each other with. It's apparently considered valuable experience for adulthood.
  • Judy Blume's Blubber describes kids' cruelty and lack of empathy very well.
  • Ben Elton's Past Mortem explores the effects of childhood bullying on adults. While the exact nature of these effects varies, in pretty much all cases it is shown to be far from harmless, and to have lasting effects on the victims..
  • The Taffy Sinclair series plays with Type 1. Taffy is implied to be the bully, as she's blonde, pretty, hit puberty earlier than most of the girls in her class, and is a bit stuck-up. It is assumed that the reader will side with Jana and her friends regarding their hatred of her, because most people can empathize with feeling inferior or intimidated by somebody more attractive, particularly during those awkward puberty year. Except that Jana and her friends have outright formed a club called "The Against Taffy Sinclair Club" which is devoted to embarrassing Taffy in any number of ways. Not until Taffy's mother and Jana's mother confront the girls about this do they have a Heel Realization and realize that they are the bullies in this case—Taffy, for all her admitted bitchiness, has never really said or done anything to them to warrant their ill treatment.
  • Sweet Valley High plays with this. It's averted among the tertiary characters, showing how it affects not only the victim but the perpetrator— by the time he reforms and wants to make amends, no one wants to be his friend, and no one believes his sincere efforts at redeeming himself. But it's sometimes played straight with the main or secondary characters—Jessica and her friends often get called out for doing this to others—but rarely explicitly punished, whereas behavior from Elizabeth that could be considered this is rarely even acknowledged.
  • Deconstructed in Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass, which specifically targets this assumption (and related ones, like Bystander Syndrome, Slut-Shaming, and the idea that transferring schools due to bullying is cowardly/an invitation for more ridicule) in its look at school bullying. Even though the ringleader is punished and the main character is able to transfer schools in the end, she's never the same afterwards and has clear signs of PTSD, taking school bullying very seriously.
  • The Discworld Assassins Guild Diary takes the "survival of the fittest" view. Since the purpose of the Assassins Guild School is, of course, to produce killers, this is presumably not intended as an actual endorsement by the authors. Especially since it implies that if bullying is resolved by the actual death of the bully, that's survival of the fittest too.
  • Doom Valley Prep School takes the Social Darwinism angle. Yes, the bullies are utterly horrifying monsters, both figuratively and literally in some cases, but the teachers don't give a damn, at best, because it's the victims' own fault that they are too weak/stupid to find an effective way to fight back.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Ashley from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is bullied by another girl. It turns out that the bully had misunderstood her and they just exchange a few words and reconcile. Their parents, on the other hand....
  • The Big Bang Theory:
    • Penny is revealed to have been a bully in high school, but doesn't realize it until she's an adult and Bernadette and Amy talk about their experiences being bullied. She decides to donate clothes to Goodwill to feel better about herself. By the end of the episode she doesn't seem too bothered by it and is instead stealing clothes from Goodwill. Another episode has her casually mention having bullied a kid, saying it was his fault since he was wearing a bow tie.
    • One episode had the male characters bullying a jock by saying things in the course of their conversation that make him feel stupid. As soon as he realises this, being a Nice Guy, he never retaliates, but he is clearly offended. Penny tries using the If You Taunt Him, You Will Be Just Like Him argument on them, but they claim it's okay since they're weaker than him and are not abusing him physically (though they do realise their mistake and go apologise shortly after).
  • Deconstructed a few times in Criminal Minds.
    • In the episode "Elephant's Memory," the unsub is a victim of bullying who's become an "injustice collector," a type of serial killer who goes after the people who have wronged him. Not only was the school staff aware of the bullying he and his girlfriend faced, so were the police. Reid, who endured similar bullying in school, relates heavily to the unsub and blames the community for his actions.
      Police Officer: Look, boys have a way of sorting these things out.
      Reid: They sure do. Right now, Owen is out there sorting it out with an assault rifle.
    • The episode "The Anti-Terror Squad" again features a bullying victim lashing out against the bullies in his school. And their families. The episode's title refers to a group of victims who named themselves because the bullying they experienced felt like terrorism, and the BAU team actually agrees. In this case, at least one adult (the school's guidance counselor) did take the bullying seriously and attempt to intervene. Unfortunately, he fell hard into Adults Are Useless territory, because no one took him seriously.
  • Friends: Ross, Chandler and Monica all mention they were bullied growing up in various capacities. It's played for laughs, even though some of the stuff sounds horrible and they suffer lingering affects.
  • Supernatural
    • One episode showed a group of two boys who bully another kid and think it is harmless until they accidentally drown him and it comes back to haunt them 35 years later when his ghost starts killing off their loved ones.
    • Also "Wishful Thinking" had a bullied kid gain Super-Strength and decide to turn the tables against his tormenters. It's hard to feel bad for them, even when it's clear the kid is well on his way to becoming a supervillain. Eventually he loses his powers, but Dean pretends he still has them just so the other kids will leave him alone.
    • Yet another episode, "After School Special", dealt with a character that was a victim of bullying and a bully himself, who had committed suicide, and spent a majority of the episode possessing victims of bullying and causing them to enact bloody revenge.
  • Dollhouse has an entire subplot involving Summer Glau's awkward, geeky character who used to be bullied and used. Nobody lucked out on that one.
  • Firefly even has a bit of anti-bullying messages, namely using Jayne. For all the hell he puts River through, not only does she end up returning it, but Mal sets him straight, almost spacing him. And then she terrifies Jayne in a random lucid moment.
  • Deconstructed in 13 Reasons Why. The bullying and harassment Hannah received over a long stretch of time (which included Slut-Shaming and being blamed for her own rape) and the lack of help she got from the adults that didn't think it was anything too bad drove her past the Despair Event Horizon and ultimately kill herself. Most of the thirteen people she held responsible for driving her to do this are forced to own up to their actions and are put through the emotional wringer in the process.
  • Deconstructed in Cobra Kai. The bullying (both in-person and online) that Miguel, Aisha, Eli, and Bert have had to deal with has been largely ignored or written off by the other adults around them who didn't think the bullying was anything worth worrying too much about, even though the kids are hurting and are desperate for some kind of solution. When Johnny reopens the Cobra Kai Dojo, several kids sign up in the hopes of learning ways to defend themselves because they see the classes as the last resort they've got to resolve their problem that they have to take into their own hands. Even when some of the kids go into He Who Fights Monsters territory, the narrative makes it clear that they're still good people who've just been pushed way too far.
  • Defied in the pilot episode of Burn Notice. Michael ends up giving self-defense tips to his client's third-grade son after finding out a bully blacked his eye, and then proudly observes the child beating the crap out of said bully before the credits. Michael likens it to his own experience dealing with warlords and dictators in developing countries: they thrive on having people be weaker than them and can only be stopped by their would-be victims fighting back.

    Magazines 

    Music 
  • Scratch 21's song "The Rhyme" directly calls out this trope. The title is a reference to the rhyme "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."
    "But what they forgot was/That you don't need to break my bones for you to break me"

    Newspaper Comics 
  • One early Dilbert Sunday strip played with this. Dilbert and Dogbert encounter by chance a former classmate of Dilbert's who used to bully him. Dilbert has a chat with him and at first it seems like it's a Type 4 with Dilbert claiming that the bullying made him the man he is today...a bitter adult, obsessed with thoughts of revenge. He and Dogbert then proceed to mock the former bully.

    Video Games 
  • Invoked in Bully (naturally enough) - Principal Crabblesnitch characterizes bullying as "hijinx" and "mischief." Gym coach Mr. Burton encourages bullying as a means to toughen up weak kids.
  • Physical Exorcism: Case 01: Deconstructed. Not only is Black Driven to Suicide because of school bullies, the school does little to stop the bullies. One teacher, Mr. Lee, tried to tell himself that because he personally survived bullying, Black should be able to do so as well, only to be proven wrong. According to Lucy, the leader of the bullies, school bullying is a microsm of the dog-eat-dog tendencies of society.

    Web Original 
  • Taken to an absurd degree in the response to "To This Day Project". Not necessarily because of any of the above reasons, but because detractors criticize the program for not focusing on so-called real problems such as starving children and war...yes really. It's sadly not too hard to find similar criticisms towards pretty much any anti-bullying program.

    Western Animation 
  • On Family Guy, Meg's harassment by Connie D'Amico, a blonde, petite popular girl at James Woods High School, is Played for Laughs. Deconstructed whenever Connie ends up getting her comeuppance (usually because of the overkill involved into said comeuppance—like getting Quagmire to meet her).
    • When Peter briefly had his own kids show on public access, he made an episode where he talked about bullying to avert this, but when the kid he was talking to admitted to wetting his pants as a result of being bullied, Peter turned on him for "being too old" to wet himself, kicked him over, and told the other kids in the audience to finish him off.
    • Lois seems to believe this as well, having been a bullying Alpha Bitch herself in high school. When one of her former victims, Joyce Kimmie, returned decades later and took revenge by revealing that Lois had once starred in a porno movie, making her a pariah in town, Lois just gives a half-assed apology about her past actions, but mostly just complains that Joyce doesn't have any right to ruin her life now. She also threw Chris to the wolves when he started freshman year in high school and got caught in the "tradition" of all the freshman students being paddled by older students (and even some of the adults), and when Chris is understandably traumatized and refuses to return to school, she just tries to give him a lesson about "not running from your problems".
  • In the French animated show Lou!, twelve-years-old Lou has been bullied by the same girl since kindergarten. However, Lou doesn't suffer from any kind of trauma and her best friend is the only person who noticed anything. One day, Lou decides to tell the bully how fed up she feels, and the bullying stops, even though the girl is One Head Taller than Lou.
  • Care Bears: Welcome to Care-a-Lot: When a girl named Madison keeps bullying a girl named Kaylee, the Care Bears advise her to tell Madison how she feels and even give her tips on body language. When Madison still refuses to stop the bullying, the Care Bears use a Care-Bear Stare and Madison is forced to cool down and explain why she's been bullying Kaylee. It turns out it was a case of jealousy. They agree to be friends, but if not for that Care Bear Stare...
  • Type 2 on TOTO (This One and That One), a short-form series featuring two young cat-people, This One and That One, airing on-demand on a service called Kabillion on some U.S. cable/satellite providers. When a bully takes This Ones's sandwich, he and That One brainstorm ways to beat the bully, but are overheard by their Mom. She explains that the bully is worried because he might be about to fail math and is trying to make himself look tough. This One and That One reveal that they know his secret and offer to help him with his math, and it works. It can be watched officially, for free, here.
  • Subverted in the Spider-Man: The New Animated Series episode "The Party" in which Max Dillion is constantly harassed by a group of stuffy students who bit him into joining their Alpha Sigma fraternity. When it turns out to be a hazing ritual in which Max is splattered with paint guns, he runs out and is transformed into Electro, one of Spider-Man's famous enemies. Things don't end well for the bully Doug as he is shocked to death by his own victim.
  • The Static Shock episode "Jimmy" also subverts this. Jimmy is constantly bullied in school and Virgil and Richie are the only ones who stand up for him at all. Virgil getting upset when Jimmy suggests showing off his dad's gun (a personal hot button since Virgil's mom died to gunfire) and Jimmy's escalated bullying leads to him pulling the aforementioned gun on his tormentors and accidentally shooting Richie in the leg. The episode ends with the viewers being urged to step in and help anyone being seen getting bullied.

    Real Life 
  • This satirical opinion piece from 2002 argues that bullies giving their victims wedgies makes for a good life lesson.
    It's time to give the wedgie its due. (Give the wedgie a fond tug.) Somewhere out there, freshmen boys are keeping the lowest possible profile in the hallways, hoping to avoid senior football players, who seek to wedgie them or worse, and this is a good thing, in that it's a firsthand lesson in the human condition: Sometimes life stinks.
  • Various podcasts such as Behind The Bastards and Vaush have made quips about how certain people weren't bullied enough when they were younger.

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