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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bluto Gets What's Comin' to Him.

(c) 2011 by Tom King
Illustrations Max & Dave Fleischer Studios
(c) Turner Entertainment

A recent viral video that has, not surprisingly, been banned from YouTube, shows an overweight high school kid being tormented by a smaller bully. He absorbs a direct hit to the face and stomach before he loses his temper and body slams the little twerp into the concrete. Casey, the child being bullied was suspended along with his attacker, but I suspect Casey thought the punishment darn well worth the satisfaction of making the young thug stop tormenting him. It also made him a hero to every persecuted kid in the nation.

My middle son tolerated a lot of that sort of nonsense when he went to school. When one young thug bloodied the inside of his eyeball, Micah could no longer hide the bullying from us.  He'd been held down by this kid and punched in the face till he his eye bled. I approached the school and they would not give me the name of Micah's attacker or the name of the boy's parents. BUT PRACTICALLY EVERYONE ELSE IN THE SCHOOL WAS HAPPY TO PROVIDE THAT INFORMATION.  The school did not call the police. They treated it as a "boys will be boys" incident - no harm done  Only I had to take Micah to an expensive opthamologist to have his eye treated.

Having been bullied myself, I decided this would stop. My eldest son was already being persecuted in an attempt to drive him off the school basketball team by these same gang wannabes - including this boy that viciously punched my younger son.  I went to visit the boy's parents. They were nice people but did not speak English. The kid who had hit my son translated for me.  Knowing the parents were getting a watered down version, I did not hide my anger much. That they would understand no matter what the boy told them I was saying. AND I didn't even try to aim my comments at them. It was obvious who was in charge in that home. Instead, in my best Dirty Harry impersonation I explained what I would do if the boy every laid a hand on one of my kids again. There were no threats, only a solemn promise to carry him bodily to police station and file charges personally while I sat on him until they could get the cuffs on. Whether he told his parents that or not, HE heard it.

He stopped tormenting my son for a while, buying Micah time to grow almost a foot taller and put on an imposing 50 pounds in the next two years. When he became too large to risk attacking anymore, they left him alone. I also taught both my boys to defend themselves without injuring their attacker. It was a technique I taught working at a treatment center for disturbed kids. I was doing 8-10 interventions and restraints a day at first. The boys learned a lot about verbal methods for deflecting bullies, but they also got thorough training in how to physically manage and deflect an on-coming attacker.

THEN, I got together with a group of parents whose kids were also being tormented and we made a cause celebre' out of replacing the school board with angry parents. School board elections are notoriously poorly attended, so about 25 of us were able to swing the vote and put a majority voting block of those angry parents on the board.  They promptly created a zero tolerance policy toward violence and young bullies started having to be picked up from the police station by their moms and dads. Violence subsided dramatically.

When I was in elementary school, I had a former friend decide he would increase his rank in the school's thug pecking order by singling me out to torment. I was the skinniest kid in the class, wore (usually) broken glasses with tape in the middle and made good grades. I was the perfect target. He kept going after me in front or the bigger boys, more than half of whom eventually went on to serve time when they grew up. At first I ignored it which only encouraged him. Then I pinned him down on his face in the grass and explained that I wasn't going to hurt him, but that I would appreciate it if he would stop. About then I looked up and realized my teacher, Mrs. Webb, was watching the whole thing out the window of our classroom. She never said a word to me about it.  The would-be bully attacked me on the playground a second time and pinned my arms behind me. The bell had rung and we were supposed to be going in. I warned him that I needed to go inside and he told me I couldn't escape. I told him I could but he wouldn't like how I did it. He dared me to try it, so I head butted him in the nose.  He followed me inside, blood pouring down the front of his shirt.

Again, Mrs. Webb said nothing to me about it.

Desperate to win back his manhood, my tormenter attacked me again in the restroom putting me in a head lock in front of some big boys. The bell rang and they left and again he tried to get me in a head lock. When I twisted free a second time he tried to knock me down and pin me. I asked nicely for him to let me go. He came at me again. I'd been watching Saturday night wrestling the previous weekend with my step-dad and decided on the spur of the moment to try something I'd seen. As my attacker bored in to ram me, I pushed down his head and his momentum drove his head between my knees.  In one surprisingly smooth move for an awkward kid, I pinned his head between my knees and jerked his feet off the ground by the back of his trousers.

With his feet waving in the air, I again asked him to leave me alone. He threatened to kill me.

So, I hopped over to the toilet and sat down, driving his head down into the bowl. I flushed. With water swirling around his ears, he finally promised to leave me alone.  I lowered him to the ground and went on my way. He showed up for class 15 minutes later with his hair only partially dried (we only had paper towels in the olden days).  I never told anyone why his hair was wet and he never came after me again. Again, my teacher never said a word to me about it, though I found out later that she did find out about it.

I still have scars from the bullying I endured in elementary school from the bigger bullies, so my sympathies are entirely with the young man in the video. It's true he might have seriously hurt the kid who was punching him in the face, but as someone pointed out, if you attack another person, you lose your right to protest that they have defended themselves too well. 

Dave Fleischer, the director of the old Popey cartoons, actually did one called "Assault and Flattery" in which Bluto tries to sue Popeye for all the times Popeye had defended himself and pounded Bluto into submission. The cartoon was strangely prescient of how we treat bullies today.

Years later, when I became a teacher, I persecuted young bullies unmercifully. If I caught them in the act, and I often did, I came down on them like a ton of angry bricks. The punishments were always much worse than the crimes.  I learned that with bullies, the only way to make them stop is to make the consequences outweigh the satisfaction their egos derive from tormenting others. Attempts to negotiate with bullies are only seen as weakness by bullies.  You always have to follow up diplomacy with, as Teddy Roosevelt so colorfully pointed out, "A Big Stick".

I'm just sayin'


*Read Orson Scott Cards "Enders Game" for a novel length treatment of the subject.

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