There’s something about a bully. We all say how much we hate bullies, but still people flock to them. Especially bullies in power positions. If you’re on the right side of a bully you might feel safe and protected. Sure, we see how they treat the people on their bad side, but not us! Surely! And they get things done, don’t they? Because they’re so used to people being afraid of them that they have this false perception of power and they exude confidence. We don’t necessarily like the way they talk about some people, or their outlandish opinions, the way they casually pick someone apart, or get a kick out of humiliating people… but we believe in their ability to muscle through anything. They seem to have the confidence and capabilities that we lack. They seem to…
As much as we plug positivity on our instagram, we are still a culture that keeps magazines like US Weekly and sites like TMZ in business. If we weren’t so obsessed with feeling better about ourselves by tearing others down (or by watching someone else tear others down) than there wouldn’t be a market for gossip magazines, or endless internet click-bait squares- each promising more shock than the last- or friends who aren’t nice, but who can do things for you; Or big bullies promising to make everything better. Guys like Trump.
We are reaping what we sow, people. We are a culture obsessed with being better than the other guy. You may think bullying is totally different from that desperate thing inside you that rears up when someone else’s life looks better on instagram. But is it different? A bully needs to be better than, needs to surpass, needs to impress. Sure, you can turn a jealous instinct into a grateful one that motivates you to be a better version of yourself. That’s the ideal choice, right? Not comparing yourself to someone else… but that’s the hardest choice. And the easy choice– comparing and complaining– that’s just sitting around, low hanging fruit waiting to be plucked. All those magazines at the checkout line in the market, the constant scrolling through feeds…We have cultivated bullying into an art form. We don’t even call it bullying anymore. It’s just “gossip”. It’s fun! Cheap thrills! Celebrities put themselves in the position to be judged, so it’s fair game!
Let me ask you, once you get nice and cozy with your gossip rag, how do you then view the people around you? It’s a little easier to talk about them the same way you just talked about (insert name of whoever is popular here), isn’t it?
I stopped reading gossip magazines cold turkey six years ago. It was hard because they were all over the hair and makeup trailer of the show I was on. I wanted to KNOW, I wanted to be in on the conversations, to have an opinion, for people to include me! It was actually really hard for the first few months. But I knew why I stopped. I couldn’t reconcile going back to a gossiping mentality with my conscious after reading about the death of a New Jersey boy who had been bullied. Tyler Clementi. Six years ago today, Tyler killed himself because someone wanted to feel better about himself by tearing Tyler down. He probably thought it was hilarious, videotaping Tyler’s first sexual experience. He probably thought it was just a prank.
Why would anyone think that unless the culture around them perpetuates the idea that humans are objects? Tyler was simply an object for his bully to step on when he released the video on Facebook, humiliating him beyond comprehension. But it’s been six years now. Tyler has been forgotten by the media that flocked to defend the young man. The same media that opened all the doors for his Bully to think it was totally okay to do what he did.
I’ve copied and pasted my article from 2011 on Tyler’s death. I hope it inspires you. I hope you always remember the name of every kid who has committed suicide or homicide because of bullying and it stops you cold every time you even think about picking up now of those rags or clicking on their websites and that you quit reading them today and for the rest of your life. I really do.
The American Gossip Epidemic
I lived the second half of my adolescent life in a small town called Ridgewood, New Jersey. My house being just one town over, most of my afternoons and evenings were spent at the Ridgewood movie theatre, the Starbucks, and the vintage shop across the railroad tracks. I had many significant childhood moments there; midnight sneak-aways for frozen yogurt at TCBY with mom, 5-hour long writing sessions (of my first script) at Starbucks, teenaged kisses, shopping with close friends, and after-school ice cream breaks at Haagen Daaz. I went to my first party with alcohol in Ridgewood. I had sleepovers and homework cram sessions, went to football games and youth group, I had days when I was on the top of the world, and days when I wished the world would swallow me up– the way one can only wish when they are 16. My life was extremely ordinary in that regard. There have been and will be so many New Jersey teens who experience these things in that tiny town. One of these teens was Tyler Clementi.
At just the tender 18 years of age, and a freshman at Rutgers U, Tyler felt that wave of despair the way so many of us did when we were bullied, humiliated, rejected and exposed, and Tyler decided that he couldn’t take it anymore.
You’ve no doubt read about his suicide. It’s been all over the news in the last few days. It broke my heart to hear about him, and then to find out that he was a Ridgewood, New Jersey kid– that he’d walked up and down those streets where I walked, that he’d seen movies at that theatre and probably had a favorite drink he ordered every time he went to the adjacent Starbucks where he’d, no doubt, spent time sitting and laughing with friends after school or doing homework… it just hit me really close to home and reminded me of my teenage years and how truly difficult they were. Not difficult because they were birthed in any extarordinarily awful circumstances; difficult because… it’s just really, really hard to be a teenager.
I was a pretty lonely kid. I had moved around a lot and related better to adults sometimes due to growing up in the entertainment business. I was always the girl that got bullied because I was eccentric. I wore loud clothes, I sang all the time, I was a know-it-all, and had weird (but yummy) food in my lunch box. When I moved to New Jersey I had come from Texas, so my Southern twang didn’t help me much either. The long and short of it is: I was desperate for people to like me, but terrified to let people in. I was never one of the “popular” girls– they were always mean. I guess I floated around a lot in different crowds. There was a small group of girls in high school who let me hang out with them. They were sweet and, though I never totally felt like one of them, I did feel safe. I had a best friend, Jenny, who I still talk to, there was a boy (isn’t there always) and I had my youth group. Most of the kids in the youth group were nice to me– mostly, I suspect, because it was the “Christian” thing to do. Nonetheless, I was grateful for it. My loneliness was eased during those years by a small handful of kids who were kind enough to be nice to the weird girl, but it was still hard– and that was before what I called the American Gossip Epidemic.
(People Magazine covers from 1995 vs. 2010)
Back then, in the 90s, the internet was an amazing new gadget and certainly not much of a site for social networking. The tabloids were mostly about Bat-babies and Aliens, People magazine had a few gossip spots but was mostly full of human-interest stories, and Entertainment Tonight, more fluff than the deep & personal investigation of celebrities, was considered to be a trashy gossip show (at least in my house it was). And then, somewhere along the line, someone opened up the concept of “reality show”… we could actually spend our time watching someone else’s life in ruins and, in turn, feel better about our own. It was something to talk about at the water-cooler. It was innocent, we said– a “guilty pleasure”. Shows like Big Brother & The Bachelor gained popularity and, soon, cheap, trashy knockoffs began to circulate network and cable. Then the tabloids caught on that people wanted to see more carnage! Whose marriage is falling apart? Who is secretly gay? Who has an eating disorder? Who is outrageously fat (even though she’s a size 6)? It became a virtual Colloseum for a modern-society.
And we didn’t mind. It was an escape for us. A way to not think about how bad WE had it. So demand became supply, and year after year we gave in. What was once chatter about The Duchess of York’s divorce became the routine commentary on celebrity vaginas and coked-out, 20something child actresses with bad plastic surgery.
Is it any wonder that teenagers today are so desensitized? We are leading by example and telling them that humiliation is common …acceptable even, as a form of personal entertainment! “It’s just a little gossip,” we say, “it’s not hurting anyone.”
Well, you know what? I’m sick of it. It IS hurting people. It hurt Tyler Clementi. It hurt Matthew Shepard. It hurt Hope Witsell and Jessie Logan, two girls who, in unrelated cases, committed suicide after intimate photos were circulated by ex-boyfriends. It hurt Phoebe Prince (left) who was 15 when she became the target on sexually related online and in-class rumors and killed herself. There are countless others. And you know who else gossip has hurt? People like Lindsey Lohan, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears– I don’t care if you think they invited it– it HURTS them. These young women have been fed to the wolves by their parents and the media and there’s only more to come.
But you don’t have to be a part of that! Our society runs on supply and demand. If you stop demanding– they’ll stop supplying. The only way to change the world is one step at a time. The only way to stop the emotional massacre that is viral among our youth is for YOU to make a change in your own life. Stop buying trash magazines. Stop watching TMZ and visiting gossip websites. Just STOP! It’s a lazy mindset and we are all contributing to these suicides and humiliations every single time we choose to engage in this garbage.
We are better than this. We are intelligent, vibrant, interesting people. We have amazing depths to offer one another in relationship. The next time you are standing in line at the grocery store and you grab that gossip rag out of habit, please think of Tyler Clementi. He may not have been famous, but he was a victim of the deviance bred into our society by the very magazine you hold in your hand.
I think about when I used to wander the Ridgewood streets where Tyler once walked. I remember the pain I felt as a teenager when a rumor about a boy I liked circulated, or a note I wrote got read by the wrong person– and that’s peaches in comparison to nude photos and videos and things that go around now. We didn’t have the internet back then to broadcast it to the whole world– thank God! 50 people was enough! I can’t even imagine trying to wake up and go to school the next morning after being globally humiliated the way teens are nowadays.
If you are a teenager, I don’t envy you your pain, but I do see the amazing opportunity you have to change the environment around you. Your parents aren’t perfect, no one is, and if they didn’t teach you to be kind then teach yourself. Take responsibility for your own words, thoughts and actions and make this world a better place than what has been left to you. Please.
We have to start somewhere.