Friday, July 22, 2011

The sad truth about bullying

After a short trip to Pittsburgh to visit my Pirates, I've been catching up on my TiVo'd episodes of CSI: Miami.  One of them, "Stoned Cold," turns out to be the best episode of CSI: Miami in years, albeit a very flawed one, and one that hits pretty close to home.

The official CBS teaser describes the plot of "Stoned Cold" this way: "The CSIs try to figure out which nerd took revenge when a high school bully is stoned to death."  I definitely have issues with that description, but let's put that aside for the moment.  The victim, perhaps counterintuitively, is a high school girl, Blair Hawkins, gorgeous, rich, popular, extremely self-confident and an evil, manipulative bitch who destroys people psychologically for her own amusement. 

A few asides.  First, the role of Blair Hawkins was played brilliantly by young actress Linsey Godfrey.  Godfrey has played relatively friendly characters in the past, so this role was a major departure for her.  She certainly seemed to enjoy it; check out the behind the scene pics of her with fellow guest star Erin Sanders, who played one of Hawkins' victims (and very well, I might add).  Like Jack Nicholson as the Joker, Godfrey played the vile Hawkins -- so beautiful outside, so ugly inside -- with relish, and stole every scene she was in.  The viewer --well, most viewers; I'll get to that -- would hate this murder victim.  The episode might have been better titled "The Blair Bitch Project."

Second -- and this may sound bad, but I'll explain -- without ruining the ending, there's a certain nobility to Hawkins' final stand.  Tied up, barefoot, helpless, surrounded, facing her death, Hawkins, while demanding her release and screaming in pain, doesn't beg for her life, doesn't grovel, doesn't even cry for help.  Instead, she's a picture of defiance, taunting, mocking and even threatening her tormentors.  She goes down fighting.

Defiant last stand: helpless in the face of death, Blair Hawkins (Linsey Godfrey) taunts her captors. (CSI: Miami on CBS)
Given that Linsey Godfrey herself has faced down death by surviving Hodgkin's Lymphoma, such defiance and strength is probably second-nature to her.  Murderers are nothing compared to cancer.  Ms. Godfrey, may you go far in Hollywood and find peace and joy in your career.

There is something very admirable, even in someone as evil as Blair Hawkins, in facing death with defiance.  It does show a certain strength of character.  It's why we still celebrate the Alamo, or at least the legend of the Alamo, since the reality was very different.  It's why we celebrate surrounded US paratroopers holding out against and even taunting German panzers at Bastogne.  By comparison, Adolf Hitler made no last stand, but shot himself rather than face his enemies personally.  Usama bin Laden's last stand consisted of hiding behind a woman and shoving her at US Navy SEALS.

One of my favorite stories of Julius Caesar is that of his kidnapping.  In 75 BC he was kidnapped and held for ransom by pirates (albeit not ones of my Pittsburgh variety, fortunately).  The pirates demanded 20 talents for hsi release.  Caesar laughed and said they should be demanding 50.  While captive, he ordered the pirates around like servants and taunted them with how when he was released he would have them crucified.   The ransom was paid and Caesar was released.  Sure enough, he returned, got his ransom back and had them crucified.

That's not how most law enforcement and security agencies saw to deal with being kidnapped, but that's how I want to deal with it.  That's how I want to face death, or bullies like Blair Hawkins. With defiance.  I want to go down fighting.  I hope to go down fighting.

Which brings me to my main point. About bullying.

CBS' treatment of bullying in "Stoned Cold" leaves a lot to be desired, but it unfortunately seems to be the predominant opinion about bullying among people in power.  Yeah, bullying bad, but you can't do anything about it.  Nor should you.  The victims of bullying probably deserve it.

Just look at CBS' teaser for the episode: "The CSIs try to figure out which nerd took revenge when a high school bully is stoned to death."  "Nerd" is generally considered an insult.  So, if you're the victim of a bully, you must be a "nerd."  Nice stuff, CBS.  The plot of the episode makes clear that Hawkins' victims had done nothing wrong, nothing to merit her ire.  But to CBS' promotional department, just being bullied makes one a "nerd."

And throughout the episode, you will find no sympathy whatsoever among the main characters for Hawkins' teenage victims or their parents.  No judgment against Hawkins' conduct.  Now, granted, they're law enforcement so they're supposed to enforce the law, not make judgments.  Of course, that hasn't stopped them in past episodes.

The most you will find is a mild comment about Hawkins' mother.  Her rich mother, her enabling think, who think her little angel has done nothing wrong.

They even help promote bullying in one context.  CSI Ryan Wolfe relates his own story of being bullied as a kid.  Eric Delko laughs in response.  Later on, realizing his mistake, he and his colleagues try to make it up to Wolfe, asking him whatever became of the "loser" who bullied him.  Wolfe's response: "He's a congressman."

This is typical stuff when it coms to bullying.  Yeah, bullying is bad, but you can't do anything about it.  Nor should you.  The victims of bullying probably deserve it.

If I as an attorney was givent he chance to represent the murderers of Blair Hawkins, I'd gladly take the case.  And I'd do everything legally and ethically proper in my power to get them off scot-free.  And I bet I could.

Most bullying is psychological, but it can get physical.  Indiana's most recent major experience with bullying was probably the case of the Carmel High School boys basketball team hazing incidents.  Reportedly, in two separate incidents, four senior members of the squad engaged in, to use language from a federal suit filed against the school district, "flashing of (sexual organs) and buttocks, verbal and physical intimidation, groping and numerous acts of violent, sexual assault and battery" against a pair of underclassmen.  The "sexual assault and battery" included sodomy.

The four seniors ultimately reached agreements to plea guilty to various criminal charges, or, to be more specific, various misdemeanor criminal charges.  So, two boys get raped and the perpetrators only get misdemeanors?  That was hardly the only curious thing about the case.  The Carmel Clay School District seemed more interested in covering it up.  The then-Hamilton County Prosecutor seemed rather uninterested in pursuing the case.   Critical video evidence of the crime vanished.   Witnesses were threatened.  Some came forward only anonymously because they feared retaliation.  Reporters covering the case were booed, taunted and even threatened. The victims, whose names were withheld for obvious reasons, were mocked and vilified in the Carmel area.
I actually saw it firsthand.  Had dinner at an Applebee's one night.  Nearby was a table full of older men discussing the case rather loudly.  They were angry that this was even news.  The seniors did nothing wrong.  "Boys will be boys," one of them said.  Another called it "horseplay."  To them, sodomy is "horseplay."

Craig Hoge, the father of one of the seniors, agrees.
"The mother of the victim made a statement saying gooching and sodomization is the same thing. There again could not be a statement that was farther from the truth. A gooching is the same as a goosing which has happened for 40 years," said Craig Hoge, Brandon's father.

Hoge's father said his son would apologize for making the victim feel uncomfortable but that's as far as the apology would go.

"If you've not been in a locker room, if you've not been involved in sports, I'm not going to say that the locker room is a place for the weak. I know what I went through at a younger age and horseplay does happen. There's a bonding process," said Craig Hoge.
A parent defending their child is understandable, but this statement by Hoge is contemptible, and a big reason why I support ending gym classes in schools.  He thinks gooching, goosing, sodomy is OK because it's part of a 'bonding process."  The locker room where that "bonding process" occurred is not a place for "the weak."  That is the thinking of a bully.

I do not know Craig Hoge.  I have never met him.  I can only judge him by his statements and his conduct in the case, and if they are an accurate guide Craig Hoge is a rich parent, an enabling parent, who thinks his little angel has done nothing wrong. It would not be surprising if he was -- or is -- a bully himself.

That's another dirty little secret about bullying: it's often successful.  A decent percentage of rich people -- and Carmel is the richest of the rich, with a history of bullying -- became rich by bullying, whether it was co-workers, business partners or whatnot.  It worked for them, therefore it must be OK.  If you can't take it, you don't deserve to be successful, they think.  And their children deserve to be successful.

Which is why Wolfe's statement about the bully who tormented him -- "He's a congressman." -- is so true. And so chilling.

Bullying is not punished, but is instead rewarded by society.

And until and unless that changes, we will always have bullying.  And the victims of bullying will languish alone in despair.


  1. Not to defend CBS, but to stick up for CSI in one aspect (I haven't seen the episode nor have I ever wathced a full CSI episode). I suspect that the shows have very little control over the 30 second promotions networks air. The show HOUSE MD is often the victim of this, where every episode "is the most breathtaking ever, and will keep you on the edge of your seat!" and hypes something up that turns out to be a throwaay, 20 second line.

  2. Also, Jeff, I really do like the new blog. The international stuff usually goes over my head, but I enjoy when you cover state/local or more society related issues like this one.

  3. Well, thank you very much. I do appreciate comments from both sides of the aisle, because as you can tell I myself am on both sides of the aisle. It just depends on the issue.

    I couldn't blog nearly as much while working for the state. Couldn't and wouldn't blog or tweet from work for obvious reasons, and when I got home I was too tired to really put my heart into it. But now that I'm working for myself I can blog whenever, wherever and about whatever I please, and get into more detail than I could before. And "infamy" has its rewards: I don't have to go overboard to make a point anymore.

    I do have a couple domestic policy posts in the pipeline. Just not quite finished yet. Stay tuned.

  4. Hi, I've seen this episode and I have seen many news in television regarding this problem in schools. I think it is interesting that famous tv shows bring the attention into such widespread matters in society. Sometimes violence takes the class, and some kids should know the punishment when certain actions take place.
    Good blog!

  5. I quit watching the show forever on account of this episode. The self-righteous indignation which was displayed when they took the parents into custody was beneath contempt. The author of this article is right, it was as if CBS and the writers of CSI Miami were celebrating bullying, and the poor dumb schmucks that were subjected to it had just better learn how to take it.