I remember it like it was yesterday.
We were all crowded in a circle by the water fountain in the long hallway of Landmark High School. It was one of the gayer months like May or April. It was a Friday. Classes had just let out after 6th period. Students were tired and restless and looking for excitement. At the front of the crowd, one girl was tucked tightly into a fetal position with her neck jerked back by another girl who held her ponytail tight above her head. The girl on the ground was Lauren Cohen. She was ninety-eight pounds, near sighted, covered in acne and knock-kneed, but her biggest offense was that she had taken a drink from the sophomore water fountain without asking permission, and as a freshman, this was inexcusable.
“Hope that water tasted good, you fucking nerd,” said the dominant upper classman, holding Lauren’s ponytail tight. She was a beautiful girl with perfectly tan skin who all the boys wanted to fuck. “I’ve got some more water you can drink right here.”
The bigger girl held a cup of her urine that she had filled in the bathroom, and she dumped it on Lauren’s face. The crowd burst out laughing. Lauren was drenched in piss.
“Ey she made her drink that pee tho!” said one of the black students, who were called Negroes back then. The crowd laughed even harder. Everyone seemed to be having a great time. Everyone except Lauren.
Lauren was being bullied. And in that moment, as I held Lauren’s ponytail and dumped that cup of urine on her face, I realized the true power of bullying.
While bullying is obviously “wrong.” We don’t often address the beneficial aspects of bullying. For starters, obviously, it makes the bully cool, and it makes them feel better. This is the number one reason why bullying remains a problem in our schools. But more important than the coolness aspect is the issue of the inherent humor involved in bullying. Everyone thinks it’s funny.
Think about that moment in that hallway that day. I was victimizing a young girl, yes. But I was also providing invaluable entertainment for the entire student body. Not only did the bullying make me cool, it made everyone else feel better. Everyone except Lauren of course.
Now, this was a long time ago. I’m a grown woman and if I were to behave the way I did in high school, I would be arrested. But I still have these impulses and on a daily basis I encounter some mealy little worm-puke that I want to just mash into the ground with my fists. Over the years I’ve learned to use my head and my words instead of my fists and my urine. I still bully, but I do it by mocking people or through passive-aggression.
For example, there’s a girl at my job with a cleft lip. She makes a hissing noise when she speaks. So the other day while everyone gathered in the break room she started complaining about how hard one of her classes was, and I said to her, hey Beth, just whistle while you work! I looked around the room and smiled and I could tell my other coworkers got the joke and were happy that I said something. I hurt Beth’s feelings, but I made everyone else feel better. Through comedy.
Until we understand that bullying is very funny, it won’t ever go away. You can’t simply tell kids that bullying “isn’t cool,” because everything adults say “isn’t cool” actually turns out to be pretty cool in the long run anyways – smoking, having sex, joining a gang. You have to just let them figure it out on their own. But humor is something much more visceral and permanent than “coolness.” And until we fundamentally change the way people respond to bullying as a stimulus for laughter, we’ll never see the end of it.