How much is too much bullying?

1 Mar

On the TV show Glee, bullying is complicated: Dave Karofsky, one of the show’s most aggressive homophobic bullies, turns out to be gay himself. When Dave’s peers find out, he becomes object of the hate he helped foment. In a recap of this episode, Huffington Post TV editor Crystal Bell writes:

In a cruel sense of poetic justice, the tormenter became the tormented as Dave Karofsky had to deal with the outcome of being seen with [openly gay student] Kurt at Breadstix. He was bullied, emotionally and physically. His mother even told him that he could be ‘cured’ from his ‘disease.’ Karofsky decided that the only way to escape his pain would be to commit suicide… I was reading some of the early comments on Twitter, and I was shocked by how many people called this scene “unrealistic.” They think that because he was only bullied once, it’s unrealistic for him to try and kill himself”

I’m a little surprised, too, at the fan critique, although in a culture that still believes “boys will be boys,” I’m also not so surprised that some people think “only” being bullied once is no big deal.

What I’d offer to protesting Glee fans is the perspective that Dave didn’t just experience a little bullying. He experienced the bias of a whole culture, whose definition of “normal” now excluded him.  What drove his character to a suicide attempt wasn’t just one person, one attack or one incident: it was losing his right to safety and privacy, it was having his heterosexual privilege revoked and used against him, it was recognizing that he would have to struggle against prejudice to live his life. I think the critics crying “unrealistic” can’t see the forest for the trees: whether someone is bullied for being gay once, twice or too many times to count, each act of aggression carries the collective force of real, systemic and ongoing homophobia. Only bullied once? I’d say that’s more than enough.

** Note: you can watch a montage of Dave’s storyline here:

One Response to “How much is too much bullying?”

  1. Sally P March 1, 2012 at 3:00 pm #

    Once is too much. When I watched this episode, I was actually talking out loud to the TV, saying “it gets better, Dave”. But does it, really? When I hear the vile rhetoric of some politicians, I wonder if the sting still lingers…

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