A day after seeing the film Moonlight, I went to iview to watch the first episode of Bullied with Ian Thorpe, which first aired on Tuesday evening.
I knew the ABC program's treatment of school bullying would be worlds apart from that of Moonlight's meditative approach, and I wasn't wrong.
Moments after I pressed play, I wanted to press stop. The drums in the soundtrack set up the tension that marked the program. It was about the thrill of the chase. Nailing the bullies.
Using hidden cameras to hunt down and intimidate the bullies, rather than fostering understanding by opening everybody's eyes to the bigger picture, as Moonlight did.
There were a lot of positive values articulated by the sincere Thorpe and authoritative expert Professor Marilyn Campbell. But the main game was action of giving the bullies a bit of their own medicine, as if two wrongs do make a right. You violate my right to respect and I'll violate your right to privacy.
There was no suggestion of the ambiguous nature of school bullying, where bullies and bullied alike are victims of a system that is made up of chains of manipulation and coercion.
In Moonlight we saw the main character Chiron bullied by his best friend Kevin because Kevin was forced into it by those further up the chain. In turn, those higher up would have been bullied by others - drug dealers perhaps. I don't think you'd ever find a bully who wasn't being himself or herself being bullied or intimidated by some more powerful person or life circumstance.
About a decade ago, I ran into one of my school bullies and he apologised to me. I mentioned this to a friend who was in the same class. He said: 'What? You bullied him as much as he bullied you'.
My friend was right. I was mostly the victim of bullying, but would not hesitate to take it upon myself to bully others if they were weaker than me and the opportunity presented itself.
Do I feel the need to apologise or to admit my guilt? No. Do I think the dynamics of the system that fostered my bullying need to be studied and acted upon? Most certainly.
My point is that targeting bullies - by hidden cameras or other means - only makes bullies out of those attempting to halt the bullying.
Thorpe was the gentle giant superhero on a mission to stamp on the bullies with his secret weapon the hidden camera. I would suggest that some set of circumstances would have manipulated him into taking part in this show business game that really wasn't him.
In doing so, he was himself a bully, a bit like Kevin in Moonlight. He was working as a proxy for the dark sources of real power, whatever they were. The program's mistake was that it had Thorpe nailing the bullies, rather than the culture that produced them.