VH1's 'Revenge of the Nerds' Anti-Bullying PSA Gets Everything Wrong
Bullying is a big problem, one that definitely needs to be addressed more often than it is. But at the same time, not all anti-bullying efforts are created equal. Case and point, the VH1 musical anti-bullying ad that's going viral, yet is still ludicrously out of touch. I mean, as just the tip of the problematic iceberg, it's called "Revenge of the Nerds." So you can probably already guess where the whole thing is headed.
The clip shows various misfit elementary and middle school students suffering at the hands of the "cool" kids, who dunk their heads in the toilet and hoist them up the flag pole, all while these poor kids sing Gloria Gaynor's power anthem "I Will Survive" with remixed lyrics about how one day the nerds will have their revenge once they become the cool kids' bosses. As far as useful anti-bullying messages go, it's about as helpful as that ridiculous "Don't Tell On Bullies" worksheet that cropped up last week.
That hasn't stopped it from getting some positive press, though. In fact TIME called it the "Most Epic, Vengeful Anti-Bullying PSA of All Time," and delights in the idea of nerds "revisit[ing] the sins of the bullies in adulthood." Other people have called it "hilarious" and "different" while seeming to miss the fact that the ad basically teaches kids that abuse is fine so long as you turn it into a cycle.
But it isn't just that the ad, which does not feature any adult figures, rather blatantly implies kids should just accept whatever bullying they face now. As Rebecca Rose notes at Jezebel, the video focuses exclusively on physical bullying and "is surprisingly lacking in any mention of online bullying, which is probably one of the biggest threats facing young children these days."
So it's not only sending the wrong message, it's also out of touch with what bullying actually is. Today 95 percent of all teenagers are online in some capacity and fully 15 percent of those teens using social media say they have been the target of meanness online. By some accounts, over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online. And in some cases, cyber-bullying has been so hurtful that teens have taken their own lives. Pretending that bullying in the 21st century is just about being towel-whipped is ludicrous.
And it's also ludicrous to act as though the small, nerdy kid — the kind who will go on to be a CEO — is the primary target of bullying in today's age. Though the video does depict one overweight kid, it's much more focused on small boys with glasses (and one not conventionally pretty girl). When in reality, even in cases of traditional bullying, it's most common for a student to be targeted by bullies due to their weight, followed closely by gender, perceived sexual orientation, or disability. Bullying someone based on their race, religion, or gender identity is also highly common. Nerdy, cishet, white boys are definitely not the face of the modern bully victim.
But even if the video did depict a more accurate picture of bullying, that wouldn't make it's message any better. For one thing, not all bullies go on to lead miserable lives. Often the same things that gave them the social status necessary to bully — like being good looking, for instance — gets them plenty far in the world after high school. And not every bully victim goes on to become wildly successful. In fact, bully victims often struggle with fear, anxiety, depression, insecurity, difficulty concentrating (and the corresponding low grades), headaches, stomach aches, and nightmares.
Telling kids that they should let bullying continue until the day they can take their revenge in the adult world not only perpetuates the cycle of abuse, but also means bullied kids are more likely to develop the sorts of problems that actually impede their long term success. And so "Revenge of the Nerds" is not so much a powerful message as it is a God-awful one. For actual insight on teen bullying, you'd be better off watching Mean Girls.
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