The schoolyard bully is in trouble. Not the cool kind that earned him our hate-masked envy, (Remember when he stole that egg carton we lovingly decoupaged for Mommy and used it as an ashtray? Ah, kindergarten.) but real trouble. The bully, an American icon as venerated as the community-minded drug lord or the belligerently devout pedophile, is in imminent danger of going the way of the Marshall Islands and representative democracy.
Why have bullies suddenly been marked for special handling? What transformed them from beloved playground proto-fascists into talk-radio's pariah du jour? In a word, the Internet. In a non-word, cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is to bullying as cybersex is to sex -- i.e. not it. Cyberbullies are teenagers who accuse each other on Facebook of being either sluts, virgins, or gay, depending on a weighted average of the Nikkei Index and Lindsay Lohan's most recent bail. Occasionally a cyber-bullyee takes the merciless good-natured torment to heart, and must be therapeutically reminded that high-school, like most of life, is unimportant.
Cyberbullying, the bastard step-child of prank phone calls and writing in toilets, has given real bullying a bad name. (No disrespect intended to bastards. Or step-children. Or writing in toilets.) Taunting adolescents to the point of despair by anonymous remote control isn't bullying. A real bully would sooner admit to his own feelings of, well, anything, than be associated with those effete pissants hunched over their laptops typing into the aether. Typing, for god's sake. A bully doesn't hide behind fiber optics, LCDs or words. He punches you in back of the head and then takes your Chiclets.
The solution to the epidemic of unhappy teenagers created by cyber-bullying is simple: ignore it. Teasing-induced misery during life's second decade has been around ever since three Australopithecines invented being mean to a fourth one. Lucy's bad posture is now attributed not to her unfamiliarity with walking erect but to having been mocked for her déclassé method of hurling feces. Hectoring each other is as crucial to human nature as alcoholism and will accompany us long into the future. Years hence biochemists will reluctantly announce decoding the last strands of our DNA to reveal not a protein sequence but the phrase "Gina puts out."
In the here and now, the art of making teens feel bad about themselves should be embraced, nurtured and promoted. Their depression is the only thing staving off THE depression. Youthful misery is the engine behind the music, cosmetic and fashion industries, the last splintery pegs of our all but ruined economy. Selling empty promises of renewed self-esteem to hormonally compromised adolescents is all that's keeping the wheels of commerce greased until the next real war comes along to save us.
An even more daunting consequence awaits should we continue to target bullying en masse just to stamp out its cybernetic variant - the creation of something worse. Look at antibiotic resistant bacteria. In trying to rid the world of disease pathogens, we succeeded only in wiping out the bugs weak enough to succumb to our first salvo. Left unharmed were robust germs like MRSA, a microbial Chuck Norris that craves vancomycin for its zesty tang and can only be killed fictionally. Taming bullies will not tame bullying. The taunting baton will be picked up by the next phylum down the noogie chain. Whether it's jocks, heads, student governmentarians or class clowns, someone will step in to fill the void of random abuse. The only thing nature abhors more than a vacuum is an un-picked on nerd.
Finally, eradicating bullying would deny our posterity their rightful share in the rubble of the American dream. As the world's policeman, bullying is pretty much the only thing we still do better than anyone else. Of course, in education, health care, technology and general quality of life we are second to no one. Most measures put us around twenty-fifth. In more than a few categories we take a back seat to the likes of India, whose cars don't even have back seats. But, we must be patient. One day we may regain some of our former status in the more respected, non-mayhem based fields, allowing future generations of spoiled American youth to travel abroad without needing to pass as Canadians. As world powers go, we are yet very young. This could, after all, just be a phase we're going through. We'll probably grow out of it.
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