Virtue and Villainy

A guide to heroism for the potential bully in each of us

by James Bocca

Introduction: It is true that, in years past, all of the presentations and videos about bullying probably haven't had that profound of an effect on you.  You can only be didactically told not to bully another person so many times before it starts to become white noise, no matter how many perfectly valid and practical reasons are provided.

However, what you have rarely been given is a philosophical examination of the alternative: that is, to be a hero. It is clearly not enough to say that you are hurting others (even when we make clear that bullying can sometimes generate so much agony as to drag the victim to the point of suicide); it must be made clear why hurting others is something you want to avoid. Please continue reading this presentation and take part in some of the thought-experiments to discover what it means to be a bully, coward, or hero. We hope you make the virtuous choice, or at least think critically about what the most virtuous choices might be.

Let us start by defining some terms that will come up (and have already) in most of the examples:

Hero- a person who is admired for his or her courage, achievements, or nobility.

Virtue- A high standard of excellence in something (morals, wisdom, etc.).

Villain- One who opposes a hero.

Coward- A person who lacks the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things, or someone who victimizes only the weak and defenseless.

Please watch this video clip, excerpted from the film Rocky Balboa

Now, please take a moment to answer these questions:

1) Which character's actions would you most like to emulate here?  Why?

2) Which character's actions are those that you would avoid? Why?

3) Would you do anything differently if you were in Rocky's shoes? Why or why not?

4) Is the belligerent, foul-mouthed man a bully?  Why/why not?  Either way, what is your definition of a bully?

Another example, this time from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

1) Who would you say is the bully here?  Why?

2) Perhaps a little more involved of a question for this clip: who is the hero?  What qualities make him so?  

2) What behaviors (from each character) are worthy to emulate?  Which should be avoided?  Explain your opinion.  You may use the clip alone or any prior knowledge you may have about the plot of the film.

Janis Ian's "At 17" (lyrics included within video)

And now, from the world of music from a seemingly dated genre: Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" (lyrics included below the clip)

1) The bullies in this song are implied, and their brands of bullying are likewise implicit.  Who are the bullies here, and what exactly is the problem?  

2) Can you place yourself in this song?  In other words, which "character" would you be, and what difference could you make in your world?

From The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

1) It can be said that friendship and fellowship are the antidotes to bullying.  In what ways is Sam in this clip acting as a friend - the opposite of a bully - to Frodo?  In addition, as an extension, how could we see Sam's actions as being the model for a bystander, as well?

From the climax of The Hunger Games

1) Who might be the bully - or bullies - here, if any?  How do you know?

2) Are there any heroes?  If so, who?  What evidence from the clip supports your assertion?

3) In the moments during this clip in which Katniss is a bystander, do you think she is doing what she ought to be doing?  If not, what would you do?

Lyrics to "Jeremy":

At home
Drawing pictures
Of mountain tops
With him on top
Lemon yellow sun
Arms raised in a V
And the dead lay in pools of maroon below

Daddy didn't give attention, oh, to the fact that mommy didn't care

King Jeremy The Wicked
Ruled his world

Jeremy spoke in class today
Jeremy spoke in class today

Clearly I remember
Pickin' on the boy
Seemed a harmless little f*** (censored in video)
But we unleashed a lion
Gnashed his teeth
And bit the recess lady's breast. How could I forget
And he hit me with a surprise left
My jaw left hurting
Dropped wide open
Just like the day
Oh, like the day I heard

Daddy didn't give affection, no!
And the boy was something that mommy wouldn't wear
King Jeremy The Wicked Ruled his world.

Jeremy spoke in class today.

1) What can we infer about the sort of bullying taking place here?  What could have been done earlier to stop it?  

2) Place yourself in the situation. What would you have done if you were the speaker in the song, who admits to "Pickin' on the boy"?  Have you ever picked on someone before?  Do you think that the incident implied in the lyrics are a possibility?  Think of some real-life examples that relate to the song you have heard and your interpretation.

For each of these summative questions, please cite evidence from at least two of the above clips to be as thorough as possible.

1) What ideas do all of these movie clips and songs have in common?  

2) What lessons can we learn about how we can avoid becoming bullies?  

3) Why would a person want to avoid becoming a bully?

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