Trey Parker and Matt Stone understand bullying better than the experts
My all-time favorite TV show is South Park. While it looks like a kids’ show, it is strictly for adults. I love a show that can make me laugh without the help of a laugh track. And it’s chock-full of wisdom as well.
In the desire to have psychology be as “scientific” as the physical sciences, we have convinced ourselves that the only psychological knowledge we should rely on is that which is conducted by researchers who know how to perform random controlled trials (RCTs) and get their papers published in peer reviewed journals. However, most of what we know to be true, whether in the physical or psychological sciences, is not from RCTs but from observation, contemplation, experience and logical thinking. If you perform RCTs on nonsense, all you will have is nonsense. The great theories and ideas have come not from such research studies but by people observing and thinking.
Now that our psychological organizations have become political lobbying organizations fighting for laws against abuse and bullying, without any scientific evidence that such laws are beneficial, what they tell us is less reliable then ever. The view that our organizations are promoting is that we are, at essence, saints and that our culture teaches people to be bullies. To get rid of bullying, all we need to do is change the culture. We will make bullying unacceptable and pass laws against it.
Fortunately, psychologists are not the only group of people who intensively study human nature. Another one is humorists. As Reader’s Digest has taught us, and has been confirmed by research, “laughter is the best medicine.” Mother nature rewards humor with the pleasure of laughter because she wants us to engage in it. It is biologically healthy for us. But what few people realize is that humor is negative. It reveals human flaws. And she wants us to do this so that we won’t think we are perfect. If we don’t know what’s wrong with us, we won’t be able to correct our mistakes. Humorists focus on our imperfections. They look through the positive facade we try to present to the world–and to ourselves–and shows us the negative truths. They show us how foolish, ugly, clumsy and hypocritical we can be. And they make us laugh. It is easiest to laugh when they reveal other people’s imprefections. It requires greater strength to be able to laugh when they reveal our own imperfections.South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are astute observers of both human nature and social policies. They routinely lampoon attempts to engineer society and legislate saintliness. They are especially attuned to our hypocrisy. Unlike modern psychologists, they know that bullying is part of our basic nature and can’t be eradicated through social engineering. And unlike the anti-bullying psychologists, when they make political statements, they know it. Today’s psychologists make political declarations but think it is science.
Stone and Parker are possibly the world’s most courageous proponents of freedom of speech. They have literally risked their lives in support of freedom of speech. They are in a league with the likes of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Solomon Rushdie. And they have more wisdom than many of the bullying experts. Parker and Stone know that freedom of speech is not the cause of bullying but its solution. To develop an effective anti-bullying program, we would do better consulting South Park than the leading experts.
Somehow I missed it when it first aired, but this past April South Park delivered its most scathing attack to date on the anti-bully movement. The episode, called Butterballs, is a response to the documentary “Bully” that has cleverly manipulated the news media into providing massive free pr, as well as to the anti-bullying videos that kids in schools have been producing for the past couple of years.
The anti-bully movement is so popular because everyone thinks the bully is the other person. South Park has always known, and makes abundantly clear in this episode as well, that the bullies are not them. They are us. Butterballs exposes how the anti-bullying industry engages in the very bullying tactics that it purportedly condemns. The industry exploits victimized children and spreads anti-bully hysteria to enhance their financial interests and egos. It urges students to participate in anti-bullying film contests in the effort to create the illusion that it is a spontaneous grassroots student-inspired movement rather than part of a larger campaign orchestrated by the anti-bullying industry. The episode scoffs at the idea, universally held by the bullying field, that student crusaders have the power to make bullying disappear. As South Park shows, instead of promoting tolerance, these child anti-bullying activities readily turn into adult-approved anti-bully hate-fests.
One of the most incisive messages of the episode is embedded in a scene in which the bullying consultant intimidates the school counselor, Mr. Mackey, to give up his own school assembly so the school can hold an emergency anti-bullying assembly. The bullying expert asked Mr. Mackey what he had planned to teach at his assembly. Mackey answered, “Positive thinking.” Ironically, positive thinking is actually the solution to bullying. Positive thinking is now being replaced with negative thinking anti-bully lessons. These lessons teach kids to be suspicious of their fellow classmates, to believe that bullies lurk everywhere, to blame bullies for the way they feel, to have no tolerance for anyone who shows intolerance, to believe that words can scar them forever or even kill them, and to believe they are powerless to deal with bullying on own.
If you’re familiar with South Park you are more likely to catch the many subtleties of this episode. If you’re not, I hope you will enjoy it anyway. And maybe it will motivate you to watch more South Park. (If you find you don’t like South Park, that’s okay, too. People have different tastes, and it is legitimate not to like it.) You can catch the Butterballs episode at the following link: http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s16e05-butterballs
After you watch it, I recommend you watch the school anti-bullying video embedded in the following page: http://tv.ign.com/articles/122/1222852p1.html
You will realize that the South Park anti-bullying musi video is not far-fetched. Furthermore, the song, “Let’s Get Together to Make Bullying Kill Itself,” is cleverer than anything real kids come up with while expressing the anti-bullying movements’ intentions with remarkable precision. Yes, let’s make bullying kill itself! Brilliant!
Thanks, South Park, for continuing to promote sanity while filling your bank accounts. You deserve the money more than the anti-bullying industry.
Education Editor, Israel “Izzy” Kalman, is Director of Bullies to Buddies (www.Bullies2Buddies.com), a program that teaches the practical application of the Golden Rule to reduce bullying and aggression and solve relationship problems.
Self-Educated American recommends Israel Kalman’s: Bullies to Buddies: How to Turn Your Enemies Into Friends