Bullying is new entertainment in adult world

2nd February 2007 at 00:00
The much-publicised and criticised comments by Jade Goody that have caused such a public furore are not just a reflection on the inherent racism in our society but an even bigger bullying culture which has become our national way of life.

There has been much talk, media debate and government concern about levels of bullying in our schools but, if our children are displaying more and more bullying behaviour, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Since September, my theatre-in-education company has been touring primary and secondary schools in south Wales with productions and workshops which convey an anti-bullying message. But how is anyone really going to stop bullying in our schools when the media perpetuates the taunting and putting down of individuals in the name of entertainment?

And the public, many of whom are the parents of our bullied and bullying youngsters, lap it up.

Look at Jade Goody. Here is a girl who has been elevated to celebrity status by virtue of us being encouraged to laugh at what a fool she is making of herself. Do you remember some of the scenes when she was first in the Big Brother house? I saw a girl way out of her depth becoming tearful and distressed because her housemates didn't understand her, nor she them.

And this was entertainment.

But Big Brother isn't the only programme to indulge in ritual humiliation as a form of public entertainment. Pop Idol, and its off-shoot X Factor, purported to be intent only on finding genuine new talent by capturing huge audiences in the early rounds when Simon Cowell and friends strive to outdo each other in the insults they hurl at those who have been brave, or foolhardy, enough to perform in front of them.

That the untalented "get what they deserve" for having the effrontery to get up there in the first place is just as bad as saying that the bullied child "asks for it".

Neither does the claim hold water that those seeking to make their way in the entertainment world have to learn to be tough enough to face rejection.

Now, all around the country karaoke competitions are being turned into local "X Factor" contests, often as a charity fundraiser, where a panel of "experts", who wouldn't get up there themselves, have the right to jeer at the participants to increase the amusement value for the audience.

Meanwhile, Anne Robinson continues to insult and intimidate the contestants on the Weakest Link, sneering not just at their lack of knowledge but at their appearance, lifestyle and taste. But none of this is bullying, of course. This is entertainment.

So, having created a culture where it is acceptable to rip apart the vulnerable, the less good and the unfortunate in this way, why are we so shocked at Ms Goody's outbursts? She, more than anyone, will have known that the Big Brother house thrives on altercation and abuse.

And all of us who are tutting at the outcome but continue to watch the rest of these reality offerings are hypocrites.

What do we then say to the bullying child who defends hisher actions by saying "It was only a bit of fun"?

At the end of our anti-bullying play, which is based on true diaries of a teenage girl who commits suicide when she can no longer face the perpetual taunts, we ask the question: "What are you going to do about it?"

It is a question that every adult who genuinely wants to end bullying at all levels in our society should be trying hard to answer.

is co-runner of the Is It? theatre company, which brings dramas on social and health issues to school in mid and South Wales

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