Parenting, Pop Culture

The Bully Pulpit of Pop Culture

Did you catch the Lance Armstrong’s come-to-Oprah moment? While his doping confession in and of itself wasn’t shocking, what totally caught me by surprise is how mean Lance Armstrong actually is.

In fact, the stand out moment was when he admitted bullying teammates and their families. For the sin of not keeping quiet on the doping issue, Lance punished former teammate Frankie Andreu’s wife, Betsy Andreu, by calling her crazy and a bitch. For the record, though, he never called her fat. As if that made a difference.

Watching the hardness in his eyes, the barely repentant stance Lance took, it wasn’t hard to see that he wasn’t really seeking genuine forgiveness or redemption. Mean people rarely do. They have a tendency to believe wholeheartedly that they are true victim. Because you — me — we — made them do it.

And the problem is that we as a society accept this. Celebrate it, even. Every time a Kardashian snipes, a devil gets its horns. When a Dance Mom throws another under the Abby Lee Miller Mean & Nasty bus, we all tune in to survey the road kill.

And while I try to limit the TV intake, it feels like every time I turn around there’s another snarky cake-baking beyotch on the boob tube telling my kids it’s okay to ice their cupcakes with arsenic-laced words for their “friends.” I thought Simon Cowell was mean, but he’s got nuthin’ on Nicki Minaj or Mariah’s chilling eye roll of diva disdain. The reindeer games lifted from the schoolyard and inflated for ratings sake captivate and corroborate the idea that mean girls and guys rule.

Entertainment (which is, make no mistake about it, what the Lance Armstrong “World Exclusive” was) mirrors society. And what’s going on through the looking glass genuinely worries me, despite the fact that there is a big movement afoot to stop the ultimate expression of mean — bullying. This is happening, in part, thanks to major media coverage of kids who kill themselves after being bullied both online and in person. The Bully Project reports that this year 13,000,000 kids will be bullied, and 3,000,000 of them will skip going to school because they feel unsafe.

Still, there are many among us, myself included, that rationalize schoolyard teases and taunts as good for our kids — character building, even. We say, “if you learn how to deal with a bully now, when someone gives you a hard time in high school or college and later, at work, you’ll know just what to do.” When we see Demi Lovato, an X Factor judge, empathize with a contestant whose mournful song hits the exact right emotional chord because like Demi she was bullied as a young’un, we perk up. Maybe the kid who is picked on becomes a survivor. Maybe that survivor comes to greatness because she or he has the tenacity granted by enduring first junior league jeers, then later the truly hard knocks that come on the road to success.

As a kid, I was too dorky and bookwormish to really hit the radar, so I have no childhood memories of being kicked to the curb. You would imagine with my Billy Dee Williams mustache I’d be a tantalizing target, but honestly it wasn’t until adulthood and motherhood, actually, that I experienced the full-chill effect of being punished for the crime of being around the wrong people at the right time. In fact my “manuscript in search of a publisher,” is inspired by true events.

It begins, “You know what you didHaven’t you noticed that nobody’s talking to you?

Of course I had no idea what I did. The protagonist never does. And that feeling of nobody talking to you, but telling you that nobody’s talking to you, so you realize that people are actually talking about you… but not in a nice way?


Which is a bulls-eye to a bully. Making others feel not just low, not just small, but brutalized is the goal.

So back to the schoolyard, where it all begins. When it comes to the realm of navigating your way — not your child’s way, but your way — through the emotional land mines of growing up, it is a tricky journey for any parent. Many years ago, when my kids were in preschool — yes, PRESCHOOL! — one of my children was odd-kid out of a particularly tough triangle. I went to the teacher, absolutely fuming and hell-bent on sitting down with the hellions and their parents. She put her hand on my shoulder and said, “You can step in and try to fix things, and it just might work now because they are so young. But it won’t work for long. The best thing you can do is find as many ways possible to bolster self-esteem and teach boundary setting, and remind your child that there are plenty of others that want to play.”

So while it is true the bully says, my way or the highway, it is even truer that there are other ways to go. Frankie Andreu, Lance’s teammate who refused to dope and had a wife who shunned the party line, got dumped from the 2000 Tour de France team. At the time, it felt terrible, but as Betsy Andreu said, “looking back, it was a blessing.”

So if you see me counting my blessings, just know that I’m also crossing my fingers that my kids find their way to where the love is and LIVEKIND.

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  • Reply Wayne January 25, 2013 at 9:35 am

    I was bullied terribly in high school. If you survive ultimately you learn that you’re very special. And how to appreciate true friends. And that’s what you are. “Come to Oprah moment” brilliantly says it all; Lance is child’s play to us because we know that somewhere in there is a profoundly abandoned heart that is now being crucified. God bless him, there he goes. Seems all of our demons surface very quickly these days. And those of us who were bullied got that out-of-the-way so early that the rest is gravy.

    You are always provocative and insightful. Such a great Journalist.

    • Reply Trudi January 25, 2013 at 10:08 am

      Brilliantly said right backatcha — and you are so special. And a prodigy. Glad to be swimming in your gravy — and if I could go back in time, I’d take every last bully on. But then again, in the where are they now files, my guess is somewhere ultimately pretty depressing and nowhere I’d want anyone I love to be anyhow! XOXO

      • Reply Buffy Drier January 25, 2013 at 8:52 pm

        Trud, great blog, once again.
        When I was in the sixth grade and living in Dallas I had my first( and last) experience of being bullied. I was new to a public school in a “not so great area” and wanted to be popular. There was a Latino boy named Alexander and an African American girl named Cassandra that kind of “ruled the school” . One day I caught them sniffing glue in the library and for some reason i thought it would raise my status to let the authorities know. After school that day I got jumped by Cassandra, and Alexander broke my finger, letting me know that being a snitch was dangerous! That’s when I discovered Karma. Integrity is a beautiful magical thing. if there are a couple of spokes missing in the wheel, at some point it will brake down. I don’t have to be a snitch any more because, as with lance, the right thing will happen on its own. I will never know what happened with Alexander and Cassandra but I’m sure Bullying did not pay off!!!!!!!

        • Reply Trudi January 26, 2013 at 7:45 am

          12 year old kids sniffing glue have much bigger problems than snitches! But yes, karma is a bitch. Not in the good feminist reclaiming sense of the word, either!! XOXO

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