Anti-bullying attire, and reality TV’s reach

By Jayson Jacoby September 03, 2012 09:41 am

The other day’s mail delivered an interesting package to my office desk.

(It’s my only desk, actually, so the “office” is superfluous; at home I just pile stuff on top of the TV, where it’s perfectly positioned to fall on my toes. And does.)

Inside the sturdy envelope was a black cotton T-shirt bearing on its chest the word “BULLY” printed inside a lemon-yellow circle, with a watermelon-red diagonal line slashing through the word.

This, of course, is a popular, and T-shirt-friendly, way to brand something — anything — as undesirable.

The “Ghostbusters” movie logo is perhaps the most famous example of the style. But you can insert just about any word or object into that slashed circle — “WAR,” for instance, or a photograph of Phil Collins, and get your point across.

The sender of this T-shirt, to my surprise, is not some nonprofit anti-bully outfit, but rather the well-known retailer Sears.

The company has created the “Team Up to Stop Bullying” campaign.

(Actually Sears has “launched” this campaign — corporations never merely start such well-intended efforts; they are instead propelled into society with great force, in the manner of a missile or a rocket, only with less resulting shrapnel.)

My initial reaction was that it’s about time Sears got around to doing something about bullying.

I wore its Tuffskins brand blue jeans for a good part of elementary school, and I still harbor dim but troubling memories of being mocked on the dodgeball court for my taste in denim.

(Those were indeed tough garments, though — you could, let’s say, go flying off your skateboard at 15 mph and come away with enough road rash to make a Hells Angel queasy, but not so much as a blemish on the knees of your Tuffskins.)

Anyway I applaud Sears.

I don’t know that I believe bullying is a bigger problem than it used to be, although the topic has gotten into the news pretty often the past few years.

But that it is a problem is beyond dispute. You needn’t have been a bully, or the target of a bully, to know this.

We were all kids once, and we all understand how cruel children can be to one another.

The press release that accompanied the T-shirt neither cited a source for its claim that 13 million children in the U.S. “suffer from an acute bullying problem,” nor does it define bullying.

But based on what I deem as bullying, that 13-million figure seems plausible.

What I remember most vividly from my school days isn’t the classic bullying stereotype — a hulking student with a pack of cigarettes wrapped into the sleeve of his T-shirt, shoving random classmates into their lockers, or dunking their heads in a toilet during recess.

(Besides which, I didn’t grow up in the ’50s.)

The nastiest episodes I recall were rather more subtle, the more common weapons being derisive laughter and dismissive chants instead of clenched fists.

The insidious thing about this sort of psychological bullying, it seems to me, is that it relies, as often as not, on a kind of peer pressure.

Kids who aren’t, so to speak, natural born bullies, can be temporarily infected by the mentality of the mob and join in taunting a student who has the misfortune of being conspicuous in some banal way.

Wearing eyeglasses, for instance.

Or speaking with a lisp.

I wasn’t an instinctive bully.

I haven’t the build for it, for one thing. Had I ever tried to intimidate a classmate with some display of physical prowess I’d have been far more likely to provoke laughter than tears.

(And that was just the girls.)

Yet I can, with no effort but considerable shame, summon from my memories a handful of scenes in which I aided in tormenting another child.

I recognize now, with the wisdom of age, that I was motivated by pure selfishness — I wanted to show off, to fit in with popular classmates who I perceived to be better than I was.

I was, of course, a moron.

My parents certainly never encouraged me to pervert my individuality in that way.

I have no idea whether Sears’ campaign will curb bullying in any meaningful way.

But I like the T-shirt.

Even though Sears sent me a size so petite that it would fit only a very small proportion of adults.

Which is mainly what you find in newsrooms.

My 5-year-old daughter probably would wear it, though.

Considering the way she treats her little brother, I probably ought to make her.


The immense appetite for TV programming required to satiate the ever-expanding universe of channels has given Baker County nationwide exposure that, even less than a decade ago, was hardly conceivable.

A show about miners and (alleged) ghosts being filmed this summer near Sumpter could not exist had “Survivor” not kicked off the era of reality TV.

Earlier this month, the ID channel, one of the Discovery Channel’s offshoots, aired a 30-minute episode of its “Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry?” series that dealt with a 1986 murder in Baker County.

This story almost certainly wouldn’t have piqued the curiosity of TV producers a dozen years ago, because the murder of Beth Williams lacked the sort of forensic science twist, or lingering mystery, that used to predominate on televised series that deal with real events.

This newfound interest seems to me a benign trend.

And of course it benefits motels, restaurants and other businesses that cater to the film crews.

I just like seeing scenic panoramas of the Elkhorns in high-definition.