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Facing Up To Bullies, Everywhere But On Reality TV

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Facing Up To Bullies, Everywhere But On Reality TV


Facing Up To Bullies, Everywhere But On Reality TV

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Over the past couple of years, there's been a lot of talk about bullying; not just in the news or in social media or school meetings, but also on TV shows. It's a serious problem.

But still, media critic Eric Deggans says that all the attention on bullying may be making the real issues harder to talk about.

ERIC DEGGANS: Sometimes it seems like bullying is everywhere in the news.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Bullying is a very big problem at schools across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I have come to believe that hazing is a term for bullying.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Twenty-three percent of students in grades four to six have been bullied several times or more...

DEGGANS: So it only makes sense all this talk would eventually seep into the nation's largest Rorschach test: primetime television.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: My mom says bullies only bully 'cause they're scared.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I'm not accustomed to being bullied.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: I hate bullies.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: You work for me.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: You're not a bully.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Pretty sure I am.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: When you insult my dinosaur prom theme, that's bullying and I will not accept it...

DEGGANS: It's wonderful to see anti-bullying messages featuring the stars of Fox's high school drama "Glee."


DEGGANS: But I'm not sure that message translated to the Food Network's "Cupcake Wars."


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: The third cupcake is an anti bullying cupcake...

DEGGANS: Really? Will a sign dipped in raspberry glaze stop a kid getting shoved in a locker?

We've heard of bullying in so many Public Service Announcements and TV shows, that the words have less meaning. We're encouraged to see bullying as something only terrible people do; so disconnected from its reality, that people don't even realize when they're doing it.

For proof, look no further than Lifetime's combative reality show, "Dance Moms."


ABBY LEE MILLER: Girls, let's go. Come on....

DEGGANS: In-your-face instructor Abby Lee Miller stunned her students with this announcement on the next dance she's choreographing.


MILLER: I am putting art on the stage. It's going to be about a bully.

DEGGANS: It was stunning, mostly because of clips from past shows where Miller spoke to the young girls in her classes like this...


MILLER: Boring, yawning, sloppy...

DEGGANS: And this...


MILLER: You get out there and you're like a zombie. You're like sleeping half the time.

DEGGANS: And this...


MILLER: Stop with the tears. Babies cry. Not you.

DEGGANS: If Miller needed an accurate model of a bully, she only had to look in the mirror.


MILLER: I say...

DEGGANS: But the truth is reality TV loves bullies like Miller. Think about pugnacious Chef Gordon Ramsay.


GORDON RAMSAY: That was pathetic. And you were absolutely useless...

DEGGANS: This guy earns millions insulting contestants on Fox's "Masterchef." And the list goes on: "Jon and Kate Plus 8's" Kate Gosselin, "Flipping Out's Jeff Lewis," "The Real Housewives" Bethenny Frankel and the king of TV bullies, ex-"American Idol" judge Simon Cowell.

Their bullying is rewarded with fame and fat paychecks. That cash buys lots of spin from flunkies insisting they're just too honest for most people. It's a seriously conflicted message: Bullying is bad when kids do it in school, but insanely profitable when adults do it in front of a TV camera.

Small wonder we're all a bit confused when an earnest celebrity faces the camera and tells us bullying kills, because, too often in Hollywood, it's just a really good career move.

SIEGEL: Commentator Eric Deggans is the TV and media critic of the Tampa Bay Times.

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