“IT”: The horrors of bullying

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Devie Rahmawati
University of Indonesia’s Social Vocation Researcher

IO – Pennywise, the clown related to the disappearance of children in the American town of Derry in the movie IT Chapter Two, is the right figure to embody the terror of children throughout the ages: bul­lying. Bullying is a huge problem that haunts Indonesia’s children. Indonesian Children Protection Commission (Komisi Perlindungan Anak Indonesia – “KPAI”) 2018 data shows that the most prevalent type of violence against children is bul­lying, which is found in 41 cases in the study (25.5%), while UNESCO stated that one of every three child or teen in the world is a victim of bullying, with 32% of bullying tar­geted at male children and teens and 28% targeted at female chil­dren and teens.

Bullying occurs not just in eco­nomically-struggling countries or countries suffering from the vi­olence of war or crime. Data in a 2010 report shows that 160,000 United States children prefer to skip school due to fear of getting bullied, and 2.7 million students all over the superpower country report that they have suffered bullying at least once a year.

The effect of bullying cannot be underestimated. The earlier a per­son is exposed to violent bullying, the bigger their chance to suffer physically and psychologically. Such impacts include eating and personality disorders, drug abuse, social phobia, anxiety, loneliness, depression, and suicidal tendencies (Vaughn et al., 2010).

The 3 -hour film starkly depicts the mental and social disorders suffered by the characters through their behavior: Stanley Uris decided to kill himself after having received Mike Hanlon’s invitation to return to their past, Richie Tozier suffered from alcohol addiction, for example.

Pennywise the terror is a meta­phor of the bullying suffered by the boys during childhood. The impacts of bullying are expressed wonderful­ly in the movie: a sense of inferiority, repressed rage, and embarrassment during social interaction (Platt, 2008). Bullying in the form of con­stant, intensive physical and verbal attacks would finally drive the vic­tim’s mental stability over the edge, allowing them to believe that what they have been told and/or suffered is a truth. They will end up con­tinuing to believe this crippling idea throughout their development (Glea­son, Alexander, and Somers, 2000; Ledley et al., 2006). Otherwise, they might simply overload and explode, acting out their revenge, like in the case of mass shooting in Columbine High School in 1999. The shooters, Eric Harris (18) and Dylan Klebold (17), went berserk out of their desire for vengeance after having suffered literally years of bullying from their schoolmates.

At the film’s climax, the char­acters succeeded in defeating Pen­nywise by rejecting their past and lack of confidence in themselves. This allows them to fight against the Clown, which is the represen­tation of the cruelty that they felt during their childhood. Unfortu­nately, as in the case of most vic­tims of bullying who survive, their ability to recognize their own capa­bility (McLeod, 2008) only surfac­es when they become adults. The trauma of their bullying haunts them for 27 long years.

Bullying is an inseparable part of human history on Earth. Bully­ing has been recorded during the rise of the Greek, Romans, Chi­nese, and even Renaissance Era (Volk, Camilleri, Dane, and Marini (2012)). However, the term “bully­ing” itself was only coined in 1862, and it is only begun to be studied systematically in the early 1970’s. What we need to understand is that bullying occurs not just in schools, but in all levels and realms of daily life (at school, during extracurric­ular activities, among social en­virons, even within family circle. Even worse, bullying is now possi­ble to have a much wider spread due to technology: you can destroy a person’s reputation in an instant and with a global reach (Okoiye, Anayochi, and Onah, 2015).

We need to note that even though many of the world’s celeb­rities, including Elon Musk, Jus­tin Timberlake and Rihanna are bullying survivors who succeeded in life, it does not follow that bul­lying is the key to success. On the contrary, bullying, especially cyber­bullying, makes it doubly likely for children and teens to hurt and kill themselves, according to a study performed at Oxford, Swansea and Birmingham Universities against 150,000 teens under 25 years old in 30 countries.

Unexpectedly, IT: Chapter Two becomes important in the effort to reveal more about this public health pandemic. Within its tense scenes are hidden messages on how to handle fear, anxiety, and nervousness due to the consistent and concerted effort of building a negative image of these children as losers (Knight, 2002), allowing bul­lied children to see that they actu­ally do have the power to turn the tables and achieve greatness – or at least, wholeness – for themselves.

Enjoy the movie, and think about how you can do something to help children around you to be free from the effects of bullying.