Can Bullying Lead to Murder or Suicide?

Can Bullying Lead to Murder or Suicide?

One L. Goh, the 43-year-old South Korean immigrant who is charged with killing seven people Monday at a tiny Christian College in Oakland, California, reportedly felt picked on by members of his mostly Korean school community.

“People at the school ‘disrespected him, laughed at him,’ Oakland Police chief Howard Jordan said, according to the Associated Press. “They made fun of his lack of English speaking skills. It made him feel isolated compared to the other students.”

Oikos University nursing instructor Romie Delariman disputed that assertion, telling the San Francisco Chronicle that Goh “can’t deal with women” and is “mentally unstable” and “paranoid.”

Jordan said Goh had gone to the school in search of a female administrator who he felt had done him wrong, but she wasn’t there when the shooting took place. He also said Goh was expelled in January for “unspecified behavior problems” and “anger management” issues. Goh, thus far, has shown no remorse for the killings, investigators said.

The Link Between Bullying and Suicide

While few would accept or condone Goh’s explanation that mistreatment led him to kill seven people, injure three others, and traumatize an entire community, the narrative that bullying causes young people to kill themselves has become a widely accepted one in recent years.

The suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, for example, became a rallying cry for national anti-bullying campaigns in the fall of 2010. Clementi killed himself shortly after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, used a web-cam to spy on him and another man as they engaged in an intimate encounter. Ravi then took to Twitter to invite others to watch a second hook-up.

Late last month, 20-year-old Ravi was convicted of bias intimidation, invasion of privacy, and tampering with the police investigation. He faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years and possible deportation back to his native India. Ravi was not charged in connection with Clementi’s death, but it is unlikely that he would have been indicted apart from it and Clementi’s family sounds firm in the belief that Ravi’s actions caused Clementi’s suicide.

In his first public statements (published at the New Jersey Star Ledger) on the case, Ravi insisted that he didn’t have a problem with his roommate’s sexuality and said he didn’t take a plea deal that would have spared him jail time because he could never get up in court and concede to the charge of bias intimidation.

“I’m never going to regret not taking the plea,” Ravi said. “If I took the plea, I would have had to testify that I did what I did to intimidate Tyler and that would be a lie. I won’t ever get up there and tell the world I hated Tyler because he was gay, or tell the world I was trying to hurt or intimidate him because it’s not true.”

A lengthy New Yorker profile of the roommates asserts that it is anything but clear that Clementi was “bullied to death.”

The Problem With Simplistic Narratives

So, what’s the harm in raising the alarm about bullying? Controversy surrounding a new anti-bullying film provides some clues.

At a website for the new documentary Bully, readers are told that 13 million children will be bullied this year and 3 million will miss school because they don’t feel safe there.The movie has won rave reviews and is being widely advocated as an anti-bullying resource for children, even though it initially received an R-rating for language. But Slate writer Emily Bazelon, who has been reporting on high profile bullying cases for the past few years, worries that the film could do “some good” and “a lot of harm” because of what it doesn’t say about mental illness in its narrative of main character Tyler Long’s suicide.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1g9RV9OKhg&w=560&h=315]

Bazelon said what is missing from the storyline is Long’s diagnosis of ADHD, bipolar disorder, and Asperger’s Syndrome and the fact that his parents didn’t disclose their concerns that their son might be suicidal to counselors. Ann Haas, a senior project specialist for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, shared these concerns, telling Bazelon that leaving Long’s mental health history out of the film was an “egregious omission.”

“The filmmakers had the opportunity to present bullying as a trigger, as one factor that played a role in a young person’s suicide. But to draw a direct line without referencing anything else—I’m appalled, honestly. That is hugely, hugely unfortunate,” said Haas.

Incomplete pictures like the one painted of Long’s suicide in Bully and of Clementi’s suicide in the press have the potential to create a risk of suicide contagion, which Bazelon describes as “the documented phenomenon of people mimicking suicidal behavior in light of media representations.”

“One message of this move is: ‘Bullying kills’—as if it’s a normal response to kill yourself, when of course most people who are bullied don’t do that. Young people who feel bullied could harken back to the movie, and it could be a powerful draw to suicide for them. If Tyler had been accurately portrayed as a kid with mental health challenges that were very hard for him to manage, he wouldn’t seem so attractive,” said Haas.

The filmmakers disputed Bazelon’s critique in a statement to Entertainment Weekly, saying it downplays clear evidence that Long was bullied in the “days, weeks, and months before his death,” but Slate’s deputy editor defended it, saying Bazelon was only pointing out the potential harm in a one-sided, simplistic approach to the subject.

What do you think?

Could bullying cause someone to commit murder or suicide, or do these simplistic narratives have the potential to do more harm than good?

Can Mary Mary Save Reality TV?

Can Mary Mary Save Reality TV?

KEEPING IT REAL: Tina Campbell and Erica Campbell attending last month's New York City premiere of their new WE tv reality series, "Mary Mary." (Photo: Newscom)

Since gospel duo Mary Mary burst on the music scene with their crossover hit “Shackles (Praise You)” in 2000, sisters Erica and Tina Campbell, who named themselves after Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, have defied what it means to be gospel artists. And now with the arrival of Mary Mary, their new reality television show, the duo have another vehicle to appeal to audiences outside of the traditional gospel realm. The show recently debuted on WE tv, the same network that brought us the runaway reality TV hit Braxton Family Values.

However, outside of being network mates and powerhouse vocalists who happen to be sisters, that is where the similarities end. There are no dead-beat husbands, sisters on the verge of alcoholism, or sisters vying for breakout status by creating catchy one-liners which all end in “dot-com.” Their show is decidedly tame in comparison — which may be both good and bad. In the first episode, we get to see what goes into being a three-time Grammy Award-winning gospel act. For Erica and Tina (who happen to be married to unrelated men with the last name Campbell — now that’s some reality TV for ya), this means balancing their career ambition while being mothers to almost eight children between them (as Tina is pregnant with her fourth child) and wives to men who also have thriving careers. Warryn Campbell, married to Erica, is Mary Mary’s producer. Teddy Campbell, Tina’s hubby, is the drummer for Jay Leno’s Tonight Show band.

The duo is invited to perform at Macy’s “Great Christmas Tree Lighting” concert (a signature event for true ATLiens) on Thanksgiving Day in Atlanta. Their high-strung manager, Mitchell Solarek, appropriately frames this invitation as a good decision professionally and bad decision personally. Nevertheless, Solarek urges them to miss spending Thanksgiving with their families in Los Angeles because the Atlanta concert would give them exposure to 100,000 people and potentially garner new fans. And Atlanta is already Mary Mary’s number one sales and media market, Solarek points out.

Erica is excited about the concert and convinces her husband to forego their traditional Thanksgiving plans with extended family and pack up their kids and head to the A on Thanksgiving. Tina, who seems to be the more outspoken sister, is not as sold on the idea because her oldest daughter, Laiah, will be performing at a glee concert during that time and her husband’s work schedule may not allow him to travel with her.

In spite of her misgivings, Tina decides to perform in Atlanta and tries to explain her decision to 8-year-old Laiah. Their conversation yields the most real and tender moment of the show, as Laiah weeps on her mother’s shoulder and chides her for missing out on important family events. In the commentary, Tina admits feeling “guilt for having this lifestyle that I have.” Still, she also admits to loving her lifestyle and wanting to find a successful balance between career and family. She takes red-eye flights to her gigs to be able to tuck her children in at night, saying, “I can function on no sleep but them kids can’t function on no love.” I found it interesting that the sisters referred to themselves as Mary Mary when it came to career and Erica and Tina when they discussed their families. They appear to understand the difference.

Another opportunity for drama presents itself in the introduction of Goo Goo, Erica and Tina’s younger sister and the group stylist. Solarek readily admits that Goo Goo would not be his first choice as stylist but is forced to accept her anyway. Styling gospel artists is a tricky endeavor, he explains, as female gospel artists are either criticized for dressing like a church lady or like Jezebel. And Solarek’s confidence in Goo Goo getting it right — not to mention her reliability — is severely tested. We also get to meet Honey, Erica and Tina’s mom, who was their first choir director at their childhood church, Evangelistic Church of God in Christ in California.

By the time they arrive in Atlanta for the concert, Tina is in funky mood and reveals her resentment at being alone in a hotel room on Thanksgiving, particularly since her family seems to be having fun without her and Erica’s family are in a hotel room down the hall. “This freaking sucks,” Tina declares. I won’t reveal what happens next, in case you still have the episode on DVR, but let’s just say the show is clearly interested in affirming the positive.

What I like about Mary Mary is that it’s a real-life depiction of successful black women, who are married to good men and trying to do right by their families. It also helps that, though we see their faith expressed, the show — like Mary Mary’s music — isn’t too churchy or preachy.

A potential problem for future episodes? I fear the show may not have enough mayhem and dysfunction to satisfy today’s reality show audiences, who have been fed a steady diet of the raucous dealings of Braxtons, Kardashians, and Real Housewives. In fact, I checked my social media sites during the airing of the premiere and was dismayed to see little to no chatter. But, then again, Mary Mary’s signature hit “Shackles (Praise You)” broke the traditional gospel mold, so maybe their show will catch fire by flipping the script on the typical reality TV formula.

New episodes will air in the show’s regular timeslot, Thursdays at 9 p.m. Eastern Time, beginning April 5. If you’ve watched the show already, what do you think?