Pop Culture

Re-examining bullying with The Karate Kid

Perhaps no other movie in the past 35 years has been more forward in its portrayal of bullying than 1984's The Karate Kid. The film portrays bullying in a vivid manner.

Johnny is the quintessential bully. He thinks rather highly of himself and that he can do no wrong. He shows it when he says, "Ex-degenerate. Eight a.m. tomorrow, I'm a senior. I've got one year to make it all work. That's what I'm gonna do. Make it work. Right?" He is determined to win back Alli and will stop at nothing to do so -- including beating up Daniel.

According to stopbullying.gov, Daniel fits the mold of bully targets: He's new in town and he doesn't come from a wealthy family, unlike the other students at his school. On the other hand, Johnny fits the mold of a bully: We don't see much of his parents, if at all. His friends bully others. He sees violence in a positive way -- he's even taught that "an enemy deserves no mercy." And he is one of the popular children.

Bullies saw me as an ugly duck due to my appearance: frizzy hair and glasses. I was also seen as an outsider by both students and teachers: I was raised and attended a Baptist church, yet I was attending a Lutheran school.

One of the things the film touches on, albeit briefly, is bystanders and zero-tolerance issues within schools. Daniel's new friend, Freddy, does nothing to try to rectify the struggle between Daniel and Johnny. In another scene, we briefly see a sign on the school that says, "This building is dedicated to truth, liberty and toleration." This is an implied reference to the school's zero-tolerance policy. Less than a minute later, Daniel is seen trying out for the soccer team and Johnny and his Cobra Kais bully him. Their reason is clear: He is seen as a weak link and a threat to them. He tries to fight back but is still reprimanded -- the gang wasn't punished.

Bullying starts in two different ways -- a learned behavior and a perceived threat. In the case of Johnny and the Cobra Kais, it was both. He learned that behavior in the dojo and saw Daniel closing in on what he saw as his: Alli -- his ex-girlfriend. Johnny learns this behavior in the dojo because he hangs onto every word that his sensei says. His sensei preaches that "an enemy deserves no mercy."

Their victims suffer in silence. They feel ashamed of telling what they are enduring. In the film, Daniel does this several times to both his mom, Alli, and even Mr. Miyagi. I often stayed silent about it to my parents and teachers because I felt ashamed of what happened.

Bullying has gotten worse as technology has progressed. With cellphones, you can send anonymous text messages and keep your number private. The same is also true for social media, like what happened with the school bus monitor a few weeks ago in New York.

The solution to bullying and victims starts at home. It's in what you teach your kids. The best thing you can do as a parent is make yourself open to them. As for the schools, they should not only teach about bully prevention but also have harsher punishments for perpetrators.

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Christina Lynn
Contact: Christina Lynn