Ah, high school. The worst four years of every single person's life. Does anyone enjoy high school? If you did, that's probably when you peaked, and I am now judging you. But really, I don't know anyone for whom high school was particularly easy, whether they were a Regina George or a Duckie. And if you thought your high school experience was hard, look at kids today -- they were going to suffer through school like the rest of us, but then along came the Internet and with it, cyberbullying.
Let's get serious for a moment: I am all for any form of entertainment that brings cyberbullying (or any kind of bullying, for that matter) to people's attention. It goes without saying how important it is for everyone -- both parents and kids -- to get educated about cyberbullying and to learn to speak up about it. And that was the overall "lesson" of ABC Family's Cyberbully last night.
Alas, it was still painfully bad. ABC Family, you've done it again! You've taken what could've been an interesting and timely topic (teen pregnancy, for example) and made it sickly sweet and unrealistic. Another opportunity wasted.
Let's take a look, shall we? Taylor has the ideal life -- good friends, caring mom, and pop music that plays in the background as she gets ready every morning. Yes, an awful girl at school is always making fun of her and her friends, but they shrug it off with admirable panache. Taylor's mother is reduced to reciting mom-esque platitudes, like: "What you do online isn't exactly private," and Taylor and her friends are reduced to reciting teenage girlish exclamations, like: "I swear, when he touched my shoulder, there was, like, electricity." Taylor's one real problem? Daddy issues, because...well, what else? If this all sounds vomit-inducingly clichéd, that's because it was.
But then Taylor gets a computer. She joins a site called Clicksters, and after her mother reminds her multiple times that she shouldn't give out personal information on the Internet, she goes on and answers questions about what color underwear she's wearing. That's really where the trouble, but more importantly, the underestimation of teenagers (their intelligence and their online savvy) begins. Yes, kids are dumb and they do inappropriate things on the Internet. But they also avoid embarrassment at all costs, and Taylor instead spends the entire movie doing exactly the opposite. She subjects herself to embarrassment -- instead of shutting her account down, she keeps it up and obsessively looks at the cruel comments, making her profile a display of lies about her for all to see. She retaliates at comments, too, instead of ignoring them. And even more unrealistically, she accepts a friend request from a stranger and gets excited about messages from him, which I think most teens would find creepy rather than cool. She even tells him after a week that her father cheated on her mother. Why does Taylor act like this? We can only guess that it's because she's just a stupid teenager. The question is never really answered.
The thing is, Taylor seems like a well-adjusted girl and she wants to be a journalist -- she is a good writer and is socially adept. But for the sake of the movie, she is reduced to a giggling (and then sobbing) teen that does one dumb thing after another. Sure, teenagers are dramatic and idiotic all at once. But these teenagers sound like they were written by someone whose idea of teens came from watching after-school specials. For example, Taylor's friend says that Taylor "doesn't even have internet on her phone!" Another friend responds, "Ugh, how does she live?" As I mentioned above, it's a lot like Secret Life of the American Teenager, in that it sees teens as vapid and inexperienced, which maybe they are, but there's nothing teenagers hate more than being told that they are those things. They don't like being talked down to or underestimated, so I can't help but think they were rolling their eyes at Cyberbully last night more than they were actually learning something. They probably felt (and rightly so) insulted.
Not only that, Cyberbully was entirely predictable -- of course there was a suicide attempt and a lot of dramatic music and screaming at the climax. And then even worse, the end was tied up with a pretty red bow. If ABC Family really wanted to make a point about cyberbullying, it wouldn't have been with a happily ever after. Cyberbully ended up being another piece of fluff ABC Family production, even though they attempt to tackle something difficult.
However, the movie being just an hour and a half worked for it, because it showed how quickly things can get out of hand online -- how quickly people online can gang up on one person. We've seen it many times -- Rebecca Black, Jessi Slaughter, Kirsten Ostrenga, Phoebe Prince -- and yet it's always good to be reminded. As one of Taylor's friends mentions, online bullying doesn't feel as real -- you can't see the other person, so it's easier to hurt them.
Another good thing: Taylor really did feel she was alone in being cyberbullied, but unfortunately, it happens to a lot of people, which she realized upon talking with a support group. Cyberbullying can happen to the most normal of people, too, and Taylor was feeling like something was wrong with her because that's what she was being told. In reality, Taylor was okay; she was more than okay, but she only understood that after being told directly. If Cyberbully helped to remind kids that they're not alone, then good. You can't win in high school, but it helps to know that neither can anyone else.
Still, Cyberbully was an example of a tale as old as time -- one long wag of a finger in its audience's face. Don't talk to strangers, be careful about who you make friends with, and don't respond to hatred with hatred, which only adds fuel to the fire. If it helps to inform some kids that weren't aware of these things already, then okay. But I can't imagine many of them feeling like it echoed real life or stated anything other than the obvious.
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