What We All Learn from Amanda Todd, If We Listen

It’s a story we’ve heard plenty of time before; a young person is persecuted, abused and tromented by his or her peers until the pain and suffering becomes too great and they take their own life. Amanda Todd’s story, now known to just about everyone in this country and indeed around the world, shares all of these unfortunate plot points. However, what’s truly remarkable about the Amanda Todd story is just how many ways in which the situation and events were patently wrong. To trace the path of Amanda Todd, leading well past the moment of her suicide, is to encapsulate what is truly going disgustingly wrong with our culture.

But, how many of us are really listening?

This is about bullying, and yet it isn’t. It’s about so much more.

And, to get it out of the way, let’s be clear about one thing: if a finger is to be pointed at who is ultimately to blame for Amanda Todd’s death, it shouldn’t be pointed at the bullies that everyone is racing to speak out against. The global outcry against bullying and harrassment, the online vigilante retribution being meted out by Anonymous and the anguished vitriole everyone seems to have found within them for the cruel bastards who taunted and tormented Amanda Todd to her suicide are all well and right, but they are missing the mark.

I blame myself. And, I blame you. Each and every one of you.

Amanda Todd was tormented by her peers, relentlessly, online and in person. It all began because, as a 12 year old, she flashed her breasts on web cam while chatting with someone she thought was a friend. As is the way with misjudgments like this, the images from that web chat became a stalker’s tool, and soon all of Amanda’s friends and family had seen them. She changed schools, only to have the online bully track her down, discover her friends, and broadcast the images to her new classmates. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Amanda was met with taunts when she walked into school. Kids would say things like “there goes the porn star.” She was insulted, beaten up, laughed at and humiliated. Every day.

Let’s address the issue that started this whole mess: we live in an age where sexuality is more mainstream than ever before, in some ways, and yet our personal public reaction to sexuality is often still stuck in a more puritan time. Sex and sexuality is prevalent in the media more than at any other time in our history, but we haven’t completely shaken off the shame we feel at acknowledging our sexual nature, which is a throwback to a couple generations ago. We flock to “Sex in the City,” but label any woman wearing a revealing ensemble a slut. There is nothing right about a 12 year old girl flashing her breasts for friends, whether this is online or in person. Kids shouldn’t have to grapple with sexuality at that age, and the fact that it has become all too common for 12 and 13 year olds to have more sexual experience and knowledge than many of us did when we were 18 demonstrates first that we are more bombarded by media influence than we have ever been, and, second, that parents aren’t doing enough to teach their kids about the meaning of what they see.

But, there’s something completely incongruous with kids feeling freer to express a sexuality that they shouldn’t be concerned with for years to come, and those same kids using expression of sexuality as a reason to tease and taunt. If it was “okay” in Amanda’s peer group, small or otherwise, for her to flash her breasts on web cam, why was she subsequently ridiculed for that act by those same peers?

Because, cruelty is sport in our society.

Let’s be honest, bullies and bullying have been around for as long as there has been life on this planet. It’s not the sovereign province of human-kind, either, as we see bullying in other species as well. We’ve just gotten far better at it, developing the proficiency into an art form, bolstered by a technological pseudo-socialization.

We love to tear people down.

Don’t tell me you’re any different. Take a look at the most popular TV shows. Millions of people tune in to watch Honey Boo Boo. They don’t do it because they find the lifestyle of this famly fascinating, they do it because they like to laugh at how crude and backwards these people are. They rejoice in nose-picking and farting and whatever other uncouth behaviour they engage in. In short, they rejoice in pointing a finger and saying “look how stupid and disgusting they are!”

How many millions followed the public disintegration of Charlie Sheen’s reputation, and took part in making fun of the actor throughout his troubles? Who really watches the Kardashians because they are good people? American Idol was never more popular tham when people tuned in to watch Simon rip into and insult contestants.

We love to tear people down.

So, how can we possibly expect that this won’t carry over into how teens treat each other?

One of the trolls posting disgusting comments on an online memorial for Amanda Todd was interviewed and asked why they would do something so reprehensible. His response? He was trying to get a rise from people, trying to be controversial, because doing so would get him attention. How different is that from Simon reducing some shuddering teen to tears on stage after they poured their nervous hearts out in an audition?

We don’t need laws against bullying, we need society to take a good hard look at itself and admit that it is diseased. The cause of all of this comes from within, and patrolling the periphery with legislation isn’t going to change what’s in our hearts and minds. In order to do that, we need to admit that we have become a culture of monsters, in many ways. We entertain ourselves with the misfortune of others. If we can’t start modeling the right behaviour, we can’t expect kids and teens to learn the right lessons from our example. Any outrage or digust that we voice will be pretty empty and hypocritical if we don’t address our own inner bully.

Amanda Todd’s death was a terrible tragedy. She was a bright, attractive young woman who should have had an equaly bright future. The same can be said for the many teens who have ended their lives early, including the many who did so with far less public attention afterwards. But, there will be many more. That’s the real tragedy, and it could maybe be avoided if we would just truly listen to what stories like Amanda’s have to tell us.

Not about the bullies, not about her, but about ourselves.

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1 comment so far

[…] because of the strain of the torment she was being subjected to by her peers. Like last time. Like Amanda Todd, whom I wrote about the last time I sat in front of this keyboard, trying to find words sufficient […]

The Song Remains the Same |
April 10th, 2013 at 3:39 pm

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