With the release of The Weinstein Company’s documentary Bully, bullying and cyberbullying remain at the forefront of the national consciousness. Finally, these tormentors and harassers will get what’s coming to them as we encourage adopting zero tolerance policies in the name of tolerance.
But did you know that bullies existed before the Internet? While it seems as though only recently people started to care, physical and mental bullying have actually been around for years, even before the 1980s when they were needed in most every comedy. As we continue on our path towards putting an end to picking on people, this week’s Listicle pays tribute to the soon-to-be obsolete bully.
The O’Doyles- Billy Madison (dir. Tamra Davis, 1995)
As Billy Madison worked his way from Kindergarten to 12th grade, he encountered an entire family of redheaded bullies: the O’Doyles. Mean and ready to celebrate each of their attacks with the cry of “O’Doyle Rules!”, the O’Doyles’ torments ranged from sneak attacks during dodge ball to filling a locker with manure. Arguably the best Adam Sandler movie (which is not the same as a movie starring Adam Sandler), Billy Madison understood many of the tropes of the school movie genre. A bully was a necessity, and the one-dimensional O’Doyle clan filled that role perfectly.
The entire family dies in a car accident.
Biff Tannen- The Back to the Future Series (dir. Robert Zemeckis, 1985, 1989, 1990)
It’s easy to say that Biff Tannen was one of the most stereotypical bullies of the 1980s- a stupid lunkhead, easy to anger, gang of lackies, blonde- but he was a bit more than that. Yes, he made high school a living hell for George McFly (and presumably others), but while most cinematic high school bullies tended to stop at battery, Tannen graduated to attempted rape by The Enchantment Under The Sea Dance. In an alternate time line, he successfully murdered George McFly and tried to kill his own stepson.
He wasn’t just a jackass, he was a criminal. As dickish as some of the Hughesian villains and 1980s Rich Kids were, it’s difficult to imagine that with unfettered power they’d turn their hometown into Biff’s version of Hill Valley. They might bloody someone’s nose, but they probably wouldn’t throw their wife’s son off a roof. There’s pride, and there’s building a museum to your awesomeness.
In 1985 Prime, he never stopped bullying and continued to torment George McFly and his family as adults.
In Second 1985/1985 Permanent, after George McFly stood up to him in high school, Biff turned into a quivering worm. But he never learned humility, and he held onto that resentment for 60 years, waiting for the chance to take revenge. But you do have to wonder who ended up marrying a meek, simmering, car waxer and how many doors she walked into.
Nelson Muntz- The Simpsons (creator Matt Groening, 1989-PRESENT)
The Simpson’s Nelson Muntz presents the hierarchy that exists in elementary school. While Dolph, Jimbo, and Kearney are upper tier bullies, Nelson exists in that narrow level between those three and Bart. He inspires fear in many kids, but he’s not above being an ally for either side if the occasion calls for it.
After his first major appearance in Season 1’s Bart the General (the long-running series’ fifth episode), where he and Bart engage in a minor war, Nelson evolved into a multi-faceted character. Probably Bart’s second best friend after Milhouse, Nelson can be friend, enemy, frenemy, love interest, and father figure (“if you tie a string around your finger, it’ll turn purple.”).
The show has also given a good deal of background to Nelson, making him into something of a sadder character than originally presented. Living in a shack, absentee father, negligent mother, poor (but not Cletus and Brandine poor), unable to afford to go on a field trip, essentially friendless despite being loyal, arsonist, sports star, aspiring whale nuker, entrepreneur, misunderstood auteur- Nelson is a complex figure in the world of The Simpsons, even with his ingrained cruelty. Nevertheless, his most renowned trait is the iconic “Ha-Ha,” which can be used for many an occasion, even if doing it to himself makes him realize “that hurts. No wonder no one came to my birthday party.”
An ongoing series doesn’t usually lend itself to comeuppance. If anything, the opposite occurred where Nelson stopped being just a bully and started being more of a character. Or maybe his crappy living conditions is punishment enough.
Bates High School- Carrie (dir. Brian De Palma, 1976)
It’s one thing to deal with a bully or even a gang of bullies. It’s another when the entire school is against you, and you must come home to a psychotically religious mother every night. That’s what Carrie White had to face in 1976’s Carrie (and, presumably, the upcoming remake). The opening scene of the movie involves her getting abused by her classmates for having her first period in the gym shower, and in response, her mother abuses her for being a sinner.
The situation becomes worse when the senior class organizes the prom just to mess with her. The popular girl befriends Carrie, the cute guy asks her to the dance, and this mousy girl finally gets a chance to feel accepted. Even though her mother’s taunts of “they’re all going to laugh at you” were essentially correct, they were still rude.
As everybody knows by now, on prom night, she is voted Prom Queen. During her moment of victory, they dump pig’s blood on her.
She kills (practically) everyone, including John Travolta.
Buddy Ackerman- Swimming with Sharks (dir. George Huang, 1994)
Bullies don’t just exist in school. They exist throughout one’s personal and professional life, and that’s where Swimming with Sharks fits in. Released around the time of Se7en and The Usual Suspects, the lesser-known dark Hollywood satire Swimming for Sharks completed a standout trilogy for Kevin Spacey, one that he has never managed to equal.
In Sharks, Spacey plays Buddy Ackerman, a sadistic motion picture executive who takes out all of his aggression (and then some) on his assistant (Guy, played by Pulp Fiction‘s Frank Whaley). The horrible boss played by Spacey in Horrible Bosses had nothing on Ackerman. Spacey’s Lex Luthor in Superman Returns had nothing on Ackerman.
After being fired and learning about a potential affair between his ex-boss and girlfriend Dawn, Guy turns his tables on his abuser by holding Ackerman at gunpoint and putting him through physical torture, even if Buddy’s torments were mostly mental. However, the film is more than just the bullied becoming a bully, it’s also about how people become hardened, why they turn into monsters, having to scrap for what one wants, and the lengths people will go to achieve their goals and reap vengeance. It’s the truly dark (and superior) alternative to Horrible Bosses.
Buddy’s victim kidnaps, tortures, and threatens to kill him. However, Buddy saves his own life by giving Guy a promotion and covering up the murder of a witness. Guy ends up adopting the same outlook as his superior.
Buddy Revell-Three O’Clock High (dir. Phil Joanou, 1987)
Very few people have seen Three O’Clock High, which is unfortunate because it is one of the most ridiculous teen movies to come out of the 80s. When schlubby nerd Jerry Mitchell (Casey Siemaszko) accidentally crosses newly-enrolled psychopath Buddy Revell (Richard Tyson), he is promised the beating of the century. Told that he is going to fight at three o’clock in the parking lot, Jerry does everything he can to get out of going against Buddy. When he tries to bribe his way out of the fight, Buddy calls him a coward and Jerry decides he’ll fight him after all.
There are many things about this movie that add to its ridiculousness and thereby its charm. First, Buddy is roughly 20 years old (having been left behind in a couple grades) and has easily six inches and 75 pounds on Jerry. Are we really supposed to believe that Jerry could ever actually kick Buddy’s ass? Speaking of, Buddy pretty much only has two rules: stay out of his way and never, ever touch him. Student, teacher, man or woman, it doesn’t matter. If you touch Buddy, you’re getting punched. Oh, both Siemaszko and Tyson were about 26 years old when the movie was made, so the idea of them passing for high school students is just hilarious.
Buddy gets the crap beat out of him by Jerry. Unbelievable, yes, but cathartic nevertheless. Everyone knew that bully in grade school or high school who was angry for no reason and always looking for a fight. In Three O’Clock High we finally get to see one of those guys getting what he deserves, even if it is almost too funny to take seriously.
Regina George-Mean Girls (dir. Mark Waters, 2004)
Mean Girls is one of the funniest movies to come out in the early 2000s, thanks in large part to Rachel McAdams’ terror-monger Regina George. Tina Fey’s brilliant script, based on the nonfiction book Queen Bees and Wannabes, somehow manages to accurately capture the emotional and mental battleground that teenage girls must navigate in order to survive high school.
Regina George is the most popular and beautiful girl in school, as everybody knows. She is the leader of The Plastics, made up of Regina, Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) and Karen (Amanda Seyfried). These are the girls who decide what fashion is in style, who is allowed to date whom and what social groups people belong to. When new girl Cady (Lindsay Lohan) accidentally falls in with The Plastics, she experiences the experiences firsthand what the word “frienemy” really means.
Regina’s punishment is threefold. First, Cady convinces her to start eating a type of candy bar that is loaded with calories and fat, leading to Regina’s significant weight gain. Two, she is exposed in front of the whole school as the one behind who unleashed the “burn book” onto the mass populace, thereby severing many, many friendships. Finally, she gets hit by a bus! That’s about as bad as it gets.
Hilary Faye-Saved! (dir. Brian Dannelly, 2004)
Saved! is just an all-around great movie. The cast is wonderful and the not-so-subtle satire of religious educational institutions is disturbingly accurate. Our bully in Saved! is the uber-devout, shove-it-down-your-throat Hilary Faye, played brilliantly by Mandy Moore. Set in the halls of American Eagle Christian High School, Saved! tells the story of a good girl Mary (Jena Malone) who becomes pregnant when she tries to cure her boyfriend of being gay by having sex with him.
Even though pretty much every student at American Eagle High is crazy, Hilary Faye is by far the most dangerous because her convictions give her the excuse to be as judgmental and cruel as she wants. She proves her Christianness by caring for her disabled brother, Roland (Macaulay Culkin), and leads random prayers whenever she feels someone’s soul is in danger of burning in Hell.
Moore is absolutely terrific as Hilary Faye because she has the classic All-American, good girl looks but can give a cold, mean stare when someone crosses her. Hilary Faye is a frightening bully because she has convinced students and parents alike that she is completely unselfish and cares only about other people. Therefore, she can get away with anything and convince anyone that her manipulation is for a good reason.
Near the end of the film, Hilary Faye has a breakdown when a group of gays storm into the senior prom and demand to be allowed to participate. She jumps in her minivan (handicap accessible for Roland) and crashes it into a 30-foot tall wood cutout of Jesus. It is also discovered that she is the one who wrote graffiti all over the school and blamed it on Mary. All in all, it’s a pretty satisfying conclusion.