Whitney Kropp is enjoying her 15 minutes of fame, but the reason is hardly worth celebrating. A month ago, the 16-year-old from West Branch, Michigan was nominated to her high school’s homecoming court as a malicious hoax ridiculing her lack of popularity. The teen was crushed—even admitted to feeling suicidal—before a well-meaning stranger rallied support on Facebook and her plight became viral.
Katie Couric invited Whitney and her mom to appear on her new afternoon talk show as support poured in from Kid Rock, Lindsay Lohan, Adam Lambert, Carly Rae Jepsen and 144,000 fans of the “Support Whitney Kropp” Facebook page. Concerned residents from her town and throughout the world responded in ways big and small. She received a total makeover including new hairdo, dress and tiara with flowers sent from an admirer in Beijing. After the Kropps appeared on her show, Couric offered to pay for a family trip to Disney World.
“I’m not this little dog toy that you just throw around to give to your dog. I’m not this joke that you people think I am,” Whitney said, “…‘cause now, with this going on, I feel a lot stronger than I have ever been before.”
This young girl may feel vindicated, but most picked-on kids and teens don’t get this chance. Thousands of children are singled out every day in schools and on playgrounds; they may be fat, gay, bookish, socially awkward or just plumb dumb and homely. Bullying is not a new phenomenon, but with the advent of YouTube and the runaway coarseness of American society, it has taken on a new level of malevolence.
Beyond a few high profile cases, Lady Gaga’s posturing, banal public service announcements and the proclamation of “National Anti-Bullying Month,” the issue is ignored, even tacitly embraced in popular culture. Ironically, the people who trumpet peace-love-and-understanding often are the same ones who deride the traditional values of self-sacrifice, respect and humility.
The results should come as no surprise. American kids—whose use of entertainment media exceeds 53 hours per week—are mimicking the cruelty they see and hear during most of their waking hours. The results of a steady diet of calling unattractive girls “grenades” on “Jersey Shore,” and singing along to Tyga’s “Rack City bitch, rack rack city bitch” takes its toll. So too does the uncensored bile spewed by prominent voices. You don’t have to look far for evidence of public invectives as these recent examples show:
- WEIGHT: Hours after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s keynote speech at the Republican National convention, James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times wrote an insult-laced column “Chris Christie, the Republican heavyweight, is really heavy.” David Letterman said arguing with the Governor amounted to “crossing a rhino.” Both fall in line with the mantra circulated last year that he’s “too fat to be president.”
- RELIGION: As a presidential candidate, Mitt Romney is fair game for public criticism. Yet the attacks on his Mormon faith by mainstream journalists like New York Times columnist Charles Blow and Salon Editor Joan Walsh who tweeted, “Romney’s saving the soul of America—so he doesn’t have to baptize us after we’re dead” takes it to a new low. Of course, neither lost their job nor reputation. Celebrities who can’t find the courage to criticize Islamic terrorists have no problem with Mormon bashing: Cher (more on her below), Roger Ebert, rocker Adam Levine and Snoop Dogg among them.
- PARTY AFFILIATION: Celebrities d’jour make frequent inane remarks denigrating conservatives, but then there’s Ellen Barkin and Cher. No doubt these two are hardly relevant and even less intelligent, nonetheless their public rants wishing Republicans would contract AIDS, get raped, and be violently killed are disturbing, even coming from nitwits like them.
- GENDER: Jason Biggs is a C-list actor whose career has peaked as being the voice of Leonardo on Nickelodeon’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” His misogynistic, lewd tweets about Ann Romney and Janna Ryan have received zero outrage from feminists and an anemic apology from his employer. By contrast, Fox News host Megyn Kelly called Biggs a “disgusting pig” who deserves to be fired.
- SOCIAL CLASS: Reality television’s homage to white trash America has become a cottage industry—“Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” “Teen Mom,” “16 and Pregnant,” “Hillbilly Handfishing,” “Swamp People,” “Bayou Billionaires,” “Rocket City Rednecks,” and the list goes on. All are the equivalent of a 21st century freak show: Bring on the hillbillies!
- AGE, WEIGHT: Earlier this year Karen Klein, a 68-year-old bus monitor from New York, was reduced to tears by four middle-school boys who taunted her about her age, weight and lonely existence. Gloating, they filmed and posted their triumph online. Like Whitney Kropp, Klein recouped her pride by the world-wide outpouring of support and $700,000 in donations that followed.
Thankfully, decent folks are disgusted by the bullies and jerks in their personal lives. In the public arena, however, we have become jaded, rarely reacting to repulsive attacks on groups or individuals alike. This indifference is sending a message to our kids: Making fun of someone we dislike is conditionally acceptable.
The cult of callousness goes way beyond fictional portrayals onscreen or song lyrics; it’s become the new normal in reality television and news media as well as in the unscripted broadsides from loudmouth celebrities. Coming from these very same people, the anti-bullying bromides are particularly disingenuous.
Megyn Kelly got it right; as the grownups in the room we need to repel the negative influences and call them out strongly and unequivocally. Our kids are watching, listening and learning. Ask Whitney Kropp and Karen Klein.