Monday, October 10, 2011

Mixed Message = Lost Message

Last week I was watching ANDERSON COOPER 360 on CNN. Every so often Anderson devotes a piece of his program to chronicling the on-going problem of teen bullying in schools across America. In this edition of the Bullying series, Anderson had a panel of six middle school students who had each been bullied so bad that their parents were forced to take them out of public school, a crazy decision if you ask me, and home school them, an even crazier decision if you ask me.

They complained of being called racial, sexual, and just-plain cruel slurs. I agree the problem of bullying is something our society should not tolerate, and as an adult, I am always trying to educate myself on ways of reducing and/or running interference on this epidemic. The message on ANDERSON COOPER 360 was a solid and obvious one, and the pain these young people were feeling was something you never want to see. But then the message got mixed. In the midst of all this heartache, in the flow of those running tears, a parent of one of the bullied students (I'm sure it was a parent) had it arranged with Anderson that her tormented child would perform a musical number for the national audience.


So this blond-haired, eye-glass wearing young man belted out that Gaga song that says, “I was born this way,” while the rest of the bullied watched on with jaws dropped. Of course he got a standing ovation, but I was left with one thought: Did this young man’s mother use the opportunity to plaster her child all over America as a bully victim, while also hoping to sell him as the next teen singing prodigy?


To me so much of the sympathy I built up for this child while watching, and the five others, was washed away in an offbeat, extremely awkward, and really mistimed performance of a pop song. You can’t expect people to take your sadness seriously if you try to double it up with a free singing audition in front of America. Is this some kind of new-age stage parenting? Pull your kid out of public school, tell everyone he’s bullied then shop him all over the talk show circuit as a bullied, abused, but untapped singing superstar? Was all this in an effort to get a singing deal? If this child was truly tormented, I am sorry for that, but confidence didn’t seem to be a concern as he sang it up. Wait a second: Is this an anti-bullying program or a Leif Garrett concert?

It’s the same thing with the Wall Street Protests. In the beginning they were rallying to speak up against Wall Street greed and the mismanagement of billions by the wealthy few. The protests were really moving well. Even NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg spoke up about them. They were organizing in thousands in cities all over America, and I thought their singular and unshakable purpose might really get somewhere. I was proud to see a huge group of people so riled up about something so wrong, and saying: We’re not going to take this anymore.

But now . . . they’ve taken on advertising. I guess now the protests are not only about Wall Street greed, they’re also about the War in Afghanistan, and something to do with unemployment. So the protests are now about all that stuff? What if I hate Wall Street greed but support the War? Then what? The point is the singular and forward-moving message is now lost, mixed, replaced by a This-Protest-is-brought-to-you-by feeling, and to me, I’m completely turned off and no longer see it as a legitimate outcry, which is sad, because I thought it had real potential.

But this is everywhere in our society now. Politicians turned actors, and just the opposite. Athletes who go on dancing shows, singers who make movies; it happens in so many other aspects of culture as well. There’s a reason why Billy the Kid wasn’t an outlaw and a church preacher. There’s a reason FDR didn’t have a reality show. Vince Lombardi understood you couldn’t coach football and also star on the YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS. When the message gets mixed, it gets lost.

Bullied Kid Sings:

More about AC360 Bullying:

More about protests:

Brian Huba


  1. So true. Occupy Wall Street, which is spreading rapidly, has taken on so many causes that it has no focus left. Too bad.

  2. When I saw that kid sing, I was also shaking my head ... but for the different reasons. In just a few verses, I realized why he's being bullied - Lady Gaga? Then when the lilly white, upper middle class audiences (mixed with a few celebs) gave a standing ovation, I was thinking that he's gonna get it doubly bad when he shows up at school on Monday. The only way to stop bullying is to fight back. Learn to stand up and not run away and no one will bully you. I guess his parents didn't get that memo.