Perez Hilton and Bullying
Over the past few years, the news has been inundated with tragic stories of teens and cyberbullying. There were the stories of Phoebe Prince and Megan Meier, who after being tormented via social media sites and texting, resorted to suicide. The advent of formspring isn't alleviating the now all-too-common cruelty of bullying, either. It seems that adults look at our generation and wonder if our obsession with vampires, warewolves and other beasts is actually due to a feeling of kinship.
There are probably a lot of causes for the advent of cyberbullying, which I've ruminated on before. But one cause I hadn't really given much thought to before was the influence of a bullying media, specifically thanks to stimulating reality shows like the Real Housewives and nasty bloggers like Perez Hilton.
This point was made especially clear to me when it was announced a little while ago that Perez is writing a children's book about acceptance. My twitter feed, once fed this news tidbit, went, to put it mildly, berserk. Isn't this the blogger who attacked everybody - insulting everything from their cellulite to their fashion choices? everybody wondered. In fact, many people began to attack him for daring to write a book so seeped in hypocrisy.
Which is when I began to feel like something wasn't quite right.
Yes, Perez Hilton was a bully for a really long time. He did attack celebrities. He drew disgusting pictures over their photographs and attacked their looks and talent and life choices, justifying that they deserved it because they chose to enter a public profession and that without him, without publicity, they would be nothing. And - though I won't go into the sickness of this right now - millions of people followed him for that very reason. They ate up what really was inexcusable bullying on a daily - often hourly - basis, considering it a fun past time. In fact, in 2008, Perez Hilton was the fourth most visited website by all college-aged girls, right behind Facebook, YouTube and Google.
But then something kind of cool happened. Perez had an epiphany and apologized for his wrong-doing and vowed to change his lifestyle and blog to be more positive. Here's the proof of said epiphany:
And now he's trying to live up to it, by changing his blog (though he's almost definitely losing profits and visitors because of it -a problem in and of itself) and now, by writing a children't book about acceptance. Progress, right? Something to applaud, right?
Wrong, apparently, since many people can't let the fact that he was once a bully go. So many people keep calling him a hypocrite and won't let him forget that he once made people miserable.
Now, I know how hard it is to forgive a bully firsthand. A member of my immediate family was bullied for their entire childhood and I saw how it forever changed that person, causing them unimaginable amounts of pain. Bullying is sick and disgusting and I am a champion for its demise as much as anybody else.
But here's what I worry about. I worry about kids who are bullies themselves watching the way Perez Hilton is being treated as he's trying to change his ways - the way our society will only let him be a bully (once a bully, always a bully, they seem to say) even when he realizes what he did was wrong and wants to change. That kid is going to watch this happen, and think to themself, "Well, I guess there's no point in changing if everybody is going to think of me this way forever, anyway."
Especially considering the teen suicides that have been publicized over the past few years due to bullying, every time a public bully decides to change his way we have to celebrate it. In order to end bullying, we can't just condemn every bully out there and tell them that they are simply horrible people that can't be helped. We have to be forgiving. We have to show them how and why their former ways were wrong and that they have the capacity to be a better person, that EVERYBODY does.
As feminists, we may dislike Perez Hilton, and for a solid reason. But by condemning him to the title of bully forever and mocking him for trying to change, we are doing so much more damage than we are good.
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