High School Confidential: Bullying

The other kids, they think I’m weird

– Carrie (Chloe Grace Moretz)

High school can be a scary place. Most students have experienced or witnessed bullying and today’s teens have to deal with cyber-bullying 24/7. There’s no ‘app’ to teach respect for others. Kids need to know it’s okay to be different or unique or even “weird”.

The theme of Bullying Awareness Week (Nov. 17-23) is Stand Up. Standing up for yourself and your friends can be a challenge. How do we help teens be strong without resorting to violence themselves?

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” –Friedrich Neitzsche

Two new made-in-Toronto movies give very different takes on the timely issue of bullying and violence in schools. The Dirties is a low-budget but compelling look at alienation from the viewpoint of the social outsiders. Two best friends Matt (Matt Johnson) and Owen (Owen Williams) are making a student film about exacting revenge on a group of bullies they call “the Dirties”.  For Matt the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred. It’s not just a joke anymore.

There’s a scene at the top of the Scarborough Bluffs where Owen says, “I don’t think it’s funny” as he realizes that Matt is teetering on the edge of ‘losing it’ and falling into mad, movie-fuelled fantasies of revenge. The improvised, darkly comic dialogue captures the pop culture-obsessed lifestyles of some teenagers: “In high school nobody can hear you scream!”

Johnson, a graduate film student at York University, is the co-writer, star and director. The Dirties was made on a shoestring budget of around $15,000 (and that’s Canadian currency). He was allowed to film around actual students in five different schools, including Rosedale Heights School for the Arts. His co-star, Williams, is now a high school English teacher in Oakville.

The Dirties is anything but a Hollywood treatment of what happens in high school. Johnson argues that, “Every Hollywood take on the bullying issue is so sensational and ridiculous … we are trying to figure out why people do the things they do.”

“Sensational” would certainly describe the scary events of Carrie (unleashed just in time for Halloween), but almost 40 years after Stephen King published his first novel, director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) feels the story is still relevant: “I love Carrie White. I love that she’s a misfit, an outcast, but she wants love and acceptance because that’s what we all want.”

Carrie is a “re imagining” of the classic 1976 horror film which made Sissy Spacek famous in the role of a painfully shy girl who is picked on at school and takes revenge to a whole new level.  Stephen King based Carrie on two girls he knew and also drew inspiration from his time as a high school English teacher. King was living in a trailer when he wrote Carrie, but after its huge success he was able to quit teaching. (Kids, don’t give up your day job unless you figure on selling 350 million books!)Chloe Moretz;Gabriella Wilde

This Carrie remake filmed its iconic prom scene at Northern Secondary School on Mt. Pleasant Road. (Who knew there were rows of luxury, mid-rise condos in small-town Maine?)

East End schools are no stranger to cinematic bullies and cliques. Before she became a drama queen in real life, Lindsay Lohan filmed at Birchmount C.I. (Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, 2004) and Malvern C.I. (Mean Girls, 2004). Two good films which encourage empathy for those who are different are The Mighty (1998), with scenes at Danforth C.I., and The Virgin Suicides (1999) at Monarch Park C.I.

Another former teacher, Beach resident Linda Shuyler has addressed the topic of bullying  in the hallways of various Degrassi series since 1979. (Aubrey “Drake” Graham was shot in one episode.)

The king of horror, Stephen King, comes to Toronto on Oct. 24 to discuss the writing life on opening night of the International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront Centre. He will present his new novel, Doctor Sleep, which returns to characters from The Shining.

King has said that the 1976 Carrie is the best film adaptation of any of his books. Which do you prefer? Join the debate on Nov. 7 at 8 p.m. for “King of the Ring” at Big Picture Cinema, 1035 Gerrard St. E.

Give a thought for the Carries and Matts and Owens of the world before violence begets violence. Be part of the solution:

Be the change you want to see in the world

–Mahatma Gandhi

Extra notes: Carole Pope’s raunchy song, High School Confidential, was written about a school in Scarborough which shall remain, well, confidential.

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