When cruel is cool

As an eighth grader in 1986, John Cook urged a girl to commit suicide in the underground newspaper he briefly published with two friends. He accused another of promiscuity. He attacked black teachers and classmates with racial slurs. In Confessions of a Teenage Word-Bully, Cook tries to understand why he did it and the effect on his victims.

Ramming Speed was filled with gutter racism, written by me, that turns my stomach to think of today. It directed at two young girls the same sort of highly public, humiliating sexual slander and innuendo that helped drive 15-year-old Phoebe Prince to kill herself in 2010 in Massachusetts, and it literally called on one of those girls to commit suicide. As much as it was an act of defiance against a school administration we perceived as wanting, it was an act of brutal and indefensible bullying against children we knew to be vulnerable. It was wanton adolescent cruelty of the sort that routinely makes headlines today.

The girl urged to commit suicide by “Ramming Speed” did attempt suicide.

Cook was trying to impress the “cool kids,”  writes Emily Bazelon on Slate. The most promising strategies to prevent bullying rely on shifting the social norms, “figuring out how to make meanness socially costly, as opposed to power-enhancing,” she writes.

Bazelon links to a story on “slut shaming” on WNYC’s Radio Rookies. Reporter Temitayo Fagbenle, 16, interviews a friend who boasts of ruining a girl’s reputation by posting sexual photos of her online. He’s reveling in the “coolness points he scored,” writes Bazelon.

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