Chinese American. Christian. Psychology major. Feminist. University of Washington. Eating disorder recovery. Drawing. Body positive. LGBTQ. Songwriting. Poetry.
Cyberbully, a fictional movie about a high school named Taylor who attempts suicide
due to cyberbullying, is evidence that cyberbullying is finally beginning to be taken seriously. It
is a made-for-TV movie that exposes the experience of being cyberbullied and seeks to raise
awareness. Its message is that while cyberbullying doesn’t seem like a serious problem and is
not a part of ‘real life’, it can drive teens towards suicide because of teen culture and the current
prevalence of the internet.
On a social media website named Cliquesters, after Taylor called the queen bee of her
high school (Lindsay) a bitch, Lindsay began to harass her online, but didn’t have anything
substantial to ruin Taylor’s life with. However, after Taylor’s little brother hacked her Cliquester
account by posting an inappropriate status, Taylor’s reputation started to come under fire.
Taylor’s mom and brother shrugged off the seriousness of internet harassment until after Taylor
tried to commit suicide. Her brother insisted that it was a joke and her mom merely insisted that
she delete her Cliquesters account, but Taylor stubbornly refused to delete her account, which
caused her to suffer more and more emotional harm as she witnessed even more people spread
lies and insults about her. We find later that even Taylor’s best friend Samantha contributed to
the bullying indirectly. She created a fake male account on Cliquesters and pretended to be a
boy from another school that was interested in Taylor, and then turned on her after her trust was
gained and spread malicious rumors about her. Towards the end of the movie when Taylor and
her mom attempt to convince lawmakers to beef up laws on cyberbullying, Taylor’s mom asserts
that teenagers can’t be forced off the internet since it is such a huge part of their social life, and
that it is cyberbullying laws that need to change.
While audiences of the past might have laughed at or misunderstood the protagonist of
this film to be weak or pathetic because she couldn’t take a few negative words, this movie does
a good job of speaking to current audiences that have struggled with cyberbullying, by showing
the gradual steps that led up to Taylor’s social isolation that caused her, little by little, to see no
way out. The bullying that Taylor experienced thwarted her vital needs (Ward-Ciesielski, April
2013); she lived comfortably and did not lack in material needs, but was unable to carry on a
social life. I was able to pick out the three parts of Schneidman’s psychological characteristics
of suicide (Ward-Ciesielski, April 2013): she showed others the video before she attempted to
kill herself, illustrating that suicide is dyadic and illustrating her ambivalence. Also, her actual
suicidal crisis was very short. Although it was very sudden and seemingly from nowhere in the
movie, the viewer could have potentially picked up cues that Taylor was slowly losing hope,
from the listless way she acted at home and school and from the numb attitude she expressed
towards the pain that she continued to experience every time she insisted on logging onto
Many of the theories we learned about in class were indirectly touched upon in
Cyberbully’s portrayal of suicide. I saw the three parts of Joiner’s Interpersonal Theory, as
well as the gradual isolation that she experienced as more and more people deserted her. First,
Taylor experienced thwarted belongingness when the rumor that she was sleeping around spread, so much that it was unbearable for her to return to school. Then, she experienced perceived
burdensomeness when both Scott and Cheyenne rejected her. Scott had asked her to the school
dance and then made up an excuse to ask someone else as soon as he heard the rumors, and
Cheyenne, her other close friend, stated explicitly to Taylor that her reputation was too much of a burden. Also, in accordance with Schneidman’s four elements of sudden suicide, Cyberbully
was able to show Taylor’s increased constriction of intellectual focus (Schneidman, 224). In her
darkest moments, she still wanted to check Cliquesters. Her mother criticized her for this, not understanding that her social life was crucial to her and that Cliquesters was the gateway to that.
However, since the movie mainly focused on cyberbullying and less on suicide, I find that Cyberbully portrayed suicide in a few problematic ways. First, I found the portrayal of the antagonist, Lindsay, to be unrealistic. I felt that Cyberbully gave the impression that female bullies have to fit a certain mold of being hyperaggressive, mean, and having a clique behind them, while in reality, anybody can be a bully and ruin someone else’s life. She was the ‘queen bee’ of the high school
and seemed to thrive off of treating people terribly, an extreme that does not usually occur in real
life. While it’s true that some high schools do have these ‘queen bee’ types, this character choice
was perhaps made only in order to make the movie more dramatic and have more clear ‘sides’
and not to give the most accurate portrayal of a typical suicide possible. Many movies trying
to achieve social justice face this problem. This shows that because of the tradeoffs that many
media outlets have to make in order to sell their product, media information about societal issues
like suicide can misinform. This movie seems to say that Taylor’s suicidal behavior was caused
by one extreme girl, whereas real situations are not so black and white.
In the same vein, cyberbullying was portrayed in a gendered light, as a catty girl problem. Although Taylor’s classmate Caleb was bullied for being gay, he was not the focus of this film. I feel that males would not connect with this film. Perhaps they made this plot decision because more females are susceptible to cyberbullying, but I felt that unless an audience came in with prior knowledge about suicide or cyberbullying, or were very serious about the topic, they might judge the film merely as catty girl cliques gone wrong.
Also, when looking at Taylor’s suicide attempt, I didn’t like that the movie showed her struggling futilely with a bottle of pills. I understand that a family movie does not want to show a girl trying to stab or shoot herself, but it made the suicide attempt feel too soft and too gendered. As I watched it, it crossed my mind that if Taylor were a guy they most likely would not have her trying to swallow pills to commit suicide, that it would be a ‘girly’ way of committing suicide. Although I am aware that no method of committing suicide is more masculine or feminine, I was trying to gauge my kneejerk reactions to get a more clear picture of what a lay audience would feel.
Although I felt that the movie gave insight into the real experience of being cyberbullied, I found that it did not give me a very credible feeling. I know that if I had not watched this film specifically for this class that I would find it to be a typical teen drama attempting to dive into deeper issues, but still floundering under the label of ‘teen cliques’. Also, while it did portray suicide in a realistic way, I had to analyze deeply in order to extrapolate how it was realistic. The suicide was very sudden, without any explanation as to why it was so sudden. For these reasons, I think that this film effectively raises awareness about cyberbullying, but not in an all-encompassing manner (in terms of gender), and is not particularly insightful about suicide.@1 month ago