Teitel: Bullied kids like Keaton Jones don't need Avengers tickets— or to go viral
Teachers, guidance counsellors, and social workers may not give kids tickets to star-studded movie premieres, but they can do something even cooler: actually help bullying victims in a way that counts.
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The sad case of Keaton Jones rages on. If you’re lucky enough to have missed it, I’m referring to the eleven-year-old Tennessee boy made world famous this past weekend after his mother, Kimberly Jones, uploaded a video of Keaton to Facebook in which he is crying in the passenger seat of her car, recounting his mistreatment at the hands of school bullies, who called him ugly and poured milk on him.
“Why do they bully?” Keaton asks fighting back tears. “What’s the point of it?”
To this day, nobody has answered the kid’s question. Instead, they’ve offered him a lot of stuff. When Kimberly Jones’ video went viral, racking up millions of views and inspiring media outlets to write follow up stories about Keaton’s plight, celebrities of every stripe took to Twitter to invite him to concerts, film premieres and sports games.
Avengers actor Chris Evans, Captain America himself, tweeted the following: “Stay strong, Keaton. Don’t let them make you turn cold. I promise it gets better. While those punks at your school are deciding what kind of people they want to be in this world, how would you and your mom like to come to the Avengers premiere in LA next year?”
Evans’ co-star Mark Ruffalo was no less effusive. “Can’t wait to meet you in person, pal,” he tweeted. “Forget those ignorant kids. One day, very soon, they are going to feel pretty stupid for this.”
Meanwhile, Sean Hannity invited Keaton and his family to NYC to tour the Fox News studios (he also suggested, in perfect Hannity form, that he was going to make a personal call to the boy’s school to “fix” the bullying problem). Electronic music producer Zedd offered to fly Keaton to a show at the artist’s expense, and pay for his accommodations. Actress Hailee Steinfeld recorded a video asking Keaton to be her date to the premiere of Pitch Perfect 3. (The list goes on and on. I could fill an entire column with celebrity acclaim for the eleven-year-old.)
And then the other shoe dropped.
A little digging online revealed that the Jones family was photographed not so long ago standing proudly next to a confederate flag and Kimberly Jones (who maintains that she is not racist) was discovered to have criticized athletes who kneel during the U.S. national anthem. And then, yesterday, reports emerged that Keaton’s estranged father may have ties to a white supremacist gang, not to mention two tattoos that read “White Pride” and “Pure Breed.”
Oh how the mighty (for a weekend) have fallen. In light of these revelations, the story’s narrative has shifted dramatically from “how can we help poor little Keaton?” to “Could poor little Keaton have made a racist remark to provoke his bullies? Does he deserve our compassion when his mother and father may be racists? Does he deserve our compassion if he is a racist-in-training himself?” So many questions, so little time before the next social media firestorm takes over. I’ll make it quick then.
The answer is no, Keaton Jones doesn’t deserve our compassion, not because he and his family may be racist, nor because he isn’t a good kid who deserves to be treated with kindness and respect, but because we — strangers in the public — have no business butting into the life of an eleven-year-old boy and weighing in on an elementary school bullying incident we know next to nothing about. Keaton doesn’t need our support today but he certainly didn’t need it last week either.
“There’s an argument that the initial video should have stayed in the realm of social media and not been picked up by mainstream outlets at all,” writes Hannah Jane Parkinson, in the Guardian.
It’s a good argument, but here’s a better one: the video shouldn’t have been made, period.
Since when was the appropriate response to bullying broadcasting your distraught kid over the internet? According to the Washington Post, it was Keaton’s idea to appear on camera. But kids have ideas every day. We don’t have to turn them into reality.
This isn’t just a criticism of the boy’s mother. Homemade videos like Keaton’s where kids recount their bullying experiences are all over the internet. They shouldn’t be.
But neither should celebrities fall over themselves to offer bullied kids the world. Since when was the appropriate antidote to bullying giving kids free stuff and flying them to red carpet premieres? When did “Don’t worry buddy, I’m going to put you up in a swanky hotel—that’ll show ‘em” become the right and helpful response to a kid in pain? It’s as if rather than fight the actual prejudices that compel bullies to pick on peers who are different from themselves, adults with fame and power have put all their energy into trying to make bullied kids more popular.
This public showering of gifts does nothing to curb the bullying “epidemic” celebrities are supposedly so concerned about. Life is not as simple as an Avengers movie. Bullies aren’t monsters or bad guys. They are kids, often just as vulnerable as the peers they torment.
The good news is there are professionals trained to assist in these matters. They are called teachers, vice principals, guidance counsellors, and social workers. They will not fill your kids’ pockets with tickets to star-studded events, but they might do something even cooler: They might actually help them in a way that counts.