15 January 2016

Suicide in Popular Culture, the Media and Society: 762mm Full Metal Jacket

"This is my rifle. There are many like it but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my rifle is useless. Without my rifle I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy, who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will. Before God I swear this creed: my rifle and myself are defenders of my country, we are the masters of my enemy, we are the saviours of my life. So be it, until there is no enemy, but peace. Amen.”

The infamous rifleman’s creed from Stanley Kubrick’s iconic Vietnam War motion picture ‘Full Metal Jacket’ (1987). The film follows a U.S Marine squadron from their early inscription stages of boot camp to the brutal and surreal war in Vietnam. As the new recruits enter bootcamp, one wannabe marine looks to be out of place from the very beginning. Pvt. Leonard Lawrence or,  ‘Gomer Pyle’ as he’s soon nicknamed, struggles to adapt to the reality and harshness of bootcamp and quickly becomes the figurehead for abuse from his fellow recruits and his incredibly tough gunnery sergeant, played by R. Lee Ermey. After countless heated exchanges between Pvt. Pyle and Gny. Sgt. Hartman, as well as being bullied by the majority of his fellow recruits, Pvt. Pyle cracks. In the middle of the night Pvt. Pyle is found by Pvt. Joker sitting on a toilet in the head along with his rifle which is loaded with “762mm Full Metal Jacket” rounds. Joker tries to calm the quite obviously distressed Pyle. Eventually, Hartman comes screaming through the door hurling further abuse at the already broken Pvt. Pyle. This iconic scene then sees Pyle shoot his gunnery sergeant dead halfway through a sentence of abuse. Pyle then turns the gun on himself and shoots straight through his head. 

Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece shows the incredible damage that bullying, physical abuse and mental oppression can have on the human mind. The constant verbal abuse from Hartman and the physical abuse given to him from his recruits lead to a mental breakdown of an already fragile person. Pyle was quite clearly not cut out for the marines and the people around him did nothing to help him through the incredibly unsuited surroundings. Instead, Hartman points out Pyle’s flaws and uses them against him to mentally break him down and make him feel like something you’d find on the bottom of your boot. When Pyle’s lack of ability effects the entire squadron’s chances of succeeding, they physically take it out on him. Even though ‘Full Metal Jacket’ was released in the 80s, the representation and effects of bullying are still relevant and very much a talking point in today’s society. 

Since the turn of the century, the world has become connected in such an unprecedented way. We have so many forms of communication and since the advent of IM, social media and messaging apps, we can do this instantly and crucially, within big groups. This all sounds great. Technology has advanced so much that everyone who has access to it, can use the tools to talk instantly to whoever they wish. (As long as they have the access too) However, the flip side of this is tragic and can lead to people committing suicide. The rapid advancement of technology and the ingeniousness of the internet (including the World Wide Web) caused many things to have a digital branch. Newspapers have websites which will ultimately have the exact same stories in both formats, retailers have built online shops with the use of e-commerce and will pretty much be selling the exact same things and, generically the old traditional letter has quickly been overtaken, but not replaced by e-mail. Like all of the above and most things in our society, bullying has also taken the same digital leap. 

Cyberbullying is the act of bullying on the internet and, according to a BBC Newsbeat report, one in five have been cyberbullied and a fifth of those have felt suicidal as a result.1 Cyberbullying can be far more harmful than face-to-face bullying as that very same BBC Newsbeat article states. Moreover, If somebody is being bullied at school or work or wherever, it’s almost certain that the bullying has crossed over to the internet. In October 2006 a thirteen-year-old girl from Missouri, U.S. committed suicide after being the victim of cyberbullying.2 One day, Megan Meier received a friend request from an unknown boy called ‘Josh’. Megan was eager to accept the request and did so against her mother’s first impressions. The pair never met but spoke on MySpace until she was practically in love with him. They spoke for several months until one day in October, ‘Josh’ told Megan that he no longer wanted to be friends. ‘Josh’ began sending hateful messages to her in private and then eventually publicly on her page. People began to join in calling Megan fat and and a slut. Megan killed herself as a direct result of cyberbullying. 

The case of Megan Meier isn't unique. There have been numerous real cases of cyberbullying resulting in the suicide of a young person. The exposure has been so great that films about the subject have been made. The original US TV movie ‘Cyberbully’ was released in 2011 and it was the first of a string of movies made about the subject. (‘Cyberbully’ is actually loosely based on the Meier case) The television movie surrounds a 17-year-old American girl called Taylor (played by Emily Osment) who gets a laptop for her birthday. Although her mother is fairly strict about her daughter’s online activity, it doesn't stop her from joining the new social media site that everyone at school has. As soon as she signs up to the site and uploads her first image, hateful comments instantly appear on her photo from her peers at school. At first, she laughs it off as a pathetic comment. However, days later someone hacks her account and slanders her on her own wall. This really gets to Taylor and it brings her to tears. Added to that, her classmates write even more hurtful comments following the hacking. Taylor becomes the sole victim as fake accounts slander her further by stating that she slept with a guy and gave him an STD. After the hysterics of this, a video appears on the site of her classmates pretending to be Taylor and slating her even more. Eventually, Taylor has enough and attempts to take her own life. 

Although the film didn't receive the best ratings, it does one thing very well. It spreads awareness of what cyberbullying can do to someone. It shows the prominent threat that cyberbully is to teenagers all around the world and that the internet is capable of extremely harmful things as well as being a source for good. In 2014, the horror film ‘Unfriended’ tells the story of an American girl who was the victim of cyberbullying. She begins to take revenge on a group of teenagers who were the cyberbullies who ultimately bullied her to death. They did this by sharing a humiliating video of the girl as well as giving her abuse online. The film is of the supernatural branch of the horror genre and is therefore, naturally unrealistic. However, the premise of cyberbullying and the act of suicide as a result, is most definitely realistic. 


BBC Newsbeat ‘Cyberbullying 'worse than face-to-face' abuse, suggests global research’ 22nd September 2015 http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/34328417/cyberbullying-worse-than-face-to-face-abuse-suggests-global-research

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