Cartoon Network continues the battle against bullying with a special commercial-free presentation of CNN’s half-hour documentary The Bully Effect on Sunday, April 28 at 5:30 and 8p.m. The new documentary — hosted by out CNN anchor Anderson Cooper — chronicles the journey of 14-year-old Alex Libby, whose emotional life was both restored and wonderfully activated because someone spoke up in his defense. For Libby, slurs, threats, and beatings at school were a daily occurrence until filmmaker Lee Hirsch highlighted the young man’s story in his 2011 documentary Bully. Since then, he has become an anti-bullying rock star with appearances on national television and a visit to the White House.
The Bully Effect is a part of Cartoon Network’s Stop Bullying: Speak Up initiative — a multi-platform pro-social campaign founded in 2010 which utilizes video, print, and online resources to raise awareness and empower young people to speak up against bullying when it occurs. “Our campaign is all about giving kids the confidence and the competence to know how to speak up when they see their friends get picked on,” says Alice Cahn, Cartoon Network’s vice president of social responsibility. “We launched Stop Bullying: Speak Up as a direct result of audience research. When we asked kids to tell us what issue worries them most where they feel they can make a difference, the thing they said most was, ‘I see my friends get picked on. I know I want to do something. Show me what to do.’”
As a mother raising her children together with her partner in New York, the campaign’s mission is personal for Cahn—and one she knows requires continuous effort. “This is not an issue you can address once and fix,” she says. “That’s where the power of an entertainment brand, where kids go every day because they want to, can help. Sending the message that no one deserves to be bullied or picked on and saying it consistently is what it’s going to take to make a change.”
Nevertheless, Cahn is aware young people need more than lectures and rules to effect change. They also need visible role models who are both relatable and inspiring. “We wanted to go back and revisit some of the young people that were involved in Lee Hirsch’s Bully movie to show what had happened when that film spoke up for them and became an active bystander on their behalf,” she says, explaining Cartoon Network’s motivation to produce The Bully Effect. “This story of Alex—who is the same age as our target audience—kids look at him and think, ‘That could be me. That could be my friend.’ Showing what happened to him, how his life changed when someone spoke up for him, and how he’s now become an advocate for other young people is one of those really motivational stories where kids see a real kid like themselves.”
Both airings of The Bully Effect on April 28 will be accompanied by an online Q&A with Anderson Cooper and bullying prevention expert Rosalind Wiseman. Cartoon Network also plans to make the documentary available on their website beginning Monday, April 29 as well as YouTube and to cable and satellite customers through VOD for two weeks following the premiere telecast.
While the Stop Bullying: Speak Up initiative has made a concerted effort to target LGBT youth by partnering with organizations such as GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), Cahn says she hopes to see Cartoon Network reach further by incorporating LGBT characters and their families into future programing. “Our job as television broadcasters is to offer kids a mirror and a window,” she says. “Through that mirror they should see their lives reflected and through that window they should see people, places, and ideas that they don’t see in their lives. I would hope that youth television will continue to evolve so that we provide a positive, accurate, and broad mirror and window for all young people and the adults who care for them.”
Until then, documentaries like The Bully Effect continue to lay the groundwork for a brighter future—a goal Cahn vows Cartoon network will continually strive toward. “We will continue doing this and contribute to that social change,” she says. “We really believe by putting this information out there, having it be practical, having it be actionable and giving them—not just strategies—but real tactics that make them feel confident and competent that we can help create climates in schools and communities where bullying is not tolerated.”