Cyberbullying is a great term for what happens when our inevitable robot emperors throw us to the world’s last starved lions in their murder dome circuses, but we have wasted it to describe people dehumanising others on the internet. Personally I have never really had much respect for cyberbullying having undergone a lot of real world bullying while I was at school, and generally believe that while I was being shoved in a rubbish bin a rude email would have seemed like a carnival, but I leave it to you lot and the comments section to prove me wrong.
Being one year younger than most of my peers at school, and about five years physically less developed, I suppose bullying was inevitable. *
The main protagonist was a boy by the name of Chris Taylor**. Chris was blessed with the facial features of a smashed clam, and the physical prowess of Stephen Hawking circa 2019, but he did manage to carve himself a rather niche school career as capering jester to the A Team rugby guys – he made them laugh at the expense of the smaller boys, and was rewarded by being able to kiss their girlfriend’s unattractive mates. From standard six to eight there wasn’t a class I was in where he wouldn’t call me “gay” – the all boy’s school equivalent of an Oscar Wilde retort – to peals of laughter from his friends. I wasn’t left with much option, but to put my head down and endure it as he, and those who wanted his space as gibbering marmot to the rugby set, tore into me with an enthusiasm they usually only reserved for rubbing themselves off around a soggy Marie biscuit.
It all ended one physics class in Standard 8 (Grade 10 for younger readers) as Chris once again attempted to mock me over something or other. Fully aware that retorting would probably result in violence being done unto me, I snapped and slowly, piece-by-piece, feature-by-feature, began to dissect Chris’s failings much to the uproarious delight of his friends. It wasn’t hard. His face looked, as I mentioned before, like the bloated carcass of a beached whale that had recently been dynamited by a group of hillbilly villagers whose hatred of each other was only outdone by their, until recent, hatred of the whale. At first he stared at me with shock, and then anger, before, tears welling in his uncomprehending eyes, he stood up, came around to my table and punched me. I laughed out loud, and the captain of the A-Team stood up, took him by the shoulder, guided him to his seat, and told him “you aren’t coming back from that. Sit down”.
It should have been a moment of huge delight. Years of being bullied ended in one terrific torrent of shame and humiliation for my antagonist, but instead I was just sad. I felt bad for Chris as he sat having my best lines zinged back at him for the rest of the class. He looked utterly defeated, hunched in his chair, like the gargoyle rejected from the crenellations of Notredame cathedral for being too ugly. I had won, at last, and not by a small margin, wasn’t that reason enough to feel something more than dejected relief? Instead I just felt like I had been dragged down to his level. I was part of it, polluted by it. And it did not feel good.
It was a feeling I only became associated with again this week as South African cricket arch-nemesis Australia were brought low by their own hubris. No doubt the blows I dealt Chris would never have hit so hard, had he not been as arrogant with his taunts in the past, and likewise it is the same with Australian cricket. Sitting at the top of the pile, morally judging those below them, the team has been brought crashing to earth, not only by the media, but on the pitch where the Proteas utterly humiliated them, and once again I feel bad. I mean who cheats and still gets thrashed by 322 runs? I wish this had never happened to them, and that the age old rivalry could continue unsullied by this nonsense. I already miss the Australian teams that we hated for their arrogance, but respected for their sheer sporting class. Steve Smith and his travelling team of angry cheats haven’t a patch on the touring teams of the past, who weathered the animosity and even added occasional moments of humour, and grace on the rare occasions they lost. Instead of feeling delight at a crushing victory, I just feel sad that what we as South Africans had in an arch nemesis has now gone, and we have been polluted by association with their downfall. Will we ever fear Australia again or will they, like Chris after that fateful day in Physics class, never hold the psychological upper hand again?
* In the telling of this, some facts have been stretched for comedic effect, and revenge.
**Absolutely his real name