For many years, Oscar-winning producer Harvey Weinstein was considered one of the biggest bullies in Hollywood. In a 2002 New Yorker story, Ken Auletta recounted an anecdote from the Cannes Film Festival, where Weinstein confronted fellow mogul Barry Diller about his bombastic reputation. “Weinstein, who is six feet tall and weighs two hundred and fifty pounds, spotted Barry Diller, the chief executive of Vivendi Universal Entertainment. In a loud voice, he said to Diller, who is a fit five feet nine, ‘Why'd you call me a bully?’
“‘You are a bully,’ Diller replied, and the two studio executives stood toe to toe on the terrace of the Hotel du Cap, as an audience of actors, directors, models, and fellow-executives watched. Diller thought that there was going to be a fistfight.”
Fast-forward a decade and Weinstein found himself sucker-punched last month by the MPAA, which gave his new documentary, Bully, an R-rating for bad language. Weinstein pushed back, but the MPAA wouldn’t give in. So Bully will be released this weekend without a rating, potentially limiting it from the very people who need to see it most.
In 2002, Tom Junod wrote a powerful personal essay about a bully he deemed “The Terrible Boy.” “This is a story, then, about what we disallow when we try to disallow terrible boys,” Junod wrote. “It is a story not just of one terrible boy but of two, and of the mercies lost when we assume that terrible boys must be terrible forever. Jonathan Miller is one of this story's terrible boys. I am the other. For a brief time, I was a terrible boy.”
Terrible boys, of course, often grow up to be terrible men. In 2010, Kevin Morrisey, managing editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, shot himself to death. He was a victim, his friends of colleagues claimed, of workplace bullying by his boss, VQR editor Kevin Genoways. Emily Bazelon investigated the case for Slate. “A closer look at what happened at VQR, informed by conversations with Genoways and most of his colleagues and by examining internal e-mails sent in the run-up to Morrissey's death, suggests that while the VQR staff was unhappy with their boss, bullying may not be the right label for his behavior,” Bazelon reported. “The accusation that Genoways is to blame for Morrissey's suicide is even more questionable.”
And bullying doesn’t even have to occur in person. David Segal uncovered the chilling story of Vitaly Borker, owner of the website DecorMyEyes, who harassed customers with threatening phone calls and emails. The method behind his madness? The more that customers complained about his company online, the higher it showed up in search engines. “I’ve exploited this opportunity because it works,” Borker told Segal. “No matter where they post their negative comments, it helps my return on investment So I decided, why not use that negativity to my advantage?”
In other words, it paid to be a bully.