In Defense of Screech, On His Birthday

01/07/2014 2:02 PM |

screech slave to art

Today is Dustin Diamond’s 37th birthday. The actor best, or only, known for playing Screech on Saved by the Bell has become notorious for causing controversies over the last several years, including releasing a sex tape and a tell-all memoir, for both of which he recently expressed regret, as well as appearing on reality TV shows to play the boor. It all smacked of desperate anti-typecasting, a frenzied personification of Dennis Haskins’s tasteful mustache. But it’s something we maybe all should have seen coming. Diamond became “a scarred, desperate child star, forever typecast, alienated and altered by his time on such a seemingly juvenile television show,” Sam Greenspan once wrote in an article about Diamond’s book on 11 Points:

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To me, the book read very sad. Diamond clearly perceived himself as a picked-on outsider during filming and that bitterness still stays with him today. The constant insistence that he’s not Screech (I smoke pot and shoot BB guns, look at how cool I am! I’ve banged 2,000 chicks, look at how much of a player I am!) falls squarely into the zone of him doth protesting too much.

The picked-on thing is something I picked up on during a recent bed-ridden weekend afternoon spent marathoning Saved by the Bell on Netflix. Rewatch the show and focus on nothing except how the other characters treat Screech: literally every word they say to him is an insult delivered in irritation if not fury. All the characters hate Screech, and they persistently let him know it. He’s ostensibly a part of the gang—these people are his friends—but none of them are ever nice to him. Most of the time, they’re manipulating him: he’s there to edit their video-yearbooks, make their fake IDs, dress up in drag to infiltrate the girl’s locker room for one of Zach’s crazy schemes. The rest of the time, they yell at him every time he opens his mouth, smacking him upside the head when not calling him some creative variation of idiot or slimeball.

Screech comes across as the victim of a peculiar brand of bullying in which the bullied’s friends are his bullies. Like the kid who sat with you at the same lunchtable whose french fries you used to share: he wasn’t your friend; he was just the kid whose lunch you stole. Who knows if Dustin Diamond was treated this way off-camera, or even if such persistent treatment at his childhood job was enough to make him crack years later as an adult. But I think if we want to scoff at the actor’s behavior over the last 10 years or so, we should take a little blame on ourselves for condoning such ceaseless meanness to his character.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart