In case you’ve already watched the video before my reading my analysis, it’s obvious that the man in the wheelchair, who I’ll refer to as Mike, bears racist beliefs, and as documented in the video, physically assaults the filmer / narrator, who for sake of simplification, we’ll call the Narrator. Aside from the right to express his views publicly (as much as I may disagree with them), I won’t defend any of Mike’s actions, especially when he exhibits violence towards the Narrator.
A free speech defense is not the purpose of my analysis, rather, I wish to offer an outsider or alternative perspective to the video. Upon watching the altercation and reading the comments, I noticed that my take differed from the majority of those commenting, which I found unsettling. From my standpoint, as will be outlined in the subsequent paragraphs, there is far more to this video than meets the eye. The larger point is that something is going on with how we digest information and if we aren’t careful it could have far reaching consequences for the future.
To start, I’ve noticed a pattern with some of the most viral and outrageous videos that get circulated around social media these days, namely that they often do not portray the entire story. As an example, consider the recent incident in a San Francisco train station where a man was arrested for eating a sandwich on the train platform. Because the police often come under attack by the media, a topic I’ve also provided thoughts about, the video goes viral due to the ridiculous nature of the arrest, in this case having lunch on the train platform. The problem is that the video begins much later in the discussion between the police officer and the suspect, so we don’t know what may have caused the arrest to take place.
I would assume the man who was arrested must have done something to warrant the police involvement, however, the video didn’t cover the beginning of the interaction, so we’ll never know. In essence, the information available to us is asymmetric: the audience is not privy to the entire encounter from beginning to end yet must act or make judgement as if they saw the entire incident from start to finish. I can’t emphasize this point enough, namely that in our snap judgement we are often forgetting that not only weren’t we present to witness the event but more importantly we haven’t seen how the encounter in question began. With videos such as these, rarely do we take the entire situation at face value, instead we form a conclusion based on incomplete information which in many times may not be correct.
The most extreme example of this phenomenon is the so called Covington Catholic incident that took place in 2019. What was otherwise an innocuous encounter between a group of students and an individual turned in to a media outrage cycle that resulted in several of the students being doxxed. Punch drunk on outrage, the media establishment’s army of peons went so far as to fasley fox the wrong person, more or less ruining their wedding day. The obvious lesson here is to get married in the summer, not in January!
By now it should be clear that I’m not being hyerbolic when I draw attention to the fact that taking this videos purely at face value can lead to wrong or misinformed conlcusions. Because social media is designed to trigger emotions, we must always take a skeptical lens before immediately jumping to a conclusion or allowing our emotions to take over when viewing such controversial videos as those referenced previously and the airport incident that I’ll explore further. In my view, our emotions can sometimes cause us to overlook key features of an incident, which like life itself is often far more complicated than it may initially appear to be.
In the case of this particular video, we don’t see what initially started the altercation, rather we are immediately thrown into the middle of the argument itself. Whether it was intended to play out this way or not, we’ll never know. As the video starts, we hear the Narrator speaking first, who says “and you know what, I respect that.” I assume this was a response to Mike, who made some comment about the Narrator talking in Spanish on the phone to his mother. From here Mike goes on a tirade, leveling a slavo of racist insults at the Narrator and ultimately hitting him.
The Initial Interaction
The key takeaway from the first couple of minutes is that we do not know how this incident started. It appears, and this is going out on a limb, that Mike was irritated because the Narrator, sitting in his proximity, was speaking too loudly on the phone. Personally, I get quite annoyed by people yelling into their phones in public places. I’ve lived in a variety of foreign countries and for the last years I rarely understand what people are saying on the phone. Regardless of the spoken language itself, I think it’s rude to yell on the phone in public and in a foreign language it always sounds worse as if the person is threatening the other’s life.
Perhaps it wasn’t that the Narrator was speaking in Spanish, rather he was just being too loud and Mike, being wheelchair-bound, got annoyed since he’d have to wheel himself away for some peace of mind. I’ll stop the postulating here and mention the purpose of this post is not to explore the multitude of scenarios that may have taken place. Rather, I’d like to establish the fact that with a fair amount of certainty, the Narrator did something to anger this guy. As is quite evident in the video, it didn’t seem to take much to set Mike over the top, he obviously has some underlying anger issues.
The Video Title: How The Narrative Is Formed
The Narrator had every right to publish this video in order to expose an example of racism in “real time.” I think it’s a very flawed example as I’ll further explain, but I don’t judge the Narrator for sharing the experience so others may view and comment like I am. The title, however, I do take charge with as it represents another phenomenon I’ve witnessed since 2016, namely that somehow and in some way everything leads to Trump. In this case the title chosen by the Narrator is “The TRUMP effect is REAL.”
I have serious problems with this title because the video has absolutely nothing to do with politics or the president. The implication or better said, the narrative, is plain as daylight. It’s quite a stunning one, too and goes something like this: an angry man in a wheelchair who is apparently a veteran and doesn’t like people speaking Spanish must be a Trump supporter. That’s quite a leap, especially when I’ve outlined in the previous point that we don’t even know how this altercation began.
Feel free to provide your own thoughts but what else could one surmise from such a title? The Narrator’s bias reads loud and clear as he even asks Mike at one point who he voted for. This was a bit early in the video so I’ll give the Narrator a pass but what does Mike’s voting record have to do about this incident? Furthermore, why does Mike’s politics have to be brought into an otherwise apolitical discussion? In my view this is a great example of Trump Derangement Syndrome, otherwise why give the video such a title?
Not once in the video did Mike mention anything political nor did he answer the Narrator’s question, and kudos to him, he shouldn’t have. So once again, why give the video such a title? The decision to choose this title is important as it reinforces my theory that in this video there are many subtle things going on, the title being just the first example.
The Video Description: How The Narrative is Developed
Consider the description:
“Racist assault: Living in the Trump era. GOD bless all the REAL Republicans and Americans in general who can see past the divisive rhetoric of the current POTUS, which fuel hateful confrontations like these.”
This description is ultra political and meant to evoke a certain emotion. Getting back to my main thesis, the Narrator is employing a very subtle tactic here that he also uses in the video itself. Before I myself come under assault, I’ll once again reiterate that I don’t defend the actions of Mike, however, the Narrator is conveniently taking a single incident, by a single individual and using it as a political platform, ie “GOD bless all the REAL Republicans.” I would love for the Narrator to define a REAL Republican. Furthermore, it would be great for him to explain what this has to do with a guy in a wheelchair at an airport.
The implication bias is obvious: a wheel chair bound veteran who doesn’t like Spanish speaking people must have voted for Trump. Furthermore, I would question the pseudo-praise for so-called REAL Republicans. It’s disingenuous just as at the end of the video where I must credit a commentor on Reddit who made an excellent point “what bugs me the most is actually the last seconds of the video, where he points the camera at two people.neither of which he’s interacted with and says loudly to make sure everyone hears ‘guys hold on I’m about to turn this office, I want people to see good people.’ It really irks me when people purposefully further or create drama while playing up the victim card…”
I think the Narrator had every right to document the incident, especially the beginning. Although not explicitly stated in the video, the Narrator somehow knows that Mike served in the military, I can’t seem to figure out how unless it happened before the filming began. Whether he is wheelchair bound due to his military service or a prior disability, it’s quite clear that Mike is not a very happy person and also has some serious anger issues that he has difficulty controlling.
The biggest charge I’ll take against the Narrator is that he could have easily walked away from the situation very early on. A few times in my life I’ve had uncomfortable encounters such as these. Although it’s not easy, the best thing to do is walk away. Of course, had the Narrator decided to exit the difficult discussion and just have gone to the other side of the waiting lounge, we wouldn’t have had this blog post or video which has nearly 200,000 views, a fact I’ll expand upon a little later in this section.
The fact of the matter is, the Narrator saw an opportunity to turn the situation to his advantage. From what is seen in the video, the Narrator had the moral high ground. Rather than exit the situation, he chose to further amplify it. Although the Narrator had every right to goad on Mike as he did, from a moral perspective I find fault in it, something worth exploring further: After the initial altercation, which only lasted a minute or so, Mike gets away from the Narrator which would have been the opportune time for the Narrator to turn off his phone and go about his business. Mike was clearly out line with what he said, but even he had the self awareness to get away from the situation. I’m quite sure the encounter would have ended there, however, the Narrator continued to goad him from afar, most clearly seen at the 2 minute mark where he says “right now you really make me feel proud to be that spic.” It’s clear from this point on that the Narrator wanted to milk this situation for all it’s worth.
Something that may not be apparent at first is that the Narrator wasn’t hurt by Mike’s insults. If he was, he wouldn’t have continued to berate him in the manner that he did. Think about it for a moment. When you say something truly offensive to someone, something you know will get under their skin, there are usually two reactions: amping up the aggression or walking away. The former is how many bar fights start, ie someone says something slightly offensive and the other person escalates to the point of violence. In the other case, it’s so hurtful that the person just walks away, either out of disgust or pain. That’s not what happened here. I can’t say it’s never happened but whipping out your phone and proceeding to nag at the person who insulted you in a passive-aggressive manner is not how most people react when they are truly insulted.
Now the question is, why wasn’t the Narrator bothered? The truth is, in a pure power situation, he has the upper hand. As you can read in the comments, everyone takes sympathy for the Narrator because he represents a marginalized group. And there’s the rub.
Due to information asymmetry, we actually don’t know who has a tougher life, Mike or the Narrator. The Narrator could be an incredibly wealthy, 4th generation Spanish American, he could be an immigrant himself or he could be middle class. But in. 2019 the cast has been called and it’s the evil Trump supporter vs the poor immigrant.
Based on the Narrator’s actions, and especially by his decision to continue to pester Mike, two things are clear: the insults didn’t bother him (proof that words alone can’t really cause harm) and the Narrator saw an opportunity to take advantage of the situation. On the latter point, this video only helped to elevate the Narrator’s status and earn him some brief social media fame, something our attention-seeking society craves more and more as each year passes. Yet this goes even further, something I’ll get to shortly.
One Side of the Story – And That’s All Folks
The remainder of the video is simply a non-productive back and forth between the Narrator and Mike, with the Narrator continuing to egg him on until the security finally step in. I think the goading of the Narrator would be justified if Mike were not wheelchair-bound because that would be a fair match up and such people deserve to be put in their place and publicly shamed. In this particular case, it’s brutally evident that Mike has some anger issues and is clearly under stress, as he is constantly shuffling between his food, crutches and wheelchair.
Taking this a step further, we really don’t know what an average day for Mike is like. I’ll also mention that his wife, who we also see in the video, is wheel chair bound as well. It’s fair to conclude that Mike’s life isn’t easy. And this point is a crucial takeaway that often gets overlooked by the majority of those who watched the incident. Because of the video title, and because of how the the scene opens, by design the hero and villian have been chosen. I’ll reiterate again that Mike has some serious issues. I don’t defend his actions but to continue to pester a man who obviously has some anger problems to score some political points is down right nasty.
As much as the Narrator tries to portray himself as the good guy, he isn’t. He conveniently ignores Mike’s plea to leave him alone. In fact, the constant pestering of Mike by the Narrator is a sign of his own immaturity and bias: now that he has the racist incident documented, he wishes to take it as far as he can for every minute that goes by will be more likes, more affirmation, etc. And now we get to the rub.
The Narrator, not Mike, has more power in this situation. It’s a sad example, too because he’s sure picked an easy target. All the Narrator had to do was get up and leave, no video, nothing. I will argue that given the power over this man, the Narrator chose to abuse it. The rub is that this is the same attack that we’ve leveled upon racists of the past. And it is the story of history, one group abusing another.
I feel quite bad for Mike, not because he’s a racist but that he projects his anger on others using racism as the reason for his problems. For sure there is something deeper there, it’s clear Mike can’t handle himself well in public and is willing to lash out at anyone who gets in his way. To pour salt on the wound and add additional stress to an already difficult life by exposing his outrage in front of a stadium capacity group of people is the type of harsh justice our age of social media is able to deliver.
And for what purpose? It’s clear that Mike needs help to control his anger, however, whether in public or in private we’ve all done and said some embarrassing things, to pretend we are the Flanders children because our sins haven’t been recorded is the sort of moral virtue signaling that I detest watching.
It speaks to where we stand as a country where we can’t even look at each other anymore as people, rather political chess pieces. Consider one response video, which does not go into any of the detail I have to try to get to the bottom of the incident or even explore a perspective other than the Narrator’s, rather simply reinforces the pre-conceived bias you’d come to expect given the video title. This is not shocking and to be expected. But I wonder what purpose such a response video serves? Not only has the original video had 200,000 views, it also made a few news websites. In the court of public opinion, I’d say that Mike has been tried, sentenced, and convicted. Such a response video is the Internet equivalent of throwing eggs at the guy’s house after the fact. Wasn’t the video itself enough punishment?
This 8 minute video says alot about both the state of affairs in America and how human beings are adapting to new technology. On the one hand, the fact that every individual is essentially a citizen reporter is a good thing on the whole; more transparency is always better than less. Yet this is new medium we are still trying to get our hands around has many moving parts, some of which we often don’t immediately perceive. As just one of many examples, I’ve already discussed the title of the video which is clearly meant to provoke a certain reaction and demonstrates that the Narrator is indeed inserting his own bias and politics into a situation devoid of anything political.
Yes, we are all now citizen reporters, but that comes with a certain level of responsibility since we can also craft our own realities or in some cases that dirty little word: propaganda. What could have easily been summarized as a racist attack by a wheel chair bound man turns into a referendum on President Trump. I wonder out loud, what good can come out of the direction we are heading? Furthermore, what will this ultimately lead to?
What’s most upsetting is that few will take the time to carefully assess all parts of the video, simply taking what happened at face value. Here I am moral posturing of course, but not to signal a value per se, rather to draw attention to willingness to blindly accept what one immediately perceives. It’s important because 200,000 viewers saw this situation. I would argue that in 99% of cases it only served to further galvanize the belief that the roughly 60 million people who voted for Trump are all angry racists. This is indeed a very dangerous precedent we are setting.
Whether or not you choose to agree with my criticism, is fine. All I hope for is that my analysis may have at least caused you to place your biases and assumptions in check until you’ve seen all the facts or fully assessed what you’ve watched. What I’m asking for isn’t easy but the in my view the alternative is far scarier.