If you happened to spend any time on Twitter this week, first of all I’m sorry. Secondly, while there, you might have encountered #BagelBoss, in which case, I’m doubly sorry.
It all started with a tweet from a woman standing in line (or “on line” as they say on Long Island) at a bagel shop: “so in bagel boss this morning, the misogynistic [expletive] seen in the video was degrading almost all of the female staff as well as other patrons.”
As promised, an attached video starts in the thick of a confrontation with an unnamed antagonist berating staff and other customers over the discrimination he receives on dating apps for his height.
“Why is it OK for women to say, ‘Oh you’re 5 feet on dating sites, you should be dead?!” he shouts in a Pesci-esque rage, “That’s OK?!”
“Who said that to you here?” asks a woman out of frame. “Nobody.”
“Women in general have said it on dating sites! You think I’m making that [expletive] up? Everywhere I go I get the same [expletive] smirk with the biting lip.”
From here it goes haywire. Other customers get involved. They tell him to “calm down” (smart). Chests are bumped. Threats are thrown. And in short order (no pun, honest) another customer bounds into frame and tackles him to the floor. Clip over.
On the surface, it’s easy, if disappointing, to understand why the clip went viral. Public fits have become their own sub-genre of Internet entertainment. YouTube carries hours and hours of public freakout compilations shot at fast-food chains and superstores.
Surely, the fundamental gross energy at the bottom of this phenomenon is that it’s edifying to one’s own composure to observe stangers losing theirs to the point of spectacle. Our passion for gawking, after all, is the force that drives traffic on the Internet (and creates it on 93).
So what made #BagelBoss stand out among freakouts? It’s hard to say — which may be the answer. So often, the confectionary appeal of fight videos and public paroxysms is their cut-and-dry, context-free encapsulation of conflict. Savvy editors cut to the “good” stuff; the escalation and aftermath seldom make it to the clip. But #BagelBoss seemed to be a dozen stories at the same time.
Those attuned to the #MeToo movement saw in it yet another Napoleonic tantrum, omnidirectionally aimed at “women in general,” from a man who considers himself entitled to positive attention from women. Those concerned with mental health (and how it’s perceived, treated, and stigmatized) saw a depressed man lashing out and losing his grip on himself. Those disturbed by the rising tide of physical and rhetorical violence from sexually disenfranchised men (from incels to Proud Boys) saw the ingredients of another shooting coming to a boil. And shorter guys saw in his pathetic display something like a sympathetic soul.
And those watching the video more as a anthropological specimen of what passes for entertainment these days (hi!) saw within its brief 45 seconds a kind of cultural echo chamber. As the #BagelBoss man — whose identity has since been upgraded to the more human-sounding Chris Morgan — rages around the shop, and as the phones come out, we see a shop transforming into a set, a set of strangers cast as performers, an incident turning into content. A girl captured in another customer’s take of the incident smirks knowingly to the camera. Fame is a different beast now. It attacks.
And sometimes, it’s baited. Before long, Internet sleuths uncovered Morgan’s own YouTube page, which seemed to confirm every crisscrossing narrative spun by the #BagelBoss episode and its ensuing speculation.
In a pair of (now removed) videos documenting a run-in with two smirking clerks at a 7-11 store (who, he claims, asked him his height when he approached the counter), Morgan confided to the policemen he summoned to the scene that he’d recently lost a major work contact, was living in his car, and had been hospitalized for depression over his height. “I can take a report,” the officer tell him, “but all it’s gonna say is someone made a comment you don’t like.”
In another deleted video titled “Ghetto hoodrat cuts in front of me to use bathroom,” he berates a black woman for allegedly cutting in line. In another deleted video (“Fat [expletive] at Grizzlies Bar in Bay Shore”) he gets into a confrontation at a bar with a man who he claims insulted his height. In another, he berates a woman and kicks her out of his car. In another, he spends 15 minutes following a man around a neighborhood and demanding money he’s owed. In another (“The Orient Express”), he furtively films two Asian men talking at a restaurant and chuckles under his breath.
Racism? Yes. Sexism. Yes. Violence. Yes. Mental health issues. Yes. So what takeaway is there but despair?
Like the girls in line at the Bagel Boss, or the quick-draw documentarians standing ringside at the WalMart, or any of us who instinctively reach for our cameras when sick-seeming public behavior signals fresh potential as viral content, Morgan likely believed he was enforcing civility or attaining some kind of justice by documenting and confronting nastiness — when really he was just cultivating more of it.
Somehow we’ve reached a point where watching each other has become more important than seeing each other, and where our lowest moments are what earn the highest traffic. Is that entertainment?Michael Andor Brodeur can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MBrodeur.