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#Bagelgate, or: A Study in British Aggro

A close reading of a viral video everyone loves but nobody understands.

What is Britain? Britain is taking tea seriously and taking the Queen seriously and being in a sincere kind of love with Peter Andre, and it is half-glossy televised singing and dancing competitions and it is villages that pride themselves on their hanging basket competitions and it is the RAF and it is cavalry soldiers and it is voting Conservative and it is driving to France just to buy a boot full of wine and it is the QE2 and Heathrow needs a third runway and it is a bally good roast dinner after a bally good hunt, and it is Barbour jackets and grisly weather and it is the Antiques Roadshow, and it is pomp and ceremony and class and classlessness; it is the most unoriginal cuisine in the world defended as though it is Michelin-starred, it is a green-grey island that is small and inward-looking but gigantically ego'd and self-important, it is brilliant, it is terrible.


It's also this video (via) – every single second of it; every single glorious, wonderful moment:

You're asking me to explain what's happening here and I can't explain what's happening here, nobody can. Roughly: an entire train carriage of adults are Losing Their Goddamn Minds over a bagel/multiple bagels. I do not understand how something like this escalated into an entire train carriage of people chanting and laughing. I do not know what giddy euphoria overcame an entire train carriage in such a way that the police had to be called. I do know that this feels extremely important, this video, arguably the most important video of the year, and there are at least five vital flash points throughout which deserve our special attention. Onward to them:


Most times you have witnessed a fight, this is actually what you've seen: two people saying "Come on then! COME ON THEN!" while more and more people stand in between them, until maybe six, maybe 100 people are now standing between the persons supposedly fighting, and then the people become like dominos: one decent push or stumble can unbalance the entire group, and everyone starts swaying around and half falling over but then not, grabbing urgently at clumsy pieces of clothing or limbs, grabbing someone's shirtsleeve to stop them from falling over, fully embracing someone's hip. This is why, arguably, real fights get so much spotlight: when two lads have a set-to in Grimsby, or when a televised boxing match ends in a knockout, our collective bloodlust is sated. We want to see fights that end in someone getting their nose exploded. But they rarely, rarely do


That is what a fight normally is – a non-contact sport – and that is what is happening here. The blonde girl – and we have no idea why! – is in a fight with a brunette girl. The brunette girl, to start, is laughing while the blonde is restrained. At this point she has won the fight. The blonde girl is being pinned to a train seat by someone we have to assume she has never met. She keeps trying to talk smack but hair keeps getting in her mouth. She has lost the fight. The brunette girl is in an unassailable winning position. Here is what winning looks like:

But then also – suddenly, without warning – the mood turns, and now the brunette girl has gone fully radge, and now she's not winning any more:

And now like a thousand people are standing in between them both, doing that thing people do when they try to keep a door open on a windy day with their hands full, which is plant one leg firmly on the floor and then sort of twist their buttocks in the direction of the aggressive force in an attempt to override it, which is what people do when they're trying to break up a fight. Trust me. Watch next time. Watch the forceful butts come out.

Now, here's a crucial clue to what's really going on, and it's hard to tell exactly what's being said here because the woman at the front is hissing "BE THE BIGGER PERSON; BE THE BIGGER PERSON," but our friend Bagel Boy is walking away, chuckling something about how "I just want to enjoy my burger in peace, leave me alone!" half-joking, bless him, just having fun with it all, tutting at the state of it, this train, what an evening, what a way to go home, and this will become important later, when he goes mental.



There has never been a better illustration of the breadth of human emotion than these ten seconds of Bagel Boy's life, where he goes from "chill with it in-on-the-joke arm folding":

"Mild bagel frustration":

"Forced laughter w/ bagel-out-the-window combo move":

"Quiet reasoning":

"Going full radge and saying 'GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY FACE!' in such a way that he sort of loses a lot of momentum in the word 'face', which makes me think he's about a half second away from crying":

I think the best thing about #Bagelgate, and what is making us all love it in a way we don't quite understand, is the pure vision of watching a carriage full of adults revert entirely to the school bus. At the school bus, there was a quiet hierarchy we never could escape: hard boys at the back, popular girls in the rows in front of them; the hype boys of each of the hard boys' crews there in front of them, the archers, who would nibble the edges of the end of candy necklaces and ping them at you like a trebuchet, always there to shout "woo!" or "yeAH!" or "he's got a ba–gel, ON HIS HEAD" when things got rowdy; huddles of teenaged girls, in knots of five or six on each two-seat, giggling at some joke you would never get. And then, at the front, the nerds: the fat and the wheezing, the weak and the breakable, the boy who would always cry if you bullied him so much he would be forced to shout "fuck OFF!", the girl who walked funny. This was the hierarchy we all settled into and respected: there was no climbing the ladder, no going from front-of-the-bus asthmatic nerdlord to back-of-the-bus hardened fingerer. You knew your role, you knew your bus seat and you stuck to it. It was a wild land, there on that bus. Those who survived it are better people.


So it's sort of funny and sort of heartbreakingly weird to see people reduced back to it again in adulthood. I mean, these folk are grown-ups. They have jobs. Some will have kids, families. Some will own houses and cars. And yet, here, for one crystalline moment, they are 13 again, all shouting "wooooOOOOOOAH!" when someone gets in trouble with the teacher. It sort of makes you wonder: is this pack psychology hard-wired into us? Are we all just a few drinks and a wrongly-placed bagel away from losing our minds? What does it take for sane humans to devolve into lawless 12-year-olds again? Is there just something about public transport – the strange, stiffly bristled seats, the rigid seating arrangement, the lack of legroom, the tacky grey-flecked floors, the windows that only open a half inch at the top – that makes us this way? We will never know. We will never know.


The incident is called #Bagelgate and we are certain that bagels are involved, but we don't know exactly how, which can lead us only to speculate as to what happened before the camera started rolling: I am going to go ahead and say the two women behind Bagel Boy, half tipsy, put a bagel on his head, and everyone laughed at him and the situation, and he made a big show of putting the bagel out of the window, and that's when they knew they had him: they had found a man who did not like having a bagel put on his head. How, exactly, this turned into a blonde one aisle over gunning for a brunette and, bafflingly, nine unconnected people fighting on a train platform… I don't know.


But we need to talk about how many bagels the Bagel Gals had available to them. We can assume at least one bagel was put on Bagel Boy's head before the camera rolled. Then two or three more during the incident. That's four bagels. Those suckers are shaped like they were bought from a bakery, the kind you get a dozen from. But if you buy a dozen bagels, you tend to want a dozen bagels. You don't tend to want to put four of them on the head of a stranger. Which leads me to speculate that the Bagel Gals – as they must forever legally be known – had enough bagels to both i. satiate their bagel needs and ii. be deemed so excessive a number of bagels that they could easily lose four bagels to a man's head and then a train window without any negligible impact on their overall haul of bagels. Which, long story short, makes me think they are rocking a double-dozen, or 24 bagels, in four paper bags all stuffed inside one blue bag. That is my guess.


Hey: who the fuck are these lot? As best I can tell, none of them are major players in Fight #1 (Blonde vs. Brunette) or Fight #2 (Bagel Boy vs. Bagel Gals + Everyone Else), which makes me… think… they are just nine people… unconnected to the bagel incident… who decided to get off the train and start fighting? Were they pumping some sort of insanity gas into this train carriage? And why?


The reason chanting is such a sacred, ancient art is because there are only about six chants – there is not much room for nuance and harmonising when 50 people are shouting the same words slightly out of time with their own clapping – and they just get repurposed for every situation. The fact that everyone on this carriage is so rapidly on the same page with this chant – "he's got a bagel / on his head" to the tune of "whole world in his hands" – is a beautiful example of the ingenuity of the human mind: that we can take the skeletal bones of a chant we already know the tune to; that, within one or two hearings of the new chant, we can learn entirely the words to it; that, within seconds, spread like a meme, 50 people are shouting "HE'S GOT A BAGEL / ON HIS HEAD" at a man with a bagel on his head. The thing is: you do not want to be Bagel Boy, on the receiving end of this. But as an anthropologist, observing this phenomenon from distance, that chant is beautiful. That chant is art.



I think if I were trapped in the prison of a train rocking to the noise of a lad having a bagel put on his head then I, too, would cope about as well as almost everyone on board, which is badly. Firstly: if the girls sat behind me on the train put a bagel on my head then I would almost certainly start angry-crying, even before I stood up and made a show of throwing a bagel out of a train window, even before people starting chanting; I would definitely try to throw a punch at someone really weakly and then get my arms pulled behind my back and then get my balls kicked in. When the police arrived I would just sob and snivel in my chair and tell them "everything's fine, officer". I would let the chanting boys call me "wuss baby" and "piss shit boy". I would get a black eye trying to stop two girls from fighting. I would call in sick to work the next day with the stress of it all. So yes, definitely we can laugh – we can definitely, definitely laugh – but also, thinking about how we all would do in a similar situation, can't judge too hard. Not too hard.


The best bit, though, is when the police come in and everyone suddenly goes silent and well behaved, like when you're in a classroom and your teacher goes away for a sec – they have to go and tend to another class, they have to soothe a crying student, something like that – and there is this moment of tension that slowly builds to a more rabbly, rowdy sort of thing, and one of the bigger boys gets up from his chair – that's when you know It's Fucking On – and soon it all starts to break: paper balls are thrown, pens are stolen, arm punches given out; shouting, someone drawing on the blackboard, girls have sat on their desks with their shoes on the seats, strictly prohibited; and then maybe one of the kids with glasses and a neatly-tied tie and straight As, perhaps they have their coursework snatched out of their hands, and now you all have an international incident on your hands – "give it BACK!" the weak kid is saying, with all his little might, "right NOWWWWW!" – and everyone is laughing and joking even when he launches at the bigger boy who stole it, who casually gets him into a headlock; and when they emerge from the scuffle an agonising half minute later the smaller kid is all red and furious in the face and the big kid has taken a rib hit but he's trying not to show it, and there's this stand off, blood in the atmosphere, and the room's changed; and then someone at the window in the door says "teacher's coming!" and you all scrabble back to your chairs, put on a show of domesticity even though the air in here is electric. And that's what it's like when the police come in. All these grown adults, tense about a bagel. Schoolyard stuff that we've all been a part of. Absolutely phenomenal.


More stuff that came up when I typed 'bagel' into the VICE dot com search engine:

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The VICE Interview: Lars Ulrich