*warning — the videos enclosed are of real fights, obscenities included*
Within the past two weeks there have been several videos posted on YouTube of fights breaking out amongst female Muni passengers. The first video has had over 500,000 views and has sparked debate on the internet over the racial implications of the fight. Race and Space have been a huge part of the reactions of viewers within San Francisco and in the larger audience.
The fight, which took place on a bus running through Chinatown happened between a two women arguing over a seat (I’d like to point out here I do not know either of these women and cannot presume to know their ethnic backgrounds). As you can see if you’ve watched the video, several minutes pass without any intervention by MUNI workers or other passengers. If audience reaction on Youtube, the Chronicle’s SFgate.com or Facebook are any indication, it seems viewers are tending to blame racial differences for the fight.
In a second video of a fight amongst women on MUNI, race and “turf” aren’t even called out: Here, a ABC local news web clip of a story on yet another fight, this one on the 49-Van Ness line that runs south to north through the heart of the city.
Another news story covering both fights on NBCbayarea.com leaves the discussion of race relations and space out of the debate completely and simply goes for a titillating title playing on tired ass gender stereotypes: “Muni Catfight YouTube Redux”.
The coverage of these altercations is crucial and I’m glad this phenomenon of public transportation violence is getting attention especially in a city where buses are the dominant mode of transportation for people of varying ages, ethnic identities, genders and economic backgrounds. I am not especially surprised to see women specifically fighting on Muni versus men, but the way the fights are being covered makes my skin crawl. How is race an issue in this fight over a bus seat? A misunderstanding perhaps, but a full on fight blamed on race at all?
A second issue that conflicts me is the male gaze in this situation. I really appreciate average people using film as a subversive tool against systems of authority (If you have filed a complaint with Muni before you know how futile it really is). The cell phone video that captured the BART shooting of Oscar Grant in Fruitvale is a crucial example of the importance of bringing the everyday perspective to the forefront of media broadcasting. it seems the two films of Muni fights have become the spark that has caused city officials to react in a positive way to violence on Muni.
Disturbing to me is the lack of intervention among passengers of all backgrounds, and the fetishizing of “catfights”. Why do episodes of violence amongst women in particular become sensationalized on the bus, through the eyes of two male spectators (the two men that captured the events) and to the internet audience?