Back in February, a fight took place on a public bus in Oakland. A week later, four million people had watched the video on YouTube. "AC Transit Bust Fight I Am a Motherfucker" featured all the key ingredients for a video to go viral: colorful characters, a silly catchphrase, and most importantly, someone getting badly injured.
Can you spot the similarity?
But it also had something most viral videos lack: a clear protagonist. For once you didn't have to feel bad for the guy writhing in pain on the ground. This was that rare viral video where the good guy won.
As opposed to the viral videos where no one wins.
That is, at least, what the internet told us. And unless you were one of the people who was physically present on the bus that day, you knew who the good guy was before you'd even watched the video. The sites linking off to the fight told you what to expect, who to root for, and who was going to win. But in everyone's rush to turn the video into an underdog tale of an old man standing up to a teenage thug, they missed a few key details.
When the video begins, two men are engaged in a heated conversation near the back of a public bus. In one corner we have our hero, Tom Bruso, an old white man wearing a shirt that says "I AM A MOTHERFUCKER," and a fanny pack beard combo that says "I am Santa Claus on my way to a beach volleyball tournament in the year 1984."
"And I like my belt cinched a foot above my waist."
#1 on Digg for an entire day.
We don't get to see the beginning of the argument, but it's hard to imagine old man winter starting shit with a black kid who looks like he's specifically outfitted himself to make white people lock their car doors when they see him on a street corner. Not that it matters. Even if you were one of the few people who didn't come to the video from a blog or portal promising a fight, the description below the video, ("BLACK GUY GET HIS ASS WHOOPED BY OLD WHITE GUY. SMH"), makes it clear that you're not here to watch these two solve their disagreement with words.
The description's use of grammar would indicate words are of very little importance in general.
As the argument escalates Bruso walks to the front of the bus, the thug follows and tries to hit him. It is at this point that the old man stands and reveals that he is Epic Beard Man, a tightly coiled blender of ass whoop in disguise. He lands a number of punches to the center of the "would be tough guy's" suddenly not so intimidating face. After a few seconds standing over his vanquished attacker talking shit like Ali in Zaire, Bruso exits the bus which is now covered in blood. This seems appropriate since we've just witnessed the live birth of an internet legend.
The comments sections and blogosphere immediately hailed Bruso as an everyman hero, standing up for old people, white people, racists and anyone who's ever ridden public transportation.
Mostly racists, though.
Soon, people began to speculate that Bruso was the old man getting tazed in a YouTube video filmed at an Oakland A's baseball game. You might recognize "unwarranted tazing" as the internet's favorite genre of viral video from a few years ago. If he didn't use phrases like "Chinamen" and punch people in the face, we might have started to suspect he was part of some brilliant viral marketing campaign. Instead, we sat back, and waited for the video of Bruso choking a shark to death with the octopus he just had sex with.
Among other things, we learned that EBM knocked out his dad when he was 15. His violent streak was explained by the fact that his mom placed him in an oven as a baby. Plus, he'd returned from Vietnam in '69 to find that he wouldn't be able to spend time with his black friends (his only friends) because of segregation.
Holy shit! He's not just some awesome old guy, he's a bearded Rambo!
Or a badass, psychotic Santa Claus.
Imagine that the first time you watched the video, you didn't know the black guy was supposed to be a young thug or that the white guys was supposed to be an old man acting in self defense. In fact, imagine you didn't know there was going to be a fight. Your only goal was to watch a video and try to figure out what's happening here.
Based on the conversation, it would seem that moments before the video began, Michael was walking onto the bus while Bruso was near the front of the bus talking to his friend about a shoe shine. Michael thought Bruso was being racist, and told him so.
There is no trade more maligned than that of the shoe shinesman.
We certainly can't say if Michael was right to take offense in the first place. We have no video of what Bruso was saying. But if an African American stranger tells you they find your conversation about shoe shines to be racist and you're not being racist, you might apologize for the regrettable misunderstanding, and explain the context of your conversation. If you were being racist, you were trying to avoid a fight.
"I sincerely regret any foolish statements I may have made."
Bruso opts instead to follow Michael to the back of the bus and ask him how much he'd charge for a spit shine. Again, we can't tell if his intent was necessarily racist, but we can say it's pretty misleading to claim Bruso wasn't acting in self defense. He followed the "shit-talking thug" to the back of the bus, and asked him a question designed to provoke more shit-talking. He was being antagonistic. If this were middle school, everyone would have started chanting "Fight! Fight! Fight!" when Bruso followed Michael to the back of the bus after they exchanged words at the front.
Michael eventually threw the first punch. We're not trying to excuse his actions. But at the very least, Bruso played a major role in what happened up to that point, and at worst, he acted like a man looking for a fight. It was enough for the person sitting two seats away to take out a camera and start recording.
Above: 21st Century Conflict Resolution.
So why would an old white guy go looking for a fight with a teenage thug straight off the set of Menace II Society? Who's The Underdog Here?
Watching the video, the idea that Bruso was somehow the underdog never really materializes if you don't have that idea in your head to begin with. First of all, he's probably got a hundred pounds on Michael and a good five inches. So really the only thing that might make you think Bruso wouldn't win a violent conflict with Michael (assuming you're not just afraid of black people in general, as most of the internet appears to be) is Bruso's declaration "I'm 67 years old." Still, it seems strange that we'd take that as a declaration of vulnerability since the full sentence in which the information is conveyed was, "You ain't scarin' this white boy, I'm 67 years old!" What's strange is that everyone seems to have missed Michael's response, "I'm 50."
Obvious human misery becomes hilarious when we arbitrarily define the victim as "thuggish"!
How did they miss it? He's doesn't speak as loudly as Bruso, but it's clearly audible. And he says it immediately after Bruso says he's 67, which is something the internet seems to have caught.
Does a 67 year old with a half dozen weight class advantage really become the underdog over a 50 year old? At best, it's an even draw.This is Somehow a Relevant Commentary on Racial Politics:
The Internet seemed to take this as a relevant comment on black white race relations. Video responses were posted in which black men took Bruso's side. A startling portion of the comments are racist rants about how this is just the way it is, and that Bruso was standing up for John Q public who's had to live his life in fear of black thugs.
Taking a step back and watching the video outside of that context, you might notice that you are watching a fist fight that is taking place on a public bus. You might also notice that the white guy is wearing a shirt with the word motherfucker on it, and that he casually drops the word "Chinamen" when defending himself against racism. There is almost nothing about Bruso that doesn't shout "crazy homeless guy."
The man's last fight was due to an attempted Rascal-jacking by his "special" cousin.
This is to be expected from a guy whose mom tried to bake him into a baby pie, and who was then shipped off to fuckin' 'nam, man...right? This also can be expected from someone who's bipolar, which EBM is. If you're thinking, "Wow, he went to Vietnam and was bipolar?!" then we hate to break it to you, but people suffering from bipolar disorder are prone to lying for attention.
"And then I gunned down a thousand Vietnameses and saved the princess."
In fact, EBM's sister says her brother never went to Vietnam. He was honorably discharged due to his mental disorders. He was never put in an oven by their mother, never knocked out their father.
People probably would have realized pretty quickly EBM was prone to lying: his post fight interviews included a claim that during the original confrontation, Michael pulled a giant knife on him, and punched him in the jaw three times, all claims that can be debunked by watching the video that made him famous.
If he'd had a giant knife, don't you think he'd have used it?
At the time he became Epic Beard Man, Bruso was moving around San Francisco, teetering on the brink of homelessness. In fact, he believes his most recent eviction was caused by the video that made him famous. Tom Bruso isn't a badass hero. He's a mentally ill old man who, in his own words, "can't even remember yesterday," and is "out of my mind and can't think anymore."
And all of those things were on clear display in the video that brought him to our attention. But of course, a video titled "Bi-Polar 67 Year Old Beats Crap Out of Much Smaller 50 Year Old" wouldn't have become an internet sensation. So someone early on edited all of that stuff out, and made up a new story that appealed to our imagination, desire for justice and the racism simmering just below the surface of most sites on the web. It's no different from what Hollywood does when they release a movie that's "based on a true story." The saga of Epic Beard Man just proves that you don't even need to change a single event. All you need to do is upload it to YouTube, give it a good enough title, and the echo chamber of the internet will do the rest for you.
"Heroic hobo flips off three suspiciously Mexican ninjas after saving a white woman from their mongrel depredations."
When not having flashbacks of the night a beard murdered his parents, Nick is working on the sequel to his Kingdom Hearts Parody.