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How to deal with people trying to fuck with you on the train [a study of class division, race, psychology and humiliation]

August 27, 2014


This is a common problem in film, maybe not so common in real life [unless you’re living on the train from ‘Snowpiercer’]. The train is a place where there is you [the self] and a lot of people you don’t know [the other], each one of you a being who doesn’t want to be humiliated in front of other people. This is basic human biology or psychology, one of the two.

So what do you do if someone wants to humiliate you?

If you’re normal, you sweat a bit and get off at the next stop, telling yourself it was the only realistic thing you could’ve done.

If you’re full of shit, you sweat a bit, get off at the next stop, go home then tell everyone you know you saw a guy getting bullied on the train and if it had happened to you then you would’ve ripped the guy’s tits off. If no one asks, you tell them anyway.

If you’re feeling strangely ex-military, you stare back hard and pose a little. Then you overthink things, lose focus, panic, remember it was Turtles in Time you survived, not the military, sweat a bit then get off at the next stop.

If you’re drunk, you shout a bit, get smacked and go down without swinging back.

If you’re Dana Carvey, it’s okay, you no longer exist.

What about French films?

If you’re Juliette Binoche in that Michael Haneke film I can’t remember the name of, and a French-Arab youth tries to talk to you, you get up and move to another part of the train. When he follows you and insults you and spits in your face, you say and do nothing. You put up an invisible [class?] barrier and pretend he’s not there.

Now the situation in this film is a more realistic showing of what can happen in real life. And there are three things to think about:

1] Juliette Binoche is the white, middle class xynto-type [the avatar of the viewer, as poor people don’t watch Michael Haneke films] and the white middle class has a very strong anxiety about public humiliation [because everything else in their lives is so great].

2] They also have a passive hatred towards the working class, especially young, confident working class kids.

3] They are internally racist. They don’t know any French-Arabs. They can argue for their constitutional rights over a glass of middle class wine [fucking merlot?], but they don’t wanna hang out with them. Why? Because even though French-Arabs are human, they look different, they say ‘motherfucker’ a lot and in the most basic way are still unknown [the other].

What about gender? Can that save her?

As she is a woman, she has a certain amount of power as, if she slaps the guy, he has two choices. Take it, or hit her back. If he takes it, he’s humiliated, and if he hits her, he’s crossed a line he cannot cross back.

Misogyny + assault > racism + mild assault?

But she doesn’t hit him. She can’t. She is obviously more ‘middle class’ than ‘woman’, more anxiety than the socio-traditional power women have in this situation. Her action of walking away and trying to ignore the problem is more like the response of a middle class man to the same situation. Which means?

There is no gender distinction in the middle class. It has gone. Where did it go? Will it come back? That’s hard to say. It seems that the media has done a fine job painting the working class youth as monsters, so much so that both middle class males and females have merged into one unified reaction. Close your eyes, feel inner disgust/hate, and pretend it’s not really happening.

Okay, let’s think. Is there any way out of this situation on the train? The guy is still a prick, whatever the context, so if you were Binoche, and you had foreknowledge of the event, how would you deal with it?

Option 1]

When the French-Arab youth talks to you, talk back. Make a joke, but don’t be flirty. Don’t give a short answer, but give enough without asking an open question back. This might satisfy him, although it might also imbalance him. He talks to her to begin with because he expects her to ignore him, or to be frightened of him, therefore, if she is relaxed with him, it might enrage him in a different way. Not only is his life shit and without direction, but now he doesn’t even have power over Juliette Binoche. The breakdown of the class divide, the divide that his parents inculcated into him to explain the shitness of their situation [probably], into casual friendliness is not something he can accept, and his reaction can only be an attempt to reinstall the differences so he can FIGHT.

Having said this, he could be some kind of prodigy like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, and talking to Juliette Binoches on the train is just how he gets his kicks.

Option 2]

When the French-Arab youth talks to you, tell him to go away. If he keeps talking at you, tell him that you don’t want to talk to anyone on the train, not only him. If he gets mad, ask him how many other people on the train talk to each other and whether or not it’s strange for her not to want to talk to him. The logic of your response might put him off-balance. You’re not rejecting him because he’s working class or Arab, you’re rejecting him because he’s a stranger and you don’t want to talk to strangers unless they look like Mia Sara pre-30.

And it might work…but then, it might not. Such a position would be seen as aggressive [as rationalism is often perceived when the other person doesn’t like what you’re saying [for example, see Spock in ‘Star Trek’ when he suggests leaving crew members to die on the planet of giant cavemen]], and the youth could even reposition himself as the thwarted innocent. See, all he wanted to do was communicate with/molest a fellow human being, not try to start a fight or anything. He could shout back at you, and perhaps win the favour of other passengers on the train. Or he could fall back on what he thinks is the real reason for your rejection of him. His class, his race. He could use the aggressiveness of your position as a hammer to hit you over the head.

‘You only got mad because I look like a less pointy-faced version of Jafar,’ he might say. ‘Your reason is bullshit, I know you hate Arabs really.’

If he’s clever, he might call you on your subtext, your use of a more universal anxiety [the fear of talking to strangers on a train] to disguise your real anxiety [the fear of being hit on by an Arab/working class thug]. If it does go this way, there’s not a lot you can say back. Possibly, ‘hey, it’s all in your head, you’re the racist for calling me a racist when I’m not a racist,’ which is what white people generally fall back on when caught being racist.

Would it work?

Inconclusive. And there’s no way you could say the truth of it all.

‘Hey, it’s half in your head. It’s actually a mix of the universal fear of talking to strangers and the middle class anxiety of talking to working class Arabs, so fuck off for both reasons.’

It may be true, and there’s always merit in being honest, but the confession is one-sided, and in these situations one-sidedness means the side that did not confess anything gains power [as long as both sides maintain the bullshit system they’re operating within i.e. the rules of public conversation]. So, basically, if you do tell the truth, if you are overly-aggressive then you’ll probably lose your “audience” i.e. those other fuckers on the train who are also scared of Arab kids.

Option 3]

When the French-Arab youth talks to you, be friendly with him. Cast aside your cynicism and fear and just talk to him like a normal human being. It will catch him off-guard, but if you keep it up, and he trusts you enough not to believe you’re taking the piss, then things might work out.

In fact, this sounds like the best option. An Australian in Japan once said: ‘If I see a crazy old Japanese dude staring at me on the train, I go over and talk to him, try to show him that I’m not a monster.’

[Disclaimer: that Australian also had something close to a nervous breakdown when he couldn’t learn Russian in two days…explanation: his fiancé was a Russian hostess, her English was beginner level; I guess he wanted to do more than just cup her tits and say ‘you like?’ all the time].

There is one problem with the Australian’s approach…the class divide is strong and determined and a huge fucking minefield. What the hell can Juliette Binoche say to the French-Arab youth, without seeming patronising? Think about it, in most conversations with strangers, you ask, ‘where are you from?’ ‘What do you do?’ ‘What do you do in your free time?’ If Binoche asks any of these questions, she could be in deep shit. Remember, the youth entered into the conversation in a position of power, of aggressive intent, ready to mobilise whatever her response, and that’s a difficult setting to power down from. If he tells her he’s from a bad area, what can she say? Any answer she gives will be seen as ignorant or patronising. She has money, he does not. There is no common ground unless they can engage as equals and in a private arena. But this isn’t private, it’s a train, and their interaction is being watched by everyone. This means the youth has no choice but to keep the POWER setting on. If they met in a bookshop, things might be different, but they didn’t, and they’re not.

What if the youth is quite a decent guy?

Around other people, maybe, but in this scene, it’s clear he’s looking for a fight. He doesn’t talk to her to change her views of Arabs or the working class, he talks to her because he wants her to ignore him or look at him in disgust or feel deeply unsettled, like Alec Baldwin surrounded by a wagon-load of Ian McKellans. That’s what makes it such a hard situation to get out of.

But not impossible…

There is one possible way out, and this is the strategy all white middle class people should take when talking to French-Arab youths. Be Reflexive. Analyse the expectations and rules of the interaction itself. Talk to the guy, and then say, ‘it’s hard to know what to say to strangers on a train’ or ‘we are from really different backgrounds, I guess it’s hard for us to find common ground.’

Hopefully, he will also want to discuss the bullshit of conversation and the class divide, and you will become fast friends. You might even leave the train together and go for a coffee. Maybe you get past all the obstacles and find out he’s a writer or a poet or a street artist, and by the time you finish the coffee, you go to the bathroom, look in the mirror and realise you’re now Mandy Moore. And the French-Arab youth, he’s Shia Lebeouf. And the director is no longer Michael Haneke, it’s Shawn Levy. And you’re not in France, you’re in Chicago. And then you take the youth back to your apartment and you kiss and you hold hands as he gently rubs up against your leg in slow motion.

What if Shawn Levy has a stroke and Haneke gets called back?

The scene changes. The youth turns into Vincent Cassell [with face-paint], rips off your knickers, grabs your hair and fucks you against a cardboard cut-out of Omar Shariff. It’ll hurt, and Haneke will make sure there’re plenty of bruises and muff shots.

Any more options?

Option 4]

When the French-Arab youth talks to you, tell him you don’t speak French. Smile when you say it and look confused at whatever he says back. It might work. The only flaw is your face. If you don’t understand a language, you don’t react at all to the other person’s speech as you don’t even recognise what is and what isn’t a word. However, if you’re only pretending not to understand, you can’t disguise your expressions. If someone tells you you’re a cunt and he’s gonna stamp on your head, your face will react even if you do say, ‘I’m sorry, what?’

What about other train humiliations?

The only one coming to mind right now is Sly Stallone in ‘The Specialist’. Technically, it happens on a bus, but it’s the same principle. Four thugs hassle an old woman on the bus, taking her seat. All the other passengers ignore it, except Stallone. He hits them and throws one of them through the window.

Was there any other way to resolve this?

Nope. Cartoon violence is the only language cartoon thugs understand. If you ever come up against cartoon thugs, or offshoots of the same phento-type [cartoon gangsters, cartoon henchmen, cartoon ninjas] then you should attack. Your actions have no consequences, and the cartoon thugs have no history or continuity, so all avenues are clear. Also, things such as psychology, class divisions, race, physical strength and basic fight strategy are removed, so you can throw that Latino through the bus window and no-one’s gonna pull the race card on you.

Would this happen in real life?

Do you read the news? Man beaten up in street while standing up to thugs. Man killed on bus for telling thug to be quiet. Gay man beaten up in busy London area by teenage thug. Stallone buys huge mansion and hides from real-life situations.


Never go onto a train with French Arab Youths and Michael Haneke. There will be anxious-realism. Watch out for Mike Loach and Ken Leigh too, those guys are miserable.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 27, 2014 6:01 pm

    I am sold on hanging with French-Arabs, motherfucker.

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