A Race for the ‘Bottom’

Background Reading


A biker attacked the driver of a CTA bus in Lincoln Park Thursday afternoon, according to a witness. Flickr/zolk

A biker attacked the driver of a CTA bus in Lincoln Park Thursday afternoon, according to a witness. Flickr/zolk


One of the least likely things about the Urban Cycling Community is its constant ‘race for the bottom‘ in trying to establish the Universal Victimhood of Bicyclist. In fact in a recent head-to-head comparison of interest generated by dueling articles on the role cyclists play during traffic confrontations in our city it appears that on the general level of interest these two stories above garnered:

  • 7 replies where the cyclists were cast as the ‘bad guys
  • 40 replies where cyclists were cast as the ‘victims

But the situation gets a bit murkier if you read through some of the comments. But before going there let’s take a look at the facts as they were related in the two articles (from the same news source, DNAInfo).

In the first article to appear on the internet, we see a video purporting to show the results of an altercation which was given a blow-by-blow accounting of its inception. Of course the actual involvement of the driver and cyclist prior to the fight is not recorded, but the witnesses who were interviewed gave their impressions.

In the second story the account is not detailed at all. We only know that the ‘bad guy‘ is supposed to have fled away on his bike.

Doubting Thomas

What I found most interesting about these two articles is that the ‘victimhood‘ account was picked up quite early. And there were lots of responses from the peanut gallery who weighed in on the conflict. The followup up to this confrontation (at least at the time of this writing) does not appear to have been much.

And of course in the second account where the cyclist is the ‘bad guy‘ the CTA and the driver let the situation lapse so there is nothing else to report other than the fact that this really happened.

Well, perhaps that is going a bit too far. At least one of the respondents believed that the situation perhaps was ‘fabricated‘. I found that a bit amusing. I guess that if you are devoted to the idea that ‘your side‘ is always the victim then anything that contradicts that notion if likely to be a plant by the ‘other side‘.

Fortunately there was some ‘push back‘ on the idea that somehow the news outlet was derelict in not gathering ‘evidence‘ that this assault took place. This is of course tantamount to the usual response when a girl claims ‘date rape‘ long after she perhaps should have reported the incident and of course there are no ‘witnesses‘ that can corroborate her story.

So is she guilty of lying or the news media guilty of not finding a witness to her story and if they failed to do that should her story not be told? I am guessing that most folks would give her the benefit of the doubt.

Needing To Be ‘The Victim’

In our society we spent an inordinate amount of time trying to paint ourselves as victims. We have learned that in societal terms it pays to ‘humanize‘ yourself and for some of the folks in the Urban Cycling Community this means documenting as thoroughly as possible the wrongs done to you by the ‘bad guys‘.

This probably works well if you live in a ‘bubble‘. And make no mistake about it most of us ‘live‘ in ‘online communities‘ (which serve more as support groups than anything else) where much of our ‘woe is me‘ drama is widely accepted without much question.

This is dangerous in a way because it can lead to an escalation of the drama that we call our lives. Eventually we find ourselves the center of some story that is swirling around the community and we become mini-celebrities. The height of this sort of thing is when we claim to have been ‘doored‘ and to have suffered a couple dozen fractures of the pelvis, but are back doing yoga a week or so later.

Clearly we could all use a bit of a ‘cool down‘ period. The fact that altercations in Chicago are as frequent as the ‘common cold‘ is unfortunate. In fact it begs the question of why would we ‘welcome newbies‘ to the world of ‘bicycle commuting‘ and all its supposed glories while cranking out our tales of woe concerning the encounters with ‘angry, vicious‘ motorists.

The only thing comparable would be spending time at a bridal shower telling out collective stories about the boorish behavior of our spouses while expecting the ‘bride-to-be‘ not to flee the room screaming.

But Hey, Aren’t We ‘Special’?

Riding a bicycle does not bestow on you any special spiritual or social qualities. You get to be alternately the victim at the hands of impatient motorists and then to dish out your own special brand of mindlessness on pedestrians. It’s all in a days work.

But most of us are either unaware of just how much we resemble the motorists we vilify  for their boorish behavior. That probably will never change. We will play the role of the ‘Comb Over King‘ declaring that this or that ethnic group (in this case motorists who drive swanky cars) are ‘beyond the pale‘. And yet we can see just how wrong this guy is for that sort of generalization but how right we are in behaving similarly.

The more things change the more they stay the same.