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The story behind the GIF of a woman throwing an entire folding table during a brawl
Someone asked me to find a North Carolina connection to a viral brawl in Alabama. Here's something that's, maybe, even more legendary.
Folks, sometimes I just can’t rise to the occasion.
This request came to me last month via Rabbit Hole reader Jon Howes. Chances are, if you did know about the Montgomery riverboat brawl, you may have forgotten it by now.
For like a week, though, that brawl became a full-on cultural moment. It said something about race. About violence. It said something about effing around and finding out. It said something about virality and memes and the internet. And wrestling (there was a folding chair involved). You want an angle? There’s an angle for everything.
Except for a North Carolina angle. I could not find any North Carolina angle.
(Here’s the point where I mention that I spent about 8 hours in Montgomery, Alabama in 2015 to watch Appalachian State play in its first bowl game in 60 years. I rode a bus down with App fans from Winston-Salem, got out, tailgated, watched the game, got back on the bus, and rode home. It was a damn journey, one in which I was forcefed Wild Turkey and watched three Mountaineer national championship games on DVD. Sadly, I had no time to visit Flea Market Montgomery, which I’m told was just like a mini-mall.)
Also (shameless plug), I have written about North Carolina’s best brawlin’ towns already. But those were more like brawl watches (conditions are right to catch hands) than brawl warnings (take shelter, there’s fisticuffs on the ground in your neighborhood RIGHT NOW).
So anyhow, here’s the best North Carolina-based brawl I can come up with.
A decade before the Montgomery brawl went viral, this particular GIF lit up the internet:
The clip, of a woman THROWING AN ENTIRE BUFFALO BILLS-SIZED TABLE and then, a moment later, CATCHING A FOLDING CHAIR WITHOUT EVEN SO MUCH AS DROPPING HER PURSE came from this video, which was uploaded to YouTube a little more than ten years ago.
Okay, you might want to pause for a second before saying whatever it is that’s top of mind for you after watching this. Much like the riverboat brawl, this GIF is a bit of a Rorschach test that reveals your implicit biases and reflexive tendencies. Before you post the first thing that drifts into your brain, ask yourself: Would I say this, out loud, directly to someone who I don’t know? Because if not, maybe you don’t need to post that! Maybe you need to think about what your reaction says. Not about the GIF. About you.
Now that we have that out of the way, I want to share with you my deeply held and nuanced thoughts about that GIF: HOLY SHIT, LOOKIT THAT.
The backstory: This particular brawl took place at what was then the NDemand events space in Charlotte back in February 2013. For reference, this happened in NoDa at the corner of 28th and N. Davidson streets after what had been the NC Awards Ball, which has been described as a fashion show of sorts for members of the LGBTQ+ community. NDemand’s owner and people at the party told reporters that a contestant who didn’t make the finals got mad and threw a chair, and that’s when the brawl started. Someone called 911. “It's escalating! He has a sword and an axe,” they told the dispatcher.
After the woman throws the table, the pace of chair-throwing slows way down. The promoter is pleading with people over the mic to go outside, and they start to file out. Someone brandishes a taser. Another person is holding a blunt object. Later in the video, the table-throwing woman walks by, with an extremely miffed look on her face. “You was not playin’ with that table!” someone yells.
There are other videos from the aftermath, showing ambulances and flashing lights outside. Most of the people talking are mad about the brawl. Police, who responded, didn’t make any initial arrests or file a report because a lot of people scattered and nobody wanted to talk. They later used the viral video to charge a man with starting the fight.
I’ll also declare that I failed again: I couldn’t track down the woman who threw that chair. As far as I know, nobody has.
I don’t really know if there’s a big moral-of-the-story moment here. In general: brawls are bad. Many of them are extremely dumb and forgettable. But this one broke contain. It was largely a one-day story in Charlotte media back in 2013. It got a quarter-million views on YouTube—not insignificant, but not wildly popular. A shorter clip made its way to Tosh.0. Then the internet took that video, removed the context, and made it into a vibe that you can share via GIF form. It’s had a long, long life online, and surfaces on Reddit and Twitter every few years.
Like any great GIF, it’s the lack of context that gives it staying power, and things like Facebook’s “On This Day” feature make old viral posts pop back up in people’s feeds. Occasionally they re-post those old posts, which then can re-enter the discourse. Increasingly, though, the monoculture is disappearing and the internet is becoming increasingly fragmented. Yes, many people have seen this GIF. And yet, far more people have NOT seen this GIF, and genuinely react to it like it might have happened yesterday. The more aware you actually are of this GIF’s place in the legendary internet pantheon, the more likely you are to be an elite member of the Extremely Online (raises hand).
There’s another reason why this GIF has staying power: It really does depict an incredible display of dexterity, strength, and athleticism in a non-sports venue. Consider this: A laminate folding table (which is what this appears to be) can weigh 55 pounds. Catching a metal chair with one hand is a skill not often seen outside of a Waffle House. Hence, most of the reaction to this seems to be genuine awe. And to think, it happened in an era where someone could become internet famous and still remain anonymous. We should all be so lucky.