The game over, we were coming to grips with a disappointing ending to what had been a marvellous season for fans of Vancouver Canucks hockey. Consoling beverages were fixed, arguments on who had failed to perform (in this series, pretty much every Canuck, alas) were waged… and a few uncomfortable jokes about a reprise of the 1994 riot were muttered.
Knowing that an estimated 120,000 people were on the streets watching the game on public screens, and knowing that the drunken thugs who clog Granville Street every weekend night would be among them, a certain amount of trouble was inevitable… There would be some arrests for fighting, public intoxication… Some windows would get broken, maybe a dumpster fire…
The TV stayed on after the game, and when I wandered back into the room I was struck by the standoff being transmitted by the CBC (who had gleefully hosted a massive crowd watching the game on giant screens outside their downtown studios):
The announcer who was narrating the shot was going on at some length about the mob… “The rioting is a small number of people… but the larger crowd is not dispersing… they want to be close to the action…” in a strongly disapproving tone.
Which struck me as ironic and surreal, because the televised gaze from the CBC offices was drawn by exactly the same motivation. How could the morbid fascination of the bystanders be so inexplicable? This column also assails the bystanders for being drawn to the same spectacle that the writer mingles among and writes breathlessly about… I suppose the CBC and Gary Mason would argue that as reporters they had a professional right and obligation to “cover the story”… But their fetishized perspective inevitably perpetuates the same notion of mindless violence as “history” that evidently motivates this individual:
We were holed up at our friends’ apartment just off Robson Street, listening to the media exhortations for people to “leave the downtown” yet unsure how to do so with the bridges closed, no taxis or buses on the streets, and reports of mayhem making it seem dodgy to head out on foot with the kids. The only ‘action’ right outside the building occurred when someone tipped over a car2go smart car (now THAT’S sticking it to The Man, huh?), breaking its window. Keira had the idea to sweep up the broken glass, so we did. Sometime after midnight, it seemed quiet enough to head out, walking through oddly silent streets (and still no taxis or buses) until we made it to a Skytrain that took us out of the downtown “party zone” and finally to a taxi…
Today, when sports talk radio would normally be certain to dissect the Canucks ‘collapse’ in the Stanley Cup Finals, the focus was instead on the aftermath. As I rode a bus through sun-splashed and surprisingly clean downtown streets (the scores of spontaneous cleaners evidently doing a fine job), I listened to a radio host say that the problem was that the cops were not violent enough. Another that “our society is too tolerant”… They all agreed that more prisons are needed. One guest suggested that compulsory military service would get to the root of the problem. Dave Pratt has expressed the certainty that the Vancouver riot was a coordinated, planned effort by “left-wing anarchists” (somehow abetted by Gregor Robertson… and give him time, at some point he will work bike lanes into the indictment – update: he did, ninety minutes into his first post-riot show). The post-riot dialogue on Twitter is about the same. As Jon Beasley-Murray (who watched the game with us last night, but ventured off into the madness early) writes:
This demonization of the post-game violence is no doubt a safe outlet for the pent-up energy of so many disappointed Canucks fans: they have a target for their frustration, and they can feel so very civilized in expressing their anger. It’s easier to grab this moral high ground, to claim that the so-called rioters do not represent Vancouver, than to stop and consider the ways in which violence is engrained in this sport on whose bandwagon they are hitched, or the conditions that gave rise to the post-game disturbances–and the many ways in which it could have been avoided. But let’s give these concerned citizens some slack. They need their moment of mindless outrage, too.
I recommend Jon’s piece. And unlike him I did not experience much of the riot up-close. But while I am puzzled by how the police chose to respond… I have a hard time thinking of the people in these photos as anything but idiots. And these idiots will not bear the consequences of their actions, even those flagged by the social media ID campaign… I refer to the reputation of this city and its already maligned hockey fans… And the momentum this will give to equally thoughtless and violent ‘law and order’ responses. Stephen Harper’s plan to build unneeded prisons got a huge boost last night. More insanely expensive paramilitary equipment will be part of future civic budgets. And if an improbable Canadian social movement chooses to take to the streets some time in the future, they can expect a crushingly violent response.
See also, “Spectacular Vancouver conquers itself”:
In the absence of any shared collective progressive principles, the BC elite longed for a new solidarity forged from of this “fighting collectivity” of Canucks fans. You could not find a politician that didn’t reinforce the jingoism, not the least with Premier Christy Clark speaking exclusively in hockey metaphors.
But grounding social solidarity in competitive spectacle is a risky wager, as the solidarity can be wiped away by a 0-4 tally. Spectacle is by its nature passive, the spectator powerless (without opportunity to attack the opposing “fighting collectivity”). The latent purely political violence cannot be directed at the enemy, and so Vancouver’s “fighting collectivity” turned on itself, individuals beating each other up on the streets (in place of the Bruin fans), attacking police (in place of Boston police), and looting Vancouver stores (in place of Boston stores). And so Vancouver had its war: it conquered itself.
Our “leaders” had reveled as young men and women over-consumed alcohol and representations of violence. And now those same leaders feign surprise, shame, and disgust as the cycle of consumption and powerlessness draws to its logical conclusion in tonight’s auto-conquest. Many sitting at home, their gazes fixed on the spectacle, do not like what they see reflected back at them. In denial, they construct mythologies, pretending that the rioters are exogenous, and few in number. The simple truth is that we all saw this coming. The reality is that the rioters were Vancouverites, and the spectacle they created accurately represented the values of a hedonistic Lotus Land, unchanged since 1994.
It all seems like the inevitable turning of a terrible wheel. I’m disappointed by the outcome of a pointless hockey game that I nonetheless followed with intense passion. I’m disappointed that something that should have been fun would have such a sad effect. I’m disappointed that this is how my friends around the world now see my city. I’m disappointed by what we are and what we appear to be turning into…