Vancouver hockey riot is a symptom of a larger problem

We've heard a lot of reasons (excuses?) batted around as to why last night's post-Cup riot happened. A very outraged man on the radio this morning blamed the whole thing on faulty parenting. Others look at the idiocy of city politicians for inviting 100,000 people into the downtown core, TransLink for ramping up service to a peninsula with limited escape routes, and the provincial order to close downtown liquor stores at 4 p.m., ensuring that those in attendance would be drunk before they even arrived. You can also look to the mainstream media for hyping up this series to unheard-of proportions and constantly reminding the populace of the infamous 1994 Stanley Cup riots.

But maybe what we have is just a sick fucking culture. Maybe as a society, we've simply become borderline psychotic. You only need to ride a bus to see what an angry group of people we’ve become. We're rude, we're snotty, we don't talk or engage with each other. We've created the stupidest generation: a barely literate group of narcissists who don't know how to take care of themselves, but are like military-trained experts when it comes to tagging themselves in Facebook photos.

From all reports, there was a small group of young hooligans determined to riot and smash 'n' grab no matter what the outcome of the game was. Several sites have been set up to post pictures, Facebook screencaps, and video of morons proudly declaring their involvement in the violence. Should we be surprised? And doesn’t it seem a little obvious that there was never going to be a good outcome, regardless of who won? At 4:30 p.m. the streets of the downtown core were already simmering with the dangerous and hair-trigger emotions of the mob, and all that emotion—good or bad—was going to be purged, somewhere, somehow. In the weeks leading up to the final, the magnitude of our bizarre, tribal attachment to a hockey team became more and more clear. And it exceeds far beyond a natural and healthy spirit of competitiveness or an appreciation of the beauty of the game itself. It’s pathological. It’s monstrously unhealthy. And it speaks to a monumental emptiness at the heart of our culture.

So, why are there so many hungry souls out there, ready and willing to bring chaos down on the so-called most livable city on the planet? In reality, matters have only gotten much worse politically and economically since 1994, and Generation Y has been delivered into a beyond-callous world facing a perfect storm of crises. They know it. What does the future look like for the average 20 year old? It's a depressing, empty place where they can't get decent-paying (let alone secure) jobs or ever have a hope of owning property. Can you imagine how much more fearful and angry they would be if they fully comprehended the seriousness of peak oil?

And yet despite the terminal condition of a socio-economic superstructure hurtling towards the edge of a cliff while wondering if it even has enough gas to get there, the market rolls on, plundering the public coffers and starving the arts and education, producing a society that is spiritually malnourished but not sensitive enough to ask why. Meanwhile, we have dissonant messages relentlessly beamed into our heads: wealth is good, the poor have nobody but themselves to blame, personal devices make you happy, war is peace, “Save money, live better”, Don Cherry deserves your attention and respect, and have some pride in your Canucks. Because what the fuck else have you got going for you?

The market practices institutional violence on every single one of us, every day, just by virtue of existing. It's not the game of hockey that's the problem; it's the capitalistic appropriation of our national pastime. It's the myriad of advertisers trotting out the "I am Canadian!" sentiments in order to sell products. It's the message we are force-fed that if we don’t pay attention to the spectacle, we are somehow disenfranching ourselves. That's the way advertising has always worked: make people insecure about a fictional problem, and then sell them the fix.

This isn’t to excuse the rioters, and we should remember and praise those who were there, and who resisted, and who did the right thing. There's a powerful clip on YouTube right now of two men—one in a Canucks jersey, one not—trying to prevent assholes from smashing out the windows of the Bay downtown. They have some initial success, but then the non-jerseyed man pushes a rioter back and gets beaten for his efforts.

But we can’t just blame a few “bad apples.” This riot didn't happen on its own. Society as a whole ensured that it was the only outcome, starting with the assumption that our over-amped if not war-like passion for something as inconsequential as a hockey game is appropriate to begin with, let alone officially sanctioned. But hey, it’s a fucking goldmine for advertisers and a hell of a vacuum to suck in a growing population of bored, distracted, disassociated, and quietly despairing Lower Mainlanders marinated in the hegemony of cheap sensation, and governed by institutions hostile to art, truth, and beauty. It’s a problem that, as always, starts at the very top.

The wrong questions will inevitably get asked in the wake of all this, and the wrong solutions applied. Expect “tougher policing”, and a ramped up culture of intolerance in a city that already turns a blind-eye to a tsunami of social ills. The VPD—which was quick to blame the violence on "criminals, anarchists, and thugs"—is encouraging anyone with high-resolution pictures to email them to the department, but is that really what we want to become? Yes, last night's violence was inexcusable and the offenders should be prosecuted, but the slope towards becoming a Big Brother-like society where we tattle on our neighbours is already slippery enough. Wouldn't it be preferable to live in a society in which we actually knew our neighbours to begin with? To know and trust the people around us to act like responsible individuals? To enjoy a culture of mutual respect rather than suspicion, hyper-competition, and meaningless interaction mediated through our phones and iPads? All we're doing right now is gawking at city-sanctioned spectacles—or plugging in our headphones so we can ignore each other.

There was a beautiful outpouring of love and support for our fair city this morning as hundreds of volunteers took to the streets to help clean up the terrible mess from last night. We do have the capacity to be kind, gentle, thoughtful individuals, and, hopefully, we can begin to repair the damage to our tarnished reputation. Unfortunately, there's no simple band-aid solution that will fix a sick society. The symptoms are clearly manifesting but, without facing up to the fact that there is an overarching problem, there is absolutely no chance for us to heal. But perhaps the first step towards solving this systemic problem is to acknowledge the fact that there is actually something wrong with us.


You can follow Miranda Nelson on Twitter at @charenton_. Adrian Mack is too cool for Twitter but you can read his extensive archive of articles here.

Comments (244) Add New Comment
JamieLee
This is pretty amazing commentary. Thank You Miranda and Adrian!
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michisle
Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you for slicing through the collective denial and starting the dialogue. It needs to be had. There are many who need to show the world that this was some minor incident of no consequence. We can't let them steer the conversation. As citizens we need to understand better what is happening with our youth.
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Darryl Wright
Regarding your whole second paragraph - wow... really? Thanks for that in-depth anthropological analysis, my friend, but I think it would be a gross understatement to say you're writing off a whole generation of people due to this ultimately very predictable incident. As it happens we agree that city transit is a great fishbowl for the lowest common denominator but I'd guess that there's a thousand reasons for that none of which have to do with "we" being "fucked up" - not the least of which is the affordability and accessibility of transit to a wide range of socio-economic demographics.

Though it's tempting to buy into the idea that we're some lost generation, surely you realize that every generation before us has had similar sentiments at similar times and around similar dark moments.

My father always said he hated hip hop and it 'wasn't music'. And 'kids didn't appreciate music anymore'. I love it and I get it and yet I find myself looking at kids today listening to Lil' Wayne and shaking my head and saying, "this isn't hip hop", "kids don't appreciate hip hop anymore." etc.

My point being, we're no more sick than we have ever been. As a matter of fact, I'd argue that we're less sick than we've ever been before. We're also the generation that invented TED Talks, Social Media, and most recently brought down entire regimes through organized dissent.

"we don't talk or engage with each other"

That's laughable. We talk and engage more than we ever have before - it just looks a lot different.

"We've created the stupidest generation:"

Granted, there's some monumental idiots out there jumping on cars... but damn, there's also those who stayed home last night and didn't shop up to the game because they were working on their thesis. Don't write them off too.

Seriously man... try optimism - it's intoxicating.
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adam g.
i totally agree. well said. although i think the speculation of peak oil was created for a reason of which i do not know. great commentary though.
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Kim Glennie
The problem is that we are not building an engaged, intelligent citizenry capable of critical thinking. We are moving more towards a mob mentality in our society, and unfortunately professional team sports and the (lack of) dialogue surrounding it is a contributing factor. It's symptomatic of a larger problem in our hyper-consumeristc world where entertainment is as loud and vacuous as possible.
I love sports (I'm still snowboarding in June), and have played team sports, but I don't tend to follow teams or watch much tv (I work in animation so I 'd rather not spend my spare time in front of a screen). When I say I don't really follow hockey, a common response is 'f*ck you'. No dialogue, straight to open hostility.
What if I gave that response to people who didn't like art, or literature, or good music? Well, actually”¦ to the people who didn't show up for Grant Hart (Husker Du) last night”¦ ;)
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RyanS
TED talks? lol..
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Alex T.
Are you seriously claiming that Western culture is "sicker" now than it was in the past? Our history includes the Crusades, the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, the Spanish Inquisition, the Trail of Tears, slavery, lynch mobs, pogroms, child labor — and you're picking the early 21st century as the period when everything went down the tubes? Sure, we've got a lot of problems, but have a little perspective!
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Big Bro
Anyone who saw images of the rioters will notice that the vast majority of the throng were recording the event on a device of some sort as if it were a TV show, a spectacle for their entertainment. The spectators themselves made a huge contribution to the persistence of the rioters, providing them an audience to perform for in a sick attempt at achieving some kind of "fame". The technology itself is not an excuse for this behavior, but makes this generation feel insulated from the reality of the situation.
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Darren T
"The VPD—which was quick to blame the violence on "criminals, anarchists, and thugs"—is encouraging anyone with high-resolution pictures to email them to the department, but is that really what we want to become?"

Yes, we do. We want to be a society where people take some responsibility, where we don't turn a blind eye to rampant vandalism and violence, where we don't pretend we didn't see anything.
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Canuck Fan
Wow, okay then, if the first step is to acknowledge that there is something wrong with us, what is the second step? Do you really expect the people who initiated the mayhem to then go back home and contemplate their actions, or do you believe that the rest of the people that then joined in the mob mentality and posed in front of the bonfires are the ones to blame? Maybe that's not the ticket either and you think that the people sitting in front of their screens at home are the ones that have to face up to the facts.

So what are we all to do then? Should we not try and find the people that initiated or participated in this riot?

I find this article to be laughable and completely impractical.

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Your an idiot
Wow dude you have totally over anylized te situation and have now said that our "y" generation is a lost culture? That is the biggest bunch of negitive bullshit I have ever had the displeasure of readin and you are so caught up in you own bullshit that you will live the rest of your life in shame and fear. No thanks I know what the world is about and so does every one else. A little riot is not the end of the world (not saying it was a good thing) but I'm sure all generations had their problems. Jesus Christ in the 70 French Canadian terriorists seized Canadian parlment and threatened to kill mps if Quebec didn't seperate. And you say we are the fucked up generation? Do you fucking home work buddy. If you look back in time the gnerations before us were just as bad and even worse. Ressisions have happend neorealism and we climb out of them. This is not the first time the world has sceen a ressession ( 30s post world war two, 80,s are a few off the top of my head) and we all manage to pick up again and work thing out. By the way wasn't this a hockey game riot we were talkin about? I balme your parents for fucking too much in the 60s, doing too much acid and tainting the human DNA streem and causing HIV and aids. And you say are generation is fucked up? Yea right. Your society would be a one where ever one sits around and what? I don't really k ow where you were going with this. We all know that people are stupid and violent. Bit looking at history i'd say we have deffinatly gotten at least a little better then the Lost cause you claim society to be in. Take your negitivity and shove it up your ass. It's thinking like that that makes the world fucke up.
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Larry Manetti
WAAAAAAAAA. . . . I hate my dad.

Let's face it. The vast number of human beings are dumb and always have been.
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Mike Puttonen
How about the riot as a symptom of a sick civic government? In the mayor's office, since the trivial Phil Owen (probably trivial is the worst you can say about him), Van has had:

Larry Campbell: Incompetent and sleazy
Sam Sullivan: Delusional and lazy
Gregor: Just Another Pretty Face.
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Monika Wroz
The new generation grew up with an expectation of entitlement and privilege in a spiritual vaccum where a sense of community is defined by common loyalties to sports teams or designer labels. It is not surprising that the most meaningful and bonding pursuits are drinking and other forms of meaningless entertainment. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with drinking and entertainment but, whereas they used to be a source of relaxation, they have become a purpose in themselves to escape uncertainty and desperation. We've lost connection to the elements of our existence which give us true purpose, direction and a deeper meaning in life; we've lost faith in each-other, in community and a consequential future. The riot is inexcusable yet sadly not surprising. In a time when we allow our governments to keep chipping away at social services and prevention programs and large corporations to sway our allegiances and politics, there is a rather shallow pool of meaning to choose from. Rather than protesting for social justce and human rights causes, we turn to senseless acts of violence for "entertainment". I believe all those taking part in these acts of destruction need to be held individually accountable for what they have done. At the same time, I think that we, as a society, need to take responsibility for the environment and mentality we have created by complacency and inaction. We need to build communities where people have a sense of belonging and acceptance, where trust and respect for one another would preclude the abhorrent behaviour exhibited last night.
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e.a.f.
Excellent article. The points are well made.

Society has produced a class of people who are disengaged from the mainstream and have no hope of joining it. They will never enjoy the life style their grandparents had. The rage builds and this is the result. This riot was their entertainment. Their moment of fame as they posed for the telephone/cameras of their friends/the world. They may not ever be able to aquire a well paying job, a home of their own, a nice vacation, be known for doing something well, but this gave them their "moment".

The difference between the Olympics and this was the Olympics had massive security, not only police officers but armed forces.

The police did the best they could to minimize harm. Destruction of buildings is never good but there were no deaths and given what was happening the police are to be commended for their work. To have fully engaged the rioters would have caused more mayhem, destruction, and injury/death.

If society does not want to see more of these types of riots they need to decide what type of society we want to live in and what it values. What erupted last night started years before, when a lot of these people were still in school and budgets were being cut, their parents working several jobs, the lack of affordable and available education, etc.

You reap what you sow.
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Big Bro
Wow, "Your[sic] an idiot" -- turn the spell checker on. I think your little rant did a lot to prove how stupid your generation really is. Thanks for that.
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Nik Black
This is an excellent piece and it hits all the right buttons. I've always thought that Vancouver would be the worst place to live after an earthquake for all the reasons articulated in this piece. Everyone would be out for themselves and stores would be looted at will. And like the heroic man in the video, anyone trying to stop them will be beaten by the angry mob. This riot is just a preview, folks, get ready for the main event if an earthquake of serious magnitude hits our fair city.

And thanks to Adrian and Miranda for their excellent work.
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Hugh
I heard someone blaming immigration for last night's riot this morning.
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You
Many of the people you will see in these videos are not old enough for "life" to even have beaten them down yet. They're teenagers. They're not people paying student debts or rent or struggling over a lack of job prospects. They aren't suffering the daily grind of a menial job or trying to feed their kids. They're sitting through five hours of school each day and going to the movies on friday nights and complaining about their parents.

They live in a society that no longer encourages or appreciates hard work. They've been brought up to think life should always be easy and that one should not have to work towards their goals, because mom and dad "worked too hard" for too little.

Kids and teens don't go outside, don't do anything athletic, and don't have any creative output anymore. They live dull lives that in five years they'll realize they threw away when they never took the time to have worthwhile hobbies, goals, or skills. They aren't angry, they aren't suppressed or oppressed, they're just bored and boring and get off on the thrill of it all. They'll sit and watch their city burn with little regard for themselves or others. All so they can post some grainy pictures on facebook because outside of that blue and white realm they have no purpose or worthwhile interaction with other people or life.

There were thousands of 'kids' out there last night. What did one or two guys trying to protect the windows mean to them? Nothing. If they wanted in, they could have easily walked by. But that wasn't it. They wanted conflict, they wanted the violence, they wanted to beat the shit out of someone that could have very easily been the father of someone standing next to them.


I'm 23, have a university degree and work two jobs for essentially minimum wage. I have more to complain about than their idle, adolescent minds could ever wrap around. I'm not some old dude that has lost touch with my youth in saying what I have. I like a good party, I like a good time, but my idea of a good time doesn't comprise property damage, arson, or assault. I fear a Big Brother state, but I hope each and every one of these people is dragged in. This was unacceptable. Riot for your rights, not for the sake of rioting.
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Organ Morgan
Brilliant perspective on yesterday's "spectacle". I got caught in the middle of the riot on my way home from the game, and I didn't think people could act the way they did. I felt a whole lot of hopelessness.
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