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.