Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Vancouver Riot - Where are We One Week Later?

OK, we've all had some time to cool down a bit now, but most Vancouverites and BC residents, and even most Canadians, have been pretty upset in the wake of last week' Stanley Cup Riot II - the Sequel.

As I said earlier (see the previous post), the unruly outburst of car-burning, window-breaking, bottle-throwing, looting, stabbing and fist-fighting that engulfed downtown Vancouver after the Canucks lost Game Seven in this year's Stanley Cup Final was fueled by mass stupidity and drunkenness from a lot of upset fans (and maybe the odd, but very odd anarchist) and delusional planning (or lack thereof) by Vancouver Police and city hall.

We on the lower mainland of Canada's west coast also fooled ourselves into a sense of complacency with the silly notion that it couldn't happen again here -- that there was no way there could be a repeat of the riot following the Canucks last trip to a seventh game of a Cup final in 1994. We had been a model of "world class" behavior during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, we believed, and the crowds had been more or less behaving themselves for most of the mass gatherings at the city's live viewing sites throughout the playoffs.

But we forgot that the Olympics was a special case, attended by much more of a family and foreign audience intent on celebrating a much friendlier form of competition than the blood-sport final between the Bruins and the Canucks, which we were "supposed to win". And the Olympic celebrations were also supervised by several thousand security personnel, not the few hundred city police officers who were so overwhelmingly outnumbered the night of the riot.

After the riot, there were many reactions and overreactions. First the police and the mayor blamed the whole thing on a small group of "hooligans and activists". But faced with the mountain of online video showing rioters clad in expensive Canucks' garb they eventually had to backtrack a bit.

In the aftermath, many of us were so outraged we didn't notice that we fell into another kind of mob psychol0gy -- the lust for revenge. We had to make the rioters pay, and especially those who had been so ridiculously foolish as to photograph themselves engaging in the mayhem and post the evidence on Twitter or Facebook. And we blasted the same social media outlets displaying that evidence and called for the rioters' heads.

Tearful apologies followed on TV from sons and daughters of well-off parents who had "gotten carried away with the moment". Before she edited her own online apology after receiving a host of vitriolic comments, one young woman blurted on her blog that before she allegedly looted from a clothing store "at the time everything just seemed so right". The next day her mother said she had been victimized by hate speech by those who disagreed with her.

On some radio talk shows, hosts began to ask whether the social media backlash had gone too far -- the same hosts who had been advocating the book be thrown at the rioters a few days earlier. Other talk shows questioned whether any of the apologies could possibly be considered sincere.

We have also been treated to vows from the mayor, the police chief and the Premier that the rioters would be brought to justice to face the full brunt of the law. Ultimately, this will be the most interesting part of the story. How can we ensure hundreds of these people serve hard time in jail when others who kill children in hit-and-run accidents or who carry out vicious crimes seem to rarely get the same treatment?

It was also revealed that neither the city planner, known as a micro-manager par excellence, nor the mayor had even read the report or its recommendations following the last riot. And the next day the police chief attacked one of his main critics, who supposedly had written that report, as not having written it and for grandstanding in the media.

On and on we go, and nearly a week later it's almost taken on an air of farce and unreality, but more than that a kind of collective immaturity. The rioters didn't show any maturity or judgment - that we know. But we're starting to notice that maybe the rest of us need to do a little growing up as well. Or maybe it's that our collective maturity has sunk to a new low, because we're so used to either posting or reacting to all that edgy stuff on Twitter or Facebook.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Vancouver's Riot - Stupidity Meets Delusion

Every now and then history repeats itself because of a mindless combination of mass delusion and hysteria. The Vancouver Stanley Cup Riot, 2011 version, is the most recent painful example. In the two months of ludicrous playoff hype leading up to Game Seven last week, we saw media outlets falling all over themselves to lavish attention on and reward the most outrageous acts of crazed fan worship. The more insane, the better, down to the example of the construction worker going to work as Lady Gaga just to show how far he would go to win a pair of tickets.

People were encouraged to literally lose their minds to show their devotion to the Canucks, as if that could have any influence on their quest for the Cup. This was going to be "our year", a time when all the pent-up frustration of Canuck Nation was going to find its ultimate release. The playoffs assumed greater-than-epic status. Victory would be Vancouver's ultimate catharsis.

In their attempt to milk this bandwagon for political advantage the city's mayor and the new Premier decided to invite everyone downtown to celebrate the team's great run, just as they had during last year's Olympics. But the two events were not comparable. The Vancouver Games were a celebration of Canada's victories under the banner of the Olympic spirit, and many of those gathering to celebrate were families and tourists. The events were also conducted under the watchful eyes of thousands of police. But the Stanley Cup playoffs, and especially the final, were an alley fight -- a tribal, brutal competition, more like a battle to the death, which, in the minds of fans, the Canucks had to win.

Adding fuel to the fire were countless claims filling sports-talk radio waves following any Canuck loss, even in some cases voiced by hosts and so-called experts, that the Canucks were somehow being cheated by the refs. The Hawks or Preds or Sharks or Bruins were getting away with murder every game. If not that, the excuse was too much travel, or some NHL head office anti-Canuck bias or some other imagined conspiracy. The fury following any loss was fanned by these flames, feeding the feeling that the team itself was never really at fault for losing -- if things went against them, it was because they - the big they, the outsiders - were all against us.

So what would you expect to happen when all this came to its conclusion, especially again, when fans were urged to come out in greater and greater numbers (but... wink,wink.."celebrate responsibly")? They lined up all day around liquor stores and bars, so that by game time the vast majority were tanked, to put it politely. And the city officials and police brass, with their wishful but delusional ideas that no major force was necessary to handle the crowd, weakly smiled and said all would be well.

Well we know now it was not. Thousands of police were needed that night, not just a few hundred. A small group of anarchists may have sparked some of the initial car fires or broken the first few windows, but the full-blown riot only got going when surly drunken fans who, denied their victory and fueled by a sense that no one would stop them, were hell-bent on releasing their frustrations and proving that they could win at something. In this case, it would be rioting.

There would have also been a riot if the Canucks had won. The crowd would have felt entitled to loot and reward itself for victory instead of rewarding itself with consolation prizes after the Bruins won, which is what they ended up doing.

So to blame the riot on political ideology, the alienation of youth or some weighty philosophical cause is to greatly miss the point. It was all much more basic than that. To many people with common sense much of what happened seemed predictable. We can only hope that the next time the Canucks get on a great playoff run, the hype is a little less intense and any planned celebrations are grounded in hard reality, not mistaken fantasy.