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.