Saturday, July 9, 2011

Why the Mindless Vancouver Hockey Riot?

Post 38—:

Overtaken by Surprise
I cannot resist devoting a couple of more posts to Vancouver’s hockey riot I wrote about it two posts ago. The riots took place several weeks ago by now, but the scars are still very noticeable on Granville Ave. while the local media are still busy discussing and analyzing them. Especially in the press, there is an agonizing search for the motives of the riot. How could a city that only a year ago hosted a successful Winter Olympics with its huge international crowd, fall apart upon the loss of the Stanley Cup hockey trophy? Some say it was because at the Olympics every conceivable security measure was taken, including a considerable military presence appropriately kept invisible in the nearby mountains. Nothing was taken for granted; no expense spared. The hockey championship game was approached with assumptions based on the Olympic experience and the lessons allegedly learned from similar riots for a similar hockey defeat 17 years ago. The city invited its entire population by blocking off downtown streets to traffic and installing huge TV screens. This was going to be a clean event. After all, Vancouverites are a decent and cultured people. This was going to be one big party that was going to reset the benchmark by which such events are measured. Alas….

Faulty Assumptions Led to Faulty Security
Upon hindsight, security measures were pitifully inadequate precisely because the assumptions were wrong. Andrew Cohen of the Vancouver Sun (VS), the main paper in which these discussions are taking place, reported a discussion with a police officer prior to seventh and deciding game. Cohen asked the officer whether he expected any trouble that night, win or lose? The officer answered that in either case “It will be a party.” Cohen commented, “With naivete like this, who needs police?” This man was not just airing personal opinion; he was mouthing the opinions of his superiors, the Mayor and Police Chief. Practically all writers disagree with the Mayor and the Chief of Police who tried to place the blame on outsider agitators and hooligans who had come equipped with rioting as their aim. It does seem to be true that a number of people overheard conversations about planning a riot during the days before.

Boastful Pride
The perpetrators were obviously very proud of their achievements, a pride that was further fed by the support of the cheering and clapping ordinary Vancouver citizens. So proud that they photographed themselves on their cellphones. “They just could not help themselves,” wrote Cohen. “They had to boast. It felt so good to smash things up.”

Identity of the Rioters
While some authorities insisted that the perpetrators were either outsiders or fringe insiders, most columnists know better. Among them were “normal, middle-class kids wearing expensive hockey sweaters…. Real rioters don’t wear…hockey sweaters,” Cohen insists. Mark Braude, a Vancouverite himself, stopped just short of blaming himself but insisted that those who participated in the riot “are our neighbours…our classmates and co-workers” (“There are no simple answers to explain riots,” VS, June 22). Penny Gurstein and Howard Rotberg took it one step further by attributing the chaos to ourselves, not just to others near me. “The enemy is us,” they wrote in the VS (“Have We Lost Our Moral Compass?” June 24, 2011). I will return to this article shortly. One “happy hooligan,” Cohen writes, every time he threw more fodder into a burning fire, “raised his arms in triumph and acknowledged the cheers of the mob”—and that mob was us, Vancouverites, not some marginalized nobodies. “And cheer they did,” he continues, “or dancing like Druids at Equinox.” That sheep-like, mindless and cheering crowd was us, Vancouverites.

Inflation of the Inconsequential
We Canadians think of ourselves as decent, civilized people, but Pete McMartin referred to the perpetrators as “self-entitled little pukes,” our children, siblings and friends and, for many, ourselves “who had invested an obscene amount of emotion and money on what was only a game.” “We let something as inconsequential as sport do so,” he lamented. That was our shame (“The View from Another Counter…Ontario,” VS July 5, 2011). He is right, absolutely right—in so far as he went. Sports have their legitimate place in recreation, building of team spirit and healthy life style, in economics even. In my younger days I enjoyed a vigorous tennis game, while today I enjoy watching certain sports, whether on the field or on the screen. I am grateful for sports. But in the end, after affirming much of sports, we must remember that, after all is said and done, played and watched, it is only a game. No more. That’s it.

Why the Inflation?
Part of the answer to this “why” question lies within the sports world and its powerful organizations themselves as well as by various levels of government who encourage this inflation by massive spending on arenas and other facilities. That the sports establishment should encourage such developments stands to reason—vested interest. It is the source of their wealth, power and status. Governments often support this addiction to sports to divert the attention of their citizens from more serious matters arising out of their own misgovernment.

But the question still is: How can these developments be so successfully encouraged that it often totally consumes people so that they live for little else and it becomes the very centre and meaning of their lives? They develop a deep passion and strong exclusive loyalties that lead to t-shirt declarations such as “This is what we live for.” During the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics the slogan was “We believe!” As my pastor, a self-confessed hockey addict, commented in one of his sermons, “Oh, really?”

I am still asking the question: How can these feelings run so deep, arouse so much passion and, given the right circumstances, cause such an explosion? Even though I have not yet answered the question or presented my particular theory on it, I hope I’ve given you a few things to think about it. In the next post I will present my theory. If you have been a regular reader of my two blogs, you can perhaps guess which direction I’m going to take this. Mull over it and, when you read the next post, see if you have caught on to my basic vision.

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