(Slightly edited to add an observation that wasn't clear to me at the time of writing this, borrowing a wee bit from comments by Dan Kibke and Giorgio Magnanensi).
The denial begins even as the TV is capturing the riots live: "this is the action of a few hooligans" (that from Mayor Gregor Roberston). Looks like a bloody lot of hooligans to me, thanks; in fact, it looks like nothin' so much as the Granville Street Entertainment District cranked up a few notches. It's not too much different qualitatively from your average Friday night on that street, far as I can see - it's just writ a lot bigger: in busting punk clubs and art spaces outside "The Zone," while providing a free pass to those INSIDE it - or in reducing arts funding and cutting back on education and community-building to emphasize giant sports spectacles - the city has been moving INEVITABLY towards the events of last night. The tastes, values and impulses of UFC-watchin', bling-sportin', tribal-warfare-loving drunken young barbarians have been catered to, celebrated and rewarded, while the values of those who care for community, creativity, and compassion have been TRAMPLED ON; we are now reaping what we have sown. In past forays through The Zone on weekends, I've seen everything from guys beating the shit out of each other on the sidewalk to drunk girls squatting in business doorways, pissing shamelessly, giggling, panties around their knees: minor-key examples of run-of-the-mill uncivilized Granville savagery, compared to tonight - people don't normally go so far as to set cop cars on fire - but it's all of a piece. The kids leaping around screaming "woo! I'm on TV" as people looted Sears behind them sounded and looked exactly like the average kid you see on that street on any given weekend. What we've seen tonight was not the action of a “few instigating hooligans” – something to be blamed on some comfortably distant other; this is something that has the potential to erupt any time crowds of our young people gather, and we need to not lie to ourselves about that.
"This has nothing to do with hockey." Oh, so it's just a coincidence that the same things happened the last time the Canucks lost, back in '94? I think not. Hockey is a violent, fast sport, practically designed to get your adrenaline up; no other sport is as quickly paced or as bloody (tho’ soccer has its own charming history of accompanying violence). Hockey provides a stripped down, miniaturized, ritualized example of tribal warfare, which lends itself beautifully to the sorts of emotions and actions visible in the crowds tonight during the riot; the crowd, denied satisfaction of victory, took it out on their surroundings. (Tho’ who knows – this might have happened regardless of whether the Canucks won or lost). We deny such things at our peril. Want to teach people who rioted a lesson? Cancel hockey events in Vancouver next year.
"This is disgraceful, shameful, a blot on our reputation." This is a lie only insofar as it is being uttered by media people who spent the whole night filming it, commenting on it, and pretending to analyze it - or TV viewers glued gawking to their TV. They are inaccurately describing their impulses, concealing their motivations and emotions: because it’s not shame that drives them to watch such events unfold, it’s that it’s fascinating. In part because it defies easy processing: our city, overrun by our thuggish, idiot youth, rioting and looting not because they need to, not because it achieves anything, but simply because they can. It's like something out of JG Ballard, raising huge and valid questions – like where the civilizing forces in our society have gone, and what we can do to get them back. Condemn it all you like, but don’t pretend you’re not totally compelled by the spectacle of it, at least not as long as you’re still gawking – it’s like morally condemning the very porn that you’re masturbating to. At least Rob Brown, I think it was, of CTV, was perceptive and honest enough to realize and mention, as he wandered the streets with a camera crew, that the impulse of some people to stick around, to take pictures, to bear witness and not disperse wasn't fundamentally that different from what he himself was doing, that there was at least a smidgen of hypocrisy to repeating over and over “why don’t they just go home” while wandering the same city blocks as the crowd.
But perhaps the people who speak of shame mean something else – because they somehow find some part of themselves represented in the rioting mob, some part that they do not like and wish to distance themselves from? I find NO part of myself represented by this mob. I feel a bit of contempt and disgust, perhaps - but shame is far, far from my door, keeping company with, say, “surprise.”
Tho’ I guess I am a bit shocked at how ill prepared and ineffectual the police seem to have been… Were they truly not aware, after we got off lucky during the Olympics, that this could happen? Denial is ubiquitous...
Oh, and don't worry about the "blot" shite, either: because this could happen in ANY major North American city, now. And everyone knows it, or should. The only difference that I can see between this riot and any other major one I’ve read about in recent years (in Toronto or Seattle, say) is that it seems in Vancouver we only get out to riot for sports events…
And speaking of Toronto, the black-clad, masked looters tonight were likened by some CTV pundit to "black bloc" anarchists in Toronto, because they were wearing black with covered faces. (The VPD has incorporated this into their official version of events). This is ridiculous, a complete misapprehension of what was going on. However one might feel about them, I have absolutely no doubt that black bloc protestors felt their actions justified by some larger point they were trying to make. By contrast, what happened tonight in Vancouver was completely, utterly pointless, motivated by nothing larger than the impulses of the rioters. People were rioting because they could, because they wanted to, because it felt good to them to do so. There was no cause, no purpose, no rationale beyond that: zero.
In the end, I was glad to be miles away, in Maple Ridge, watching it on TV with my Mom. (We caught the start of it around 8pm, then – because a few downtown fires were no big deal – switched to watching a delightful, John Waters-narrated Animal Planet DVD about “Jessica the Hippo.” But around 10pm, we flipped back to the news and were glued for two hours). Mom was particularly upset by images of burning cop cars. “What’s the point of that?” she said, turning to me, a scornful, puzzled look on her face.
I shrugged, offered a theory: “It’s fun!”
I wonder what downtown will look like tomorrow morning…