Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wouldn't It Be Great If No One Ever Got Offended

Everything started out so happy.

I was there at Granville and Georgia yesterday, less than an hour before the puck dropped; at that time the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riot was still in the future, and some people thought they wouldn't happen at all. I was more struck by the welcoming nature of the crowd. Everyone seemed to be wearing a smile along with a Canucks jersey, confident that Vancouver would grind Boston into a bloody paste and secure the Terminal City's first Stanley Cup ever. Granville Street north of Dunsmuir had been ceded to pedestrians with no blockades necessary. People streamed to the game site with big foam fingers and vuvuzelas and, upon reviewing my photographs, I notice a guy with a case of craft beer as well.

In the end, I suppose it was mostly the beer that was the problem. Before the night was over there were reports of flipped automobiles and looting at London Drugs and the Bay and police cars on fire, and the hit to Vancouver's reputation is still under review.

The scene at Granville and Georgia at 4:45 PM on Wednesday.

Riots aren't always pointless. In some contexts, generally those which are based upon oppression without relief, a riot is the only way for the people to demonstrate their distaste with the present system - even in democracies this happens when people are mad as hell and not going to take it any more, such as the UK riots over Margaret Thatcher's introduction of the poll tax in 1990.

But we can't forget that the veneer of civilization is especially thin in some people. There are people among us who do not strongly value society, people who are looking for a fight and just don't care about the consequences. It's these sort of people who start sports riots when City Name Sports Team loses the Big Game and the Winning Cup goes to Other City. I've spoken with people who can't understand why this sort of thing happens. If you insist on looking it from a rational mindset, you'll never understand - these things are fundamentally irrational.

I was thinking about why last night while I watched the #riot Twitter feed update, seemingly dozens of new messages every second streaming in with more disturbing notes about what was happening downtown - it was like the last year's G20 meetings in Toronto all over again. While I scrolled through photo galleries that showed picture windows at the Bay shattered, picture windows that I'd passed by hours before and where there's always this one freestyle rapping busker. Why do you do this?

Personally, I think it's social atavism - that is, retreating to the models of an earlier iteration. People who go around flipping cars and breaking windows and stealing shit just because they can certainly sound like they belong in the medieval period, psychologically speaking, instead of the twenty-first century. It reminded me of how some people act while they're drunk, honestly. I know from personal experience that the whole "you lose total control of yourself when you're drunk" idea is not universally true; when I get drunk I say things my brain would normally filter and get more chummy. I don't take it as a license to be a belligerent ass or break shit. Morons, however, do.

It's practically a proof of John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory in the real world. There's no telling whether the rioters will face justice; while it's certain that at least some of them will, since it's practically a given that every single one of the thousands and thousands of people in downtown had a camera on them, it's unfortunately unlikely that everyone that ran riot last night will have to answer for it. The anonymity of the crowd, the audience of the spectators - and it was a wide audience; the first live feed I found was a helicopter view streaming from ABC7 in San Francisco - and the beer or the atavism let everything else fall away.

The unfortunate thing is that this is the sort of thing we're going to have to live with for the foreseeable future. Culture evolves slowly, over the generations - sure, what was acceptable to one group of people may be anathema to their descendants, but it can take decades or centuries to get from one to the other. As diminishing as the idea is... things like this riot are just humans being human. Born to make mistakes.

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