Now that the 2011 winner of Lord Stanley’s Cup has been decided, the mania is subsiding, and Vancouver is beginning the arduous task of repairing the physical and psychological wreckage caused by the uncivilized riots that ravaged the city’s core, the time invites some reflection.
The fans in their ascending frenzy, abetted by an incessant barrage of media attention, seem to have forgotten that hockey is just a game, a contrived entertainment that is important only to itself. This perspective was already being lost when Vancouver’s Canucks beat San Jose’s Sharks in the semi-finals and the curve to hysteria was accelerating toward vertical. “The Canucks are gods!”, screamed one ecstatic fan over the din of the roaring crowds – a fit of fanatical enthusiasm failing to notice that after the Cup is won and lost, after all the expended energy and the hoarse cheering has subsided into empty space, the world will be essentially the same as before the games began. All the nervous mania, all the exhorting incantations, all the empowering charms and superstitious rituals will have changed nothing of significance. No matter the eventual victor, the world will still be facing exactly the same problems.
Well, not exactly the same. The Vancouver riots that were ignited by the 1994 quest for the Cup caused injuries to about 200 people and at least a million dollars in damage to the city. When the Vancouver Canucks eventually lost to the Boston Bruins in the seventh and last game of the recent finals, some of the energized fans exploded in a frenzy of destruction that was considerably worse. Burning cars, broken windows, looted stores, many injuries and at least one stabbing represent just the surface costs. Police will be expending thousands of hours examining a million photos and hundreds of videos taken of the mayhem by the media and public. Of the 100,000 people gathered in the downtown, as many as a thousand may be charged with offenses. Overloaded courts will be burdened even further. And a proud Canadian city, purporting to be modern and civilized, will be stigmatized worldwide for barbarism.
The world has been transformed in the 17 years since 1994. The digital age has turned the downtown of any city into the public square of the global village – to the growing chagrin of the Vancouver rioters, little now escapes everyone’s scrutiny.
But other fundamental changes are also occurring. People everywhere in the digital world are taking ownership of their circumstances. Just as the Arab Spring is sending tremors of uneasiness to dictatorships throughout the Middle East, the social condemnation of rioters by Vancouverites is invoking a new kind of justice. The morning after the 2011 riots, angry, disgusted and embarrassed citizens began feeding their documentation of crimes to police. Others came to the damaged centre of their city to sweep up broken glass, gather garbage, leave flowers, offer condolences and write apologies to the terrorized merchants. A new creation called “cybercitizens”, eager to restore their civic pride, began posting photos of perpetrators on websites. In response, guilty rioters were replying with emotional apologies for their misbehaviour. The corrective force of social shame was beginning to pulse through one small corner of the global village.
And so an answer is beginning to appear to the single plaintive question posed by a solitary young woman who was sitting on a curb in downtown Vancouver on the night of the 2011 riots. Amid the smoke and teargas, surrounded by fires, broken glass and looting, she was weeping inconsolably and asking over and over again, “Why do the Canucks always do this to us?”
The Canucks don’t do it to us. We do it to ourselves. We lose perspective. We forget that hockey is just a game. We forget that the contrived challenge of slipping a little black puck into a net is infinitesimally less important than the economic, social and environmental challenges facing our communities, our cities, our country and our planet. We forget that we have only one Earth. Indeed, when we lose this perspective, we burden ourselves with the absurdity of having to address all the problems resulting from such a lapse of judgment. The 2011 Vancouver riots, just like the 1994 riots, are a huge waste of society’s time, energy, resources and awareness. And now the public’s attention, once squandered on the hyped importance of Lord Stanley’s Cup, is now being distracted by the complexity of the consequences. In the sorry saga of human folly, waste seems to beget waste and absurdity seems to beget absurdity.
If the quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup was supposed to be comic relief, we need to change our sense of humour. We have a planet in serious environmental trouble. We have a global financial system in near crisis. We have a burgeoning human population that needs sustenance and security. We have a collapsing ocean ecology that is an unfolding catastrophe. Global climate change is beginning to terrorize people and obliterate species. Repairing the wreckage initiated by the empty quest for a mere metal trophy is nothing more than a wasteful distraction.
If the people of Vancouver are willing to rise up in defence of their city, then perhaps the citizens of the global village will eventually rise up in defence of their planet. The two situations are analogous. Forget hockey. Like the 100,000 people gathered in downtown Vancouver on a June night in 2011, we are all complicit in the environmental riot wrecking the one and only Earth we share. It’s incumbent on each of us to do what we can to stop the destruction.