By Jan Drabek
Probably the most bizarre attempt to deal with the Stanley Cup riots to date was the announcement of a group getting together to sing O Canada at the corner of Georgia and Hamilton. But other unusual takes abound, among them that of the bicycle-loving mayor of Vancouver who is apparently convinced that the riots were instigated by a small group of outside agitators. NBC’s Brian Williams promotes them to anarchists — a term usually honorably applied to 19th-century Russians battling the Romanov absolutism. Provincial premier Christy Clark doesn’t call them names but promises to prosecute vigorously whomever needs to be prosecuted in such a manner. Journalism teacher Nicholas Read blames it all on sports jingoism, while journalism practitioner Ian Mulgrew ties the event together with inadequate funding for our judicial system.
Yet more far-fetched advice on the riots comes via the perilously left-leaning newspaperman Stephen Hume, who counsels us to concentrate on the misery of the Downtown Eastside instead of the riots.
A prominent Vancouver churchman seems to think we’re all a bit guilty, a thoughtshared by the Vancouver Sun’s religious columnist Douglas Todd, who adds that some people identify with their team to the point of attempting suicide when it loses. It isn’t exactly clear what part original sin played in all this but one strongly suspects that the smiling girls charmingly posing in front burning police cars were not particularly upset over the loss of the Stanley Cup.
On the other hand one cannot but admire all those young people cleaning up the streets and writing encouraging messages on the plywood covered storefronts. Also the nice ladies and gentlemen who served them pancakes for breakfast, though it’s unlikely any of these were the same people who went berserk on that fateful night.
Perhaps most moving have been the front-page apologies of Camille Cacnio, Tim Kwong, and the would-be Olympic athlete Nathan Kotylak. But to be properly moved one has to be charitable and rule out any questions about them being as forthcoming had their faces not been plastered all over facebook. At least Cacnio changed the wording of her message so that it would sound more like an apology than merely an attempt at self-expiation.
But in the end despite all the identifying, labeling, threatening, and excusing of the culprits, we seem to be collectively tiptoeing around the much larger question, which is Why? And once we poke into that wasps’ nest, out come flying questions like:
What role was played by the all-pervasive electronic media? All that fateful mixing of real reality and the virtual one, of mammoth TVs and alcohol in a noisy gathering of a crowd of a hundred thousand. Did instant messaging, imaging, and the resultant instant fame have anything to do with it?
And what about the role of morality in this post-modernist world, and the absence of clearly stated retribution? Education, which used to be closely connected to consequences, nowadays largely isn’t. We are afraid to supposedly pollute the multifarious nature of Judeo-Christianity, offend the Muslims and Sikhs, misinterpret the Hindus, and misunderstand the Buddhists. Granted that decisions in this area are often difficult — each age seems to bring different challenges — but, worried lest we step on someone’s toes, much too often our solution consists of leaving this space blank.
In British Columbia we pride ourselves on preparing everyone who wants to be prepared (and some who don’t) for the technical challenges of the market, leaving out rather important subjects such as the meaning of doing the right thing, respecting the rights of others, and just plain being decent to someone else. Our emphasis is instead on young people making their own decisions, standing on their own two feet — on being individuals.
But let’s be honest with ourselves: how many times in our early youth were we tempted to engage in instant gratification, to do costly, silly things, only to be rescued at the very last moment by images of sheer terror should we be discovered, punished, and/or ridiculed? Before morality and rationality kicked in came the very present and helpful fear of retribution.
Such fears, of course, are considerably reduced by the use of alcohol, particularly in younger set, which has less experience with it. But maybe with all this virtual reality and the emphasis on instant gratification, the ability to imagine retribution is largely a lost art among our children. At least one would surmise that from some of the statements of the aforementioned trio.
Vancouver Police Chief Chu can announce criminal charges being laid against the perpetrators until he is hoarse. Unless we get rid of our complacency, and realize our youth are not always ready to handle their role in society, especially when part of large, anonymous gatherings, he will be forced to make such announcements again.
So, what are we going to do about it?