City Views: A 'Tragic' Event Remembered

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“Vancouver Riots!” “A blemish on Vancouver’s international reputation.” “A tragic event.” The headlines scream and shout.

Oh, the city has gone mad. And I’m not referring to the riots that took place last week. That was last week’s madness. This is this week.

Forget the fact that we have endemic poverty and rampant drug use mere blocks from our central business district, that we have the world’s original skid row, that the city is becoming increasingly unaffordable to all but the wealthy, or that we are bulldozing over the history and soul of the city so that we might build more condominiums. No. The tragic event is a relatively small, five hour riot. Huh.

What’s most interesting about Vancouver’s latest riot, beyond the now-overlooked fact that the Canucks played mediocre hockey – and that’s being kind – in an exceptional situation, is the reaction and fallout from the evening’s riot on the streets of downtown. Before I go any further however, I do want to point out that the media coverage of the happenings are so incredibly out of proportion with the events themselves, that one might be forgiven for believing that the entire downtown core had been set ablaze and looted! If you’d strolled along most any downtown street the next morning, you’d probably not have noticed that anything in particular had actually happened.

I’m not intending to downplay the very real fact that a riot did in fact occur, but beyond the few windows that were smashed and ten or so cars burned, nothing really happened. There was nobody killed and I found the crowd to be a relatively friendly bunch by and large.

Okay, but back to the point. Actually, that was the point. What was in truth a pretty minor event in terms of a history of a city (how many riots do you think have taken place in the city of London? Paris? New York? Hell, Belfast is rioting as we speak and do we hear them harping on about it and apologising for it to anyone who will listen?) has been elevated to the status of civic calamity. We’ve reacted with such vigour and eagerness and earnestness, and turned so hatefully on a bunch of drunk – and let’s be fair, disappointed – kids, that despite the ’coming together’ of the city in our response to the riot, I’m rather uncertain as to how this event will actually fit into the narrative of the city.

I discussed earlier the notion that with the city being so young, it is still in the process of writing its own story, of crafting a narrative from the wide and varied histories of the peoples and places that actually make up the city now. The reaction of the city and its residents to the riot of 2011 is rather telling is this respect. The almost unanimous and reflexive condemnation of the rioters and their actions as ‘not truly representing the city’ by people all over the region betrays a still adolescent mentality, an uncertainty, an insecurity. No, it's not the reaction per se, but vocality and saturation of it. We evidently still seem to care about what other people think. We’re still trying to justify ourselves.

But why? Everybody wants to live here.

Let’s just get on with life, can’t we?

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  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Thursday, 23 June 2011 18:53 posted by Bergen Vermette

    Cool Bax, a couple of points jump out at me:

    - Vancouver obsessively cares what other people think.
    This is an interesting one. I've noticed the same and wondered about it. Maybe it's small-city-trying-to-be-big syndrome. Foreigners care far less than we think they do though. International press barely covered the riot, it got an honourable mention with a single article about 2/3 down the front page of BBC, Guardian, and NYT.

    - Many of the riots in the cities you cite were about something
    In London: Tuition riots of 2010, Poll Tax Riots '90
    In France: the '05 suburb riots, bread riots
    in NY: Columbia U protests of '68, and the many race riots

    -Pointless sports riots are different and we can make a distinction between them and others (all riots are not created equal?)
    Residents can and should discuss (as we are doing now, and others are doing too) whether the riot was justified. The jubilation we all felt post-Olympics (you and I were both there in the street together banging drums) may in the future be sullied by nervous police and media with little creative flare that use it as an excuse to clamp down on city events.

    - I like what you said about skid row, unaffordable housing, and the condo-craze that's homogenizing Vancouver.
    My take is that the riot was significant because it showed just how apathetic we collectively are to all these other (way more pressing/significant/interesting) issues. To me it was an acid test demonstrating where the values of many citizens lie. I'm 100% behind riots for a cause - G-20 in Toronto, WTO in Seattle, even the little Gastown riot of '71 where my old man went toe-to-toe with cops on horseback beating them back off of the hippies they were clubbing - hell I'd even settle for a bike-lane riot. But just trashing the place because you can? Because losing the game is KIND OF MAYBE an excuse to let loose? Sorry, that's just some juvenile shit operating in a dense cloud of "I did it because it was fun. I have no larger vision".

  • Comment Link Andrew Baxter Friday, 24 June 2011 01:36 posted by Andrew Baxter

    Thanks Bergen,

    I am not going to defend or condemn the riot after last week's hockey game, but I would like to say that I think you may perhaps be missing something in your description of the riot being a result of a lost hockey game.

    Although I would agree with you that the event was not consciously political or 'for something', it was an expression of something profound in our culture. That we don't riot every day says something about how exceptional such a public disturbance is. People don't riot just 'cause (or maybe they do) or when they feel happy and secure or connected or have a deeper meaning to their lives, but when they feel disconnected, uncentred, and without meaning.

    I think what happened last Wednesday was an expression of that disconnect, of a deeper meaninglessness in a society that is focused almost exclusively on consumption and external signs and symbols to provide identity.

    In the end, I think that's the take-away from the riot.

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