As with my post-election hangover (of sorts), I feel compelled this morning to write a few quick notes about the colossal media failure surrounding the ‘riots’ last night.
First and least importantly… that may have been the first good hockey game of the series. Few penalties, relatively exciting throughout three periods, and another stunning performance from Tim Thomas.
And I really do want to applaud the majority of fans in attendance. After a few beer bottles hit the ice (mostly in response to the NHL Commissioner, I think…) the crowd applauded their home team, they applauded the Cup itself, and they recognized a brilliant effort by the Bruins generally, and Thomas in particular.
Outside, however, things got nasty.
Local and national media struggled to use the term ‘fans’ last night, because as we all know ‘fans’ are noble, and can NEVER be idiots in their spare time.
(My friend Sara quickly pointed out that the term everyone seemed to be searching for is ‘hooliganism’. Don’t think I heard that used anywhere, but it fits nicely. You can be both a fan, AND a complete moron, simultaneously.)
What fascinates me about the events in Vancouver last night is that they were practically following a kind of script. This is not me blaming ‘the media’ for what happened… but I would like to stop and consider the role played by local and national media in the lead-up to last night.
Specifically, I am appalled by the near-glorification of the 1994 riots as a kind of ‘rite of passage’ for the city itself. The veteran police officers remember where they were that night… the longtime fans remember the range of emotions they felt after a Game 7 loss… and the media itself holds 1994 up as one of Vancouver’s ‘great’ news stories, a kind of defining feature of a city that certainly does not lack for ACTUAL features.
Throughout the playoff run, anchors and pundits asked: Will this be a repeat of 1994? Has this city changed enough to avoid another 1994-style riot? Are the police prepared, has the city learned its lessons from the Olympics… and from 1994?
All last night, I saw shot after shot of onlookers with cameras, adding to the spectacle of the event itself. Behind them, dozens of journalists asking the onlookers why they were simply standing around with cameras… Even this morning, during the cleanup process, there were hundreds of people taking pictures, wanting to be a part of this in their own little way.
Honestly, I think I heard the 1994 riots mentioned once a day during this series – never as a dark and evil happening to be avoided at all costs (which would have been a bit much), but rather as a kind of inevitability in hockey culture itself, an inescapable event on the near horizon.
By endlessly looping footage from 1994, then providing large venues downtown (complete with the same temporary fencing we’ve seen used and abused around the world in mob settings), what was to discourage a new generation of young men from participating in an updated version of a poorly-understood ‘event’ from the past? Again, I don’t ‘blame’ media outlets for what happened, but I wonder if the narrative re-imagining of the 1994 riot may have contributed to an atmosphere in which its sequel was practically inevitable. If the home team wins, you need to be downtown to … be a part of a crowd… And if the home team loses, you need to be downtown to… be a part of a crowd. The game hardly matters at all – what is important is standing outside in a large group. If that group is cheering, you cheer too. If they start lighting cars on fire, then take your picture, cheer them on, and hope the riot police don’t come out swinging.
And I feel myself getting angry again. Maybe I’ll continue these thoughts later.