Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A kind of hangover

Almost a week has passed since the ugliest day in Vancouver history, a scene far surpassing in shock and horror the post-Cup riots of ’94. Downtown merchants are literally picking up the pieces. Citizens have purged themselves of their shock and grief by signing the plywood that temporarily shielded smashed-in storefronts. The perpetrators are engaged in a frenzy of ass-covering to seduce a naive public into believing how sorry they are.

I want to just push the whole thing aside. At this moment, I don't feel anything, and I don’t want to. That disturbs me. I wonder if I am getting hardened, which seems like the way we're supposed to be.

Everyone is crying for justice, saying we know who you are, we've seen your faces on videos and your idiotic gloating on Facebook and Twitter. But I have a sickened feeling that very few of these louts will be brought to justice. Why? Because they almost never are. Not to real justice, the kind that might make them actually feel some remorse.

As I struggle to make sense of this madness, some of the comments I’m hearing are disturbing. The word “anarchist” is bandied about, though no one seems to know quite what it means. Social critics claim these hooligans are predominantly young, white, middle-class kids (one can hardly call them men) from the suburbs, bored, dehumanized by too many video games and too much porn and violence and Tweeting instead of talking, and just waiting for an opportunity to practice their gleeful ugliness.

For that was the thing that horrified me: how jubilant they were. This was NOT an angry mob scene triggered by a hockey defeat, not by a long shot, but a pathetically narcissistic parade, a twisted celebration of themselves and their miserable lack of moral values. These guys were jumping around and mugging for the hundreds of cameras the gawkers were holding up, sneering and swaggering as they smashed plate glass and ran off with high-end loot that soon appeared on Craigslist. They wanted their appalling destruction posted on YouTube so they could be famous, wanted it to "go viral", that disturbing phrase that no one seems to notice or mind.

And those “bystanders”: hadn’t the cops repeatedly ordered them to disperse? What where they doing standing around blocking police access? This was a great photo-op, a one-of-a-kind experience, a chance to watch history in the making. Many of them openly cheered the rioters on. In fact, in some cases it was hard to tell the thugs from the “audience”. It was one big ugly fracas without boundaries. The few who tried to stop the smashing and burning were taking their lives into their hands: no police officer would condone that kind of vigilante justice, yet now these people are being praised as heroes.

I hate to sound like an old crank who's out of touch. Perhaps my boomer mentality is beginning to seem creaky. In the 1950s, the beatniks rebelled against the dehumanization of society. Then came the hippies, an explosion of social protest followed by the appalling polyester retreat of the '70s. Looking back at it now, even in times of revolution and ferment the culture seemed cozy and tame. Kids at least saw their parents once in a while. They weren't permanently parked with electronic babysitters that would eventually become a substitute for human contact.

I'm not against technology, in fact resistence is impossible in a totally-mechanized society, but a whole generation has been swept into a whitewater current that they don't understand. It's moving so fast that no one even knows what it's about. There is no context for the Facebook revolution, nor the skin-creeping sight of thousands of gawkers clicking photos and taking videos of the hideous circus being played out before their eyes.

"It was like a movie," people said of the apocalypse on 9-11. In other words, it wasn't real. My daughter is a TV reporter, and for several hours she was at ground zero. For her it was real enough: screams and flames and fumes, and hooting, grandstanding bastards jumping around like apes and having the time of their lives.

How did they end up this way? Is anyone born like that? Will they eventually go from petty crime (if this can be called petty) to something more serious? Or will they go on to become the kind of sociopathic lawyer or corporate mogul that invariably makes it to the top?

(Note. I had hoped to publish this in the Vancouver Sun, but, as always, the Fates relegated it to obscurity and I am shouting into a vacuum.)