Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Riotous indignation

Can you remember your most embarrassing adolescent moment? You probably remember more than one, don't you? I can remember....several.

There was the time I... Ugh.

Then that day... *Cringe*

I've written of the gremlin attacks that have been known to assail me in the wee sma' hours. Often they take the shape of ill-judged sayings and deeds from my misspent youth. I pray I'm the only one who actually remembers these gaffes.

Fortunately for me, I blundered my way into adulthood before the advent of email, texting, and other computer-based forms of social media. Today, adolescence seems to stretch well into the twenties and sometimes beyond, with every misstep enshrined for all to see, often proudly posted by the agent him/herself.

Nothing illustrates this quite so well as the recent Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver. Briefly, if you were lucky enough not to notice this item, a hockey team from Boston (most of whose players don't actually come from Boston) won the final game of a seven-game final against the team from Vancouver (most of whose members are not from Vancouver). In fact, the Boston team actually has more Canadians in it than the Vancouver team. This was lost on the crowd inside Rogers Arena, who sportingly booed and threw things on the ice as the cup was presented to the Boston Bruins. Outside, those who hadn't got tickets were watching proceedings on big screens set up for their entertainment by the city, and decided the perfect ending for the evening would be tipping over cars, setting them on fire, and breaking into shops.

A similar embarrassing melée occurred in 1994, the last time the Vancouver Canucks got to the Stanley Cup finals and failed to win. Only that time, cell-phones weren't quite so ubiquitous and there was no such thing as Facebook. So, this time around, while the Vancouver police were declaring that the riot was the work of well-organized thugs and anarchists, and the Vancouver Canucks were declaring that the rioters were not Canucks fans, a bunch of furious and indignant vigilantes were setting up web sites and Facebook pages overnight, posting photos of kids rocking cars, overturning cars, posing in front of burning cars, smashing windows, waving merchandise and mannequin parts, and punching each other out. The response was immediate and visceral. Not only did acquaintances identify the subjects in the photos, they contributed screen-captures of Facebook pages where mostly adolescent males had boasted about what they'd done and for whom the warnings of frantic friends to take this down were either too late or fruitless. Several had their schools, phone numbers and home addresses on their profiles....

What quickly emerged was that the rioters were not professional thugs and anarchists but drunk adolescents and post-adolescents who lived in comfortable middle-class homes and who, judging from their reactions to the hate-mongering that ensued, had led rather sheltered lives. I was particularly struck by the television interview of a twenty-two-year-old carpenter who was called up to his boss's office the very next morning and unceremoniously fired. As far as I can tell, the most he had done was hang around (albeit illegally) after the riot act had been read, then post some rather silly status updates on his Facebook page about the city needing remodeling anyway. Breaking down in front of the television cameras, he wept that it was just a joke between him and his friends.
"My friends would understand that I was joking," he sobbed.

Gee, you mean your what? 500? 600? 700 Facebook friends? They'd all understand you were fooling around? That's when I realized that we were not dealing with "morons" or "idiots" as these targets were being described on the avenging web sites. We're dealing with really young, really naive, and not-quite-grown-up people.

I was as embarrassed as anyone by the behaviour of these Canucks fans (yes, they were Canucks fans -- they were all wearing the tee-shirts and jerseys). Some of them caused serious injuries, and many scared the hell out of innocent people who were trying to do their jobs. A hapless franchise owner of a coffee shop locked herself in a back room while the place was trashed. Those who struggle to run businesses in these times don't need the added burden of re-stocking and rebuilding.

However, is justice really being served here? Those whose riot photos were tagged have been vilified, embarrassed, and terrorized themselves. The family of a young man photographed trying to torch a police car (apparently he didn't even succeed) had to flee their house after receiving an avalanche of threats. This doesn't strike me as being fair, either.

Oh, thank goodness there was no Facebook when I was going through puberty. I didn't go in for drunkenness, vandalism or looting, although I did plenty of other non-criminal forms of stupidity --- which I refuse to discuss, thank you very much. I had friends and relations, though, who did break the law. As far as I know, they all grew up to be responsible adults and while they may remember what they did -- late at night -- there are no permanent public reminders. Times have changed, haven't they?

(The above photo appears in journalist Matt Gibson's account of what he witnessed during the riot. While many Canadians decry this incident as not being typical of us, I think Matt's experiences are, in a way, quintessentially Canadian. Read it and see if you agree.)

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Public transit for deities (write of passage number twenty-one)

I could have sworn I was riding the bus with Isis and Ishtar today. Isis was seated sideways near the front. Her raven hair was pulled back with artful and deliberate hair-sprayed wisps sticking out from her bun. She wore a black scarf wrapped about her head very much as it is in the accompanying image of Isis and her eyes appeared to be rimmed with kohl, although that was probably the effect of her carefully applied false eyelashes. Her golden off-the-shoulder blouse revealed braided bra straps that hinted at a leopard-skin design. It was clear that under the golden folds, the bra itself was somewhat armour-like with sharp upthrusting edges. Old-fashioned brassieres used to "lift and separate"; today's seem to thrust and bunch. Isis was small-breasted enough for this to work.

In the centre of the aisle, hanging shyly from the overhead handrail, Ishtar stood, plump and rosy as a peach, her belly jiggling pleasingly as she radiated ampleness. When she moved down the bus and stood next to me, I saw that her morning toilet may not have taken quite as long as that of Isis, who sat with her legs delicately crossed in off-white cargo capris. Ishtar's purple empire line tunic top was covered in tiny white cat hairs and on the right side of her generous tummy was a dried splotch of something: possibly jam, possibly spaghetti sauce.

I've had many Ishtar mornings. I'm not sure I've had a single Isis morning....