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.)


JoeinVegas said...

Does that mean you weren't down there yourself joining in (this time)?

Persephone said...

Well, Joe, I live in Ottawa, so that's rather like asking someone in New York whether they made it to the Los Angeles riots. It's a difference of about three thousand miles and three time zones. (Not being a hockey fan nor a violence fan [same difference?)], I would have being steering clear had I been in the area. Even in Ottawa, I avoid downtown during a playoff...)

SOL's view said...

This whole social media thing is a double edged sword, isn't it. On one side, so great for keeping in touch and seeing what absent friends are doing - beats sitting through home films! On the other a terrific avenue for just plain stupidity.

Unfortunately I think the majority of young 'uns of all nationalities fall into the latter.

I'm sure we were never that bad. And you can't prove otherwise!


Persephone said...

Elder daughter is (warning: maternal bias kicking in) far more mature and self-disciplined than I recall being at her age. When she was fifteen, she abruptly dropped her father, her grandmother and me as Facebook Pals, saying none of her friends had parents as "friends" on Facebook. When I objected, she declared: "M-u-um...Facebook is private!" "Da-a-aughter," I retorted, "Facebook is the polar opposite of private!"

I think she's pretty discreet about what she posts (although how would I know?) being rather private herself, but it's clear from what people put in emails and other social media (like blogs, for example?), that there is a widespread false sense of security when one goes online.

I don't think kids are any stupider, it's just with the Internet, we're more likely to hear about it.

JDR said...

By condoning violence in hockey, and holding the players up as role models, the NHL teams share the responsibility for fan's thoughtless behavior.

Crosby Kenyon said...

It really isn't Vancouver: it's the age-group living in this particular age. Everybody gets a chance to be on camera beamed around the world without initially considering the possible consequence. I lived in Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots. I cringe to think how it would have been had we had today's technology then.

Rob said...

A lot of the perpetrators of the arson and looting during Britain's recent outbreak of riotous behaviour have already been caught through a combination of CCTV footage and cellphone pictures. Mostly the pictures seem to have been given to the police, though I think there have been one or two folk delivering private justice. As the riots on this occasion were enabled by social networking its use to catch the perps seems appropriate.