Grand Theft Auto, Vancouver riots, and the deficit of the real

Sports riots have been recorded from as far back as Roman times and have more to do with tribal rivalry than anything intrinsic to specific games....There are parallels also with computer gaming, though it would be too simplistic to call it a cause. One wonders if the ubiquitous Grand Theft Auto trope of flames and pixelated blood spatter against the backdrop of a burned out city has so thoroughly colonized the optical subconscious that it now seems natural somehow, even reassuring, a kind of default habitat where young men in particular are used to operating.

J.G. Ballard would have loved Vancouver's Stanley Cup riot. In fact he consistently imagined situations like this (and worse) in his dystopian novels and short fiction.

In his novella Running Wild, the children in a gated community of middle class professionals band together and slaughter their parents within the tasteful grounds and interiors of their designer homes. In High Rise, the residents of a luxury apartment tower wage tribal warfare against rival floors in an effort to alleviate the boredom of their cosseted and privileged lives.

J.G. Ballard's Running Wild

My copy of 'Running Wild'


“Unable to express their own emotions or respond to those of people around them, suffocated under a mantle of praise and encouragement, they were trapped forever in a perfect universe. In such a society, madness is the only freedom.”

J.G. Ballard: Running Wild (1988.)

In many ways Vancouver’s hockey riot was likewise an expression of raging bourgeoise ferality; essentially, a riot about nothing – a ‘Seinfeld’ of riots to which it is a mistake to ascribe any political motive. In the wake of the play-off defeat, with the Canucks scoring ‘zero,’ something had to take the place of that nothing even if that something was pointless violence. At least that could be remembered, tweeted and socially networked. To read any more into this is to be mistaken, yet for me, the underlying message is clear:

Beware of the middle class.

Especially its young men. For they exist increasingly in a state that could be described as a deficit of the real, which is dangerous and unstable place, full of unfocused outrage and an overdeveloped sense of personal entitlement that constantly simmers just below the surface. The riot wasn’t a conspiracy of any kind but rather the lack of one – a set of preconditions where a massive charge of nothingness had accumulated to which the riot was an almost electrical response; the closing of a circuit to the unmet expectations of an ontologically bereft, predominantly suburban, mob. With the loss of the game, the value of the Canuck brand (temporarily) evaporated for them, triggering a wave of buyer’s remorse through the hyped-up expectations of the crowd. In the brutal logic of the situation, the outpouring of rage had to be taken out on the city itself, the brand’s associative container. In that sense the ubiquitous slogan: ‘We are all Canucks,’ proved truer than it needed to be.

The ensuing riot and looting were pure reification, a desperate desire to wrest meaning from the void, to be part of an authentically ‘real’ experience outside the purview of the corporate machine that had so spectacularly failed to deliver. No matter how one feels about it, the hockey riot unarguably ‘happened,’ the physicality of its burned-out automobiles and pillaged storefronts comprising an iconic collective experience that will be remembered for a long time to come, despite the almost immediate attempts by civic boosters to re-narrative-ize it by drawing media attention to isolated acts of heroism and the bonhomie of those engaged in the clean up effort.

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While I wasn't in the city for the riot, all of the news media I've seen has shown a police force that was more than adequately prepared.

Charging in to the crowd bashing in skulls would have cost far, far more than the few million in damages due to looting.  Our police force kept things relatively contained and prevented the riot from spreading across the whole city.  Some damage was done in a localized area, not unlike when fire fighters focus on saving the neighbouring buildings rather than attempting to heroically (but stupidly) extinguish an out of control blaze.

I do definitely agree that the conditions seemed ripe for trouble - I think many of those who were downtown expected nothing less.  But contrast that with the Olympics, where nothing of any concequence happened and you wonder why it was so different this time.  In my opinion the major difference was a singular focus on the outcome of just one event, rather than a plethora of different wins and losses over the days in a variety of sports.  That singular focus I think may be behind why people got so out of hand - the "collective conscious" of a group, idendically clad like warriors yet without any battle to wage needed to go somewhere.  Too bad the effort and energy couldn't have been put to a more practical purpsose.

VPD underfunded

VPD unprepared? Try to be prepared when your resources are cut. Chief Chu was effectively begging for resources from Robertson. Mayor refused, cut the VPD budgets in each year of Vision 3 year rule and the results are felt by all of us. Police force that is at the brink of being run over by goons of all stripes - from organized to hooligan mobs.

Just search VoC website for "VANCOUVER POLICE DEPARTMENT, FINANCIAL SERVICES SECTION", reports 1068, 0972, 0859 and you will see how Robertson is undermining our safety by not funding emergency services.


Good Analysis!

Thank you Observer for providing a detailed educated analysis of the Vancouver hockey riots, 2011. While most of the news rags in this city, 24, Metro and Sun, etc., have provided an ample amount of hate fuelled rhetoric, all of which is politically charged with a right-wing agenda, it's nice to actually read something critical for a change.

I look forward to reading more of the Observer.