The world has taken to rioting but one must be careful not to assume that because they are happening at the same time it’s for the same reason or reasons. However, to look at the UK riots and the one in Vancouver, after a hockey loss by the home team, is to see, I think, some remarkable similarities.
I must say this at the outset – nothing I say here should be taken in the slightest way as justifying the hooliganism which underscored the riots in both places.
The Vancouver riot occurred after the Vancouver Canucks ice hockey team lost the 7th and final game for the Stanley Cup to the Boston Bruins. Vancouver is a rabid hockey and noteworthy was the unrestrained media hype for this final game. We were told – and in fairness we readily believed that this series was of almost fatal proportions. It seemed that every other car was flying a Vancouver Canucks flag – I rudely asked if these flags could be flown at half mast – and if you judged world happenings as important as the Big Game.
It rather reminds me of the aphorism of Senator Eugene McCarthy who once said “politics is like football, you have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it’s important.” Another anonymous wag said of football, “it’s not a matter of life and death, it’s more serious than that.” So be it with the Vancouver Canucks.
The principal difference between the UK and Vancouver riots is that the UK has arrested more than 1000 and the Vancouver police have yet to lay a single charge, in a massive outrage that took place two months ago, in spite of all the TV footage available plus several public confessions. This is especially puzzling since the same thing happened in 1994 when, again, the Vancouver lost the 7th and final game, that time to the New York Rangers.
But media hype was also a catalyst not a cause.
Another catalyst was the ability of people to instantly contact one another by Blackberry or a similar device.
I believe that the root causes of these riots in Vancouver were twofold: lack of any history of discipline in the upbringing of young people and their feeling of helplessness.
Before we continue, we must be careful to “remember” what perfect kids we were. The main song from “Bye, Bye Birdie” (1960) seems appropriate:
Why can't they be like we were,
Perfect in every way?
What's the matter with kids?
What's the matter with kids today?
In my youth Hallowe’en meant overturning cars and starting fires every October 31. It was so bad that a curfew was imposed. It applied to minors and with the voting age now 18 a curfew would be useless.
In my youth there was discipline, especially in the family which, by and large, had two parents in it. That disintegrated when in order to keep up with the rest, Mom went to work and “latch key” kids become common. If kids came home after school, they found an empty house. Soon they didn’t bother going home but joined other “latch key” kids at the Mall.
For many reasons, marriages began to fail in record numbers. Some of that was because now the wife could get work thus could leave a bad marriage. The “women’s movement” combined with “the pill” changed society radically and quickly. The docile “little woman” gave way to sexual and monetary freedom and it seemed to happen overnight though, of course, it had a long history of unsteady but incremental change.
Then, as if in counter revolution, appeared Hugh Hefner’s Playboy, where the message was that if you didn’t have sex in a multitude of body positions with a beautiful and chesty female as often as you pleased, there was something wrong with you. To women it said, if you aren’t good looking and chesty, too bad, it’s the Old Maid’s Home for you. The Battle of the Sexes continued – only the battlefield and the weapons changed. Kids, for whom chastity was much enhanced by fear of pregnancy, now found the barriers down such that it was the incautious mother that didn’t arrange for her adolescent daughter to see the doctor and get on contraceptive pills at the first sign of puberty.
The media and the movies made cataclysmic changes to their approach to sex. Where the movie once showed a honeymooning couple, the morning after, in twin beds and both in pyjamas, now showed everything but the nuptial nuances while these and more were readily available on DVDs or one of a gillion porno sites on the TV. President Bill Clinton did young men a huge service, as never again will they have to explain what a “blow job is”. The theatre of the mind, radio and suggestive books, gave way to a totally demystified picture of what is now accepted as “normal” sexuality.
There was worse to come, I’m afraid, because into this glitzy but tiresome picture, we must inject the question of careers and indeed just a plain job.
When I graduated in Law what seems like 100 years ago, I knew, that if I didn’t steal, or get caught stealing, I was guaranteed employment for life. At that time, even the inadequately trained found work and took up a trade and there were plenty of common labour jobs around.
Now those jobs are gone as are the white collar jobs. In North America it’s common to blame the North American Free Trade (NAFTA) for this but the main cause has been the computer which begat the outsourcing of virtually every white collar task. In arranging a car at Gatwick Airport in London, recently, I was surprised to be dealing with India. I shouldn’t have, been since the Far East has all those jobs now.
We have then a huge young population of undisciplined, horny, sexually liberated, insufficiently educated, out of work if they ever had it, restless young people who maintain instant contact by phone. Lose a hockey game, have a government benefit withdrawn, see visual minorities seeking the same work you are, and you have a prescription for trouble.
Let me return to the beginning. The sort of behaviour that begat riots in the UK and Vancouver this year and does so almost annually in France, must be severely dealt with.
Having said that, might it not be useful to work on alleviating the conditions in which hooliganism thrives so well?
Society has the right and indeed the obligation to punish these vandals but it has no right to pretend it doesn’t know why and whence comes the inspiration for these tragedies.