Thirty-six hours after Vancouver’s latest hockey riot and the question on everybody’s mind is, How did this happen?
For some, it is as literal as a loss: the local team blew it, and the crowd went nuts. For others, like Mayor Gregor Robertson, it was a specific group, “a bunch of losers” who came downtown with only trouble in mind. Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason has pointed to “professional anarchists,” like those who smashed windows along Georgia Street during the Olympics, while B.C. Police Commission report co-author Bob Whitelaw blames the VPD for their “complacency, apathy and denial.”
What I find surprising in all this finger waving is the lack of consideration given to the thousands who stood around and watched, a spectatorship so awesome in its physical presence, yet so indifferent to its ability to alter the course of events as to remind me of the Eloi in H.G. Wells novel The Time Machine (1895).
For those unfamiliar with Wells’s story, a man travels to the year 802,701 A.D. where he encounters a pastoral community of childlike people who, periodically, are lured to a cave by a wailing work whistle and enslaved by the troll-like Morlocks. The first time the time-traveller hears this whistle, he is shocked by the Eloi’s somnambulism, just as he was shocked earlier that day when the Eloi stood by and watched as one their own was drowning.
Wells’s story of the Eloi is analogous to those who, at the end of the nineteenth century, did not question the conditions of the capitalist mode and, just as somnambulistically, trudged off to work in the mines. Now, I am not saying that these spectators are on par with the Eloi, but their number did have bearing on what happened, just as a reader has a hand in the production of a text. That this ostensibly benign crowd is not explored further as co-author of our latest riot shows how little those who comment on such things care about our world.
Thirty-six hours after Vancouver’s latest hockey riot and the question on my mind is, Why is the public discussion of what happened the other night so limited?