After the Vancouver Canucks were defeated by the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals last week, the city of Vancouver turned into a full-fledged riot zone. Cars were flipped over and set on fire, windows were broken, and police with shields and batons descended into the crowd to restore order. The pictures and videos from Vancouver are eerily reminiscent of scenes from the G20 summit in Toronto last year, where non-violent protests turned into a terrifying spectacle of police-cruiser burnings, indiscriminate vandalism and bloody confrontations between civilians and riot police. However, in the case of the so-called “Black Bloc” at the G20, at least there was some kind of political agenda (although perhaps a muddled one – it is hard to see how vandalizing hospitals, parked cars and small local businesses helps resist corporate hegemony). The Vancouver rioters, on the other hand, were stirred to destruction by losing a hockey game. It seems trivial in comparison, and indeed raises the question of whether even ‘purposeful’ mob violence is less about an ideological agenda than the confluence of alcohol, mass hysteria and testosterone.
However, maybe there is more to these seemingly spontaneous instances of violence. Watching a hockey game on TV can become an emotional investment, a cathartic identification that somehow deeply involves the spectator in an event happening thousands of miles away. Hockey itself is a violent game, an intensely charged drama that threatens to explode into barefisted chaos at any moment. When it ends, for worse or better, all the creative, participatory energy of those watching has nowhere to go – the outcome of the game cannot be changed, and so there are no available outlets for self-expression. There is a sense that something needs to change, that the status quo is no longer acceptable… the game, like a work of art, has upset the balance of the world and so the world itself must be re-fashioned. Of course, the healthy way to do this would be as a creative project, a re-engagement with the cultural environment aimed at cultivating and improving the urban landscape. But long-term, productive tools are not available to the angry, frustrated mob. So the re-fashioning of the city must take on the form of violence – the world needs to look differently, to be made to be different, and if utopia is out of reach then a dystopic vista of burning automobiles and shattered glass will do just fine. This same urge to ‘creatively’ change the way the city looked and felt, even if that meant wanton destruction and anarchy, emerged in the G20 mob’s collision with the authoritarian police structure. The heightening violence on both sides reinforced for protesters the need for immediate change, and so the streets of Toronto were plunged into mayhem. Destruction may be the shadow-side of creativity.
This unsettling connection between violence and creation is reminiscent of Marinetti’s words in The Futurist Manifesto (1909); here the creative impulse is precisely immersion into the “love of danger,” the vital immediacy of “energy and rashness”; art is war, destruction, speed, struggle, violence. For the radical Futurists,
Beauty exists only in struggle. There is no masterpiece that has not an aggressive character. Poetry must be a violent assault on the forces of the unknown, to force them to bow before man.
The twisted, burning metal of a burning cop car – here is yet another “work of art” that, as in Marinetti’s famous phrase, rivals the winged victory of Samothrace. Destruction is a means of self-expression, particularly when no other conduits are available. Is it a painfully immature, self-indulgent means of expression? Quite possibly. But the impulse behind it is the same as the irrepressible drive which motivates us to look for a better world.
“Let us leave good sense behind like a hideous husk and let us hurl ourselves, like fruit spiced with pride, into the immense mouth and breast of the world! Let us feed the unknown, not from despair, but simply to enrich the unfathomable reservoirs of the Absurd!”
Recent coverage of the Vancouver riots in the Canadian media has concentrated on cleanup efforts by local residents, as well as a mysterious picture of two lovers embracing in the midst of the chaos. In other words, in the middle of the destruction, there is creativity, life, the flip-side of the divinely-given human desire to make and re-make. It is a pity that that sort of creative, communal energy wasn’t on display last week; wouldn’t it be nice if losing a hockey game helped us build a better society, rather than burn all those (in a phrase from a David Bazan song) “innocent automobiles”?