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Win Big or Die

The Stanley Cup riot in local and global context

After months of hard work, a lot of excellent hockey, close games with plenty of wins, the Canucks lose the last one and they’re gone.  The CBC coverage showed a quick shot of some dejected Canucks, and we never see them again.  It’s all about the winners, each one celebrated, endless talk and victory replays. 

Seems to me that the teams used to skate past each other and shake hands at the end of the game, acknowledging worthy opponents.  If it happened, the coverage I saw didn’t show it.  This time it was win big or die.

Ours is a winner-take-all culture, especially these days.  From a first-past-the-post electoral system to multi-million dollar executive compensation to Lotto Max, the consumer culture has been telling our kids that only a very few can make it big, and you have to fight, cheat, or get really lucky.  The rest of us pay the freight, struggle to survive, and deal with the constant pressure for high-end consumption. 

So here are the fans, identifying with the players to the point of wearing the favourite’s jersey, flying flags, and committing other creative acts celebrating shared public emotion.   Eight months of gradual build-up, eight weeks to fever pitch, maintained night and day, the talk of the town.  Every newspaper headline pushing the hype, endless TV sports talk, political gamesmanship, even non-sports types get sucked in.  Expecting victory.

The clock runs out; in a second it’s over, and they’re instant losers.  They’re invisible, uncelebrated.  Where can that energy—sudden reversal of high expectation—where can that shock, go?  Those young people refuse to die and disappear.

Personal is political

This situation resonates with their lives.  These are students, workers, young parents, unemployed, on assistance, homeless, stressed by the rising cost of living, lower wages, fewer jobs.  Exploited by a tax system enriching the wealthy; by public debt and tax creep. 

Which emotions rise from the depths to which daily necessity suppresses them, to stimulate the limbic system, fry the frontal lobes?  Powerlessness in the face of circumstance.  Rage and fear of losing the competition of life, its Extremes today.  The closing down of options.

The power rush of young hormones colliding with powerlessness.  What trips the primal switch to mob?  The sudden awareness, among a hundred thousand people, of the power in these vast numbers.  Of the chance to strike back.

And the appearance of the appropriate target: the protectors of the System, the Borg. CBC coverage showed the crowd flowing toward the police when they appear like iron filings to a magnet.   Inevitably, riot gear, tear gas, escalation.

They say it’s the most violent sports riot we’ve had.  Also the most violent hockey playoffs yet, many players injured.  “You see three bodies carried out, you want more”, says one normally non-violent fan.  Yet the Canucks have been accused of lacking the killer instinct.

Cui bono?

Who benefits from hyping public emotion to the limit?  The money men for sure, owners and investors, media, advertisers—global corporations.  Trickle-down spin-offs include the BC Liquor Control Board’s extra half million dollars in profit compared to last year at this time. 

The gladiators make money, but they’re exploited for it, driven to their physical, mental and emotional limits.  The punishing game schedule, the cross-country travel, the pressure to win, the burden of fan emulation and public hype, tend to foment heavy competition, violent hockey.  Then sudden death—a procedural abuse that heightens the emotional contrast between win and lose, adds to the stress of loss. 

The people who make these manipulative decisions have a lot to answer for.  It may be that this is just the evolution of cut-throat business-as-usual, of a kind with recent TV programs that hype and exploit emotions with win-big or lose-all games, or trade in human troubles.  It may be only that the managers failed to foresee the consequences of these profit-oriented decisions.  Vancouver City Council didn’t foresee the crash and burn of their Fun City program either.

Global shock waves

But questions arise.  Have global munitions corps done studies on how to foment warrior emotions among citizens?  Seems likely.  Violent video games and movies have prepared the ground.  Sports are steadily getting more violent, more ubiquitous, taking up more of the public consciousness, distracting us, like war and foreign enemies, from the domestic issues.  Is “The Harper Government” working covertly with his warmonger friends to hone our “killer instincts” in order to advance his military build-up and combat agenda?  Seems not unlikely. 

Add the global context to the local and the extremes of emotion make sense.  Like all residents of the global village, these young people are living with world-wide recession, unprecedented economic meltdown; with the energy of war going viral world-wide—fomented by our own government.  One hundred and fifty-seven young Canadians just like these fans have died for America’s final attempt at maintaining dominance.  Harper is sending trusting kids to war for an obsolete and dying empire, and his own violence.

Revolutions rage across the globe against the plundering of public resources by the IMF, the bailouts of Wall Street, and the rising price of food.  Climate anomalies, eco-phobia, a devastated planet, give little hope of a livable future for themselves or their children.  And now Fukushima.


“They can’t get a democratic outcome from a supposedly democratic government”, Dr. Paul Craig Roberts points out, talking about the riots in Greece, the bankruptcies in Europe, and predicting the same “financial terrorism” here. 

Dr. Roberts is a former US treasury official and former editor of the Financial Post, now author of Supply-Side Revolution: How the Economy Was Lost. 

“We know that all the countries in Europe that got in trouble as a result of Wall Street and the fraudulent instruments are imposing the cost of adjustment on ordinary people, on poor people, on what remains of the middle class, on students.  In England they raised tuition to bail out the bankers.  In Greece they threw everybody out of work and cut their social benefits to rescue the bankers.  The Irish government, busted by bailouts, confiscated and taxed part of the accumulated pensions of the Irish people….

These are not democratic outcomes….  People wouldn’t have voted for this….  The outcomes are always to punish the innocent and reward the guilty.”

Young people have seen the media coverage; can dis-cover on the net the facts behind the propaganda.  People are becoming aware, if only subliminally, that we’re paying for the extravagances of the rich.

Our latest Stanley Cup riot, the public contrition and flagellation, the orgy of blame and political maneuvering—were it not for this pressure relief valve, all this energy might go into some form of real revolution. Voting would be a good start.

Not a chance that this could happen, but what if the closing ceremony had celebrated both teams, the great hockey they gave us; the fun we had sharing and gambling our emotions on the outcome of a game?  A ceremony recognizing that the winners couldn’t have done it without the losers.  After all, what separates the two “classes”?  A split second—of chance.

- H. (Hildegard) Bechler                   
New Westminster, BC

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