Zones of Rage & The Vancouver Riots

The Vancouver riots were a mo­ment of rup­ture of the san­it­ized image that our local elites cul­tivate about Vancouver The Beautiful as a global brand. The cor­porate media lost con­trol of the huge col­lective en­er­gies it con­trib­uted to re­leasing on the streets by glor­i­fying sports as the main source of col­lective ful­fill­ment. The media and all the de­cent cit­izens now blame the riots on “crim­inals” and “an­arch­ists” and feel good about the “real Vancouver” that al­legedly had nothing to do with them. And the usual sus­pects are now calling for a bigger and more re­pressive po­lice state, with more cops and more re­stric­tions on the use of public space. The man­date is clear: Vancouver The Beautiful, global jewel of the Pacific Rim, had nothing to do with the riots that vi­ol­ently emerged from within its urban core.

The riots were in­deed a so­cial phe­nomenon of point­less de­struc­tion and neg­at­ivity, with nothing pos­itive to offer. But those who blame the vi­ol­ence on “crim­inals” who are not part of “real” Vancouver are fooling them­selves and do not know the nature of the city they live in, trans­formed by pro­found neo­lib­eral re­forms. As Jon Beasley-​Murray pointed out on his blog, the crowds Wednesday night rep­res­ented Vancouver’s so­cial, gender, and ra­cial di­versity very well (I left down­town right be­fore the riots started and got the exact same im­pres­sion). And the ni­hilism that fueled the riots is that of a pop­ular cul­ture that places vic­tory in sports above any­thing else, in an ex­pensive and cor­por­at­ized city that does not offer its youth other sources of col­lective pas­sions and identifications.

The riots in Vancouver took place al­most sim­ul­tan­eously to huge ral­lies in Athens that led to clashes with the po­lice over the EU-​imposed neo­lib­eral sacking of Greek public as­sets. The im­ages of people con­fronting riot po­lice, of clouds of tear gas, and of urban debris in Vancouver and Athens were pro­duced by rad­ic­ally dif­ferent local con­di­tions: de­feat in sports and op­pos­i­tion to aus­terity meas­ures. And the mul­ti­tudes in Athens were guided by a pos­itive de­fense of public in­terests against cor­porate en­croach­ment that was in­deed missing in the streets of Vancouver.

Yet riots are al­ways so­cial events that ex­press wider af­fective and polit­ical con­di­tions. And the Vancouver riots rep­resent the ali­en­a­tion of large sec­tions of a youth that faces a cor­por­at­ized, privat­ized life and be­lieved (and had been led to be­lieve by the media that now de­mon­izes them) that their cher­ished col­lective heaven (the Stanley Cup) was, at last, around the corner. The riots were partly pro­duced be­cause the huge, res­onant mul­ti­tude that had taken over down­town Vancouver (and of which I was part during most of the game) was not af­fect­ively pre­pared to face de­feat. And many re­acted to the ab­rupt end of their col­lective dream like a wounded, con­fused, be­trayed creature, which could only vent its frus­tra­tion through the random de­struc­tion of prop­erty. And this de­struc­tion tar­geted the ma­terial phant­asmagoria that Walter Benjamin iden­ti­fied as the pet­ri­fied life of the bour­geois dream world, so­lid­i­fied in the form of the cor­porate city. This is why the media now de­mon­izes the same pas­sionate, striving, but polit­ic­ally hollow creature it con­trib­uted to cre­ating. Because it points that un­der­neath Vancouver The Beautiful there is an af­fective cur­rent of des­pair, which the Canucks de­feat trans­formed into col­lective rage.

While totally dif­ferent and un­re­lated to each other, Vancouver and Athens are two sides of the same coin: the un­coded flows of col­lective af­fects that make up the neo­lib­eral world in which we live, and the loc­al­ized rup­tures they create. These riots are events that bring to light our col­lective zones of rage, des­pair, pain, ali­en­a­tion, and, in Athens, hope.

Gaston Gordillo

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