Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Only Good Thing About Hockey

Do you like hockey?

i don't. Never have.

Memories of "playing" it as a child stall at about age ten. All i have is images of rainy days when the school didn't want us kids getting too dirty we all got shoved into a gym with these ridiculous plastic hockey sticks (like they would bend, and stay bent) and "play". i feel nauseous just thinking of it today.

And as for following team sports, never happened for me. Certainly never hockey. Whole thing was alienating as hell, had nothing to do with me when i was a nerdy kid who couldn't fit in, and then when my brain slipped over that ledge and i wouldn't fit in, so far as i could see none of my friends gave a shit either. The Dead Kennedys summed it up for me:
Jock-o-rama save my soul
We`re under the thumb of the beef patrol
The future of america is in their hands
Watch it roll over niagara falls

Pep rally in the holy temple
And you`re forced to go
Masturbate en masse
With the favored religious cult

Cheerleaders yell "ra ra team"
From the locker room parades the prime beef
When archaeologists dig this up
They`ll either laugh or cry
Team sports, and the enthusiasm they engendered, always seemed to distill everything i just wasn't interested in. Reeked of the kind of guys i'd be wary of.

Looking back, much of this seems silly, mistaking (as kids do) the subjective for the objective, my own personal dislike with something deeper than just that. Obviously, there's lots of macho pricks who get excited about "their" team, but there were at least as many macho punks who would get excited about their favourite band, or who would just be pricks coz that was the punk rock thing to be.

Today i view these team sports as something like sado-masochism or scat: it's not for me, but as long as everyone's consenting and i don't have to watch it, i don't object.

So skip to the present.

A few days ago the Montreal hockey team wins some important game and afterwards the "party in the streets" escalates to broken windows, some minor looting, and attacks on cop cars. Sixteen were damaged, several torched, causing $500,000 in damages.

Good stuff i say, in the same way that seeing the trees budding after that long winter is good stuff.

The culture industry promotes these sporting events as ways to let off steam, to celebrate a weird kind of masculinity, a fierce-because-it's-shallow, add-water-and-stir collective identity... we know how these ingredients can combine, and so who should be surprised when they do?

Not us.

Indeed, not anyone. This ain't the first time this has happened. The 1986 Stanley Cup riot caused a million dollars in damages, five thousand people are reported to have taken part with only twenty six arrested. i remember friends from high school who had gone out that night just to join in the fun. Likewise, the 1993 Stanley Cup riot saw ten million dollars in damages, one hundred arrested and one hundred and sixty reported injured, including 49 cops. Bonfires were set in the streets, cars were overturned and many stores looted, amongst them Future Shop (now that's what i call free internet). In Vancouver, the 1994 hockey riot saw thousands of people smashing up the downtown area and battling cops who used tear gas and rubber bullets: one teenager, Ryan Berntt, received a rubber bullet in the head and suffered permanent brain damage as a result. There too, much was made of the rioters not being "real fans" but rather "hooligans" who had showed up after the game just to make trouble.

What to say beyond that? For rads, any smile at the burning cop cars has to be followed by disclaimers that of course we don't think this is revolutionary action. Of course this isn't a sign that the masses are on "our side" - i've chatted with a number of comrades about this, and everyone is in a rush, even anxious, to make the point. Nobody wants to be embarrassed making that claim, or even being thought to make it.

And yet this time folks torched cop cars, leaving other cars alone. The police were targeted. Everyone, including the cops, seems to agree this was the case.

Nobody should - and so far as i can tell, nobody is - claiming this as a political action. (Though the Gazette in an editorial did point a finger at "anarchists" as being possible culprits!)

But by the same token, why should we be dismissive? Given the various ways that a bunch of excited guys can act when they get rowdy, i can think of a bazillion things they can - and have - done worse than attacking the police. & from what reports there have been, they didn't do those things Monday night.

Spring being in the air, the hockey riot against the cops reminds me of a seed in the wild: as you may know, most seeds don't survive, most don't take and won't ever be a plant. Maybe one in ten, or one in a hundred, or one in a million might. i don't expect anything lasting to come out of this. But by the same token, i think i see in it an example of life trying to break through, of the consciousness some people have that the police are the ones to go after, not the ones to go with.

Which brings me to my second point.

While the hockey riot may not be a proletarian assault, perhaps not even as a "class in itself", from the other side of the of the billy club it's all grist for the mill.

Within a day of the riot, "outraged fans" were sending cellphone photos they had taken, in the hopes of helping the cops catch the "bad apples". The powers that be are gloating that they have received fifty such photos or videos, many of which were reprinted in newspapers like the Montreal Gazette, which appealed to people to inform on the guilty, and this morning the news is that seven more people have been arrested this way.

Here we see the uphill battle all "organic" and "spontaneous" outbreaks of anti-state violence face when they grow out of a society which is as corrupt and thoroughly pro-state as ours.
If the burned out cop cars are a barometer of popular consciousness, so too are the stool pigeons.

One journalist referred to it as the stage of "small brother", as opposed to "big brother": a population so wedded to the state that they will police each other. If "resistance" can be spontaneous and "democratic", so can repression: Capital's kind of self-management.

At the same time, the hockey riot provides an opportunity to beef up various mechanisms of control, mechanisms which you can bet will not be only, or even mainly, directed against "fans". In the wake of Monday's violence the recommendations of riots-gone-past are being dusted off, with talk of plainclothes cops being planted in crowds to help "disperse" gatherings at trouble spots, and more rapid intervention of the riot squad.

Mario Dumont, head of the right-wing ADQ, is using the occasion to champion greater police repression, and has called upon the political establishment to essentially write the cops a blank cheque, letting them know they will stand behind them no matter how they deal with future outbreaks. Perhaps like they did in Vancouver in 94?

In a similar vein, suggestions have been floated of sealing off St-Catherine street - the commercial strip where the rioting occurred - after future games. The police have posted photos people have sent them of the riot onto their site, asking for informants. Various hockey players have made public appeals to act nice next time.

The culture industry sends them out, the culture industry reels them in.

Hockey, as i said, is something i find uninteresting. Same with hockey games, team spirit, all that crap. i have no doubt most of the guys (and according to all evidence, they were all guys) getting wild on Monday were no different from any excitable young man. But if only because it poses the choice - to burn a cop car, or to inform on those who do - the riot is interesting.

As to the repression: though justified by hockey fans, all of these things set precedents aimed at whoever will come up against them in future. Given that that is our aim, for better or for worse, it concerns us.

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