The local newspapers have given the troops their marching orders. Over the past few weeks, Canucks “news” has been consuming trees faster than a biblical swarm of pine beetles, with news desks putting reporters’ assignments on a loop: Give me something with a hockey tie-in, and give it to me yesterday! Recipes, fashion statements, trips down memory lane, cultural events — as long as it is tinted blue and green, then it’s a tie-in that’s a shoo-in.
But I just about did a spit-take of my official soft-drink of the Vancouver Canucks when I read the above headline in Doug Todd’s A4 column of Tuesday’s Vancouver Sun. Curious. Todd, the paper’s religion reporter, is one of the few columnists who asks hard questions, often dipping his quasi-Christian sandals into the philosophical and ethical questions that our phantasmagorical culture arouses (i.e. painted Canuck faces), and doing so with the closest thing a newspaper writer (as I once was) can come to an emotion like compassion. (That’s when you care about things, right?)
Here, however, in tackling the phenomenon of sport, Todd makes some long jumps in logic that seem bush league. His main thrust, as the headline declares with bravado, is that the Canucks have united our multi-ethnic city around the rallying and trademarked call, “We Are All Canucks.” Despite my own four-decades-long irrational following of this team, however, I can’t read or hear “We are all Canucks” as anything but an insidious (and of course corporately created) slogan with a tell-tale totalitarian ring. It’s about as heartfelt as the response to the computer-generated noise meter. And Todd himself knows the peril that surrounds sport when mass noise is channeled through the wrong regime.
“It is undeniable that sports can fuel ugly nationalism,” he writes. ” That’s what was going on when Adolf Hitler showed off Nazism’s might at the 1936 Summer Olympics…”
But I guess we’re living in a nice pink-pony regime, and so Todd writes that our sporting spectacles spawn “positive potential” and legacies like “the city’s new-found ability to hold open-air events.” The wide boulevards and public squares of a renovated Berlin, created for Hitler by architect Albert Speer, also made way for “open-air events,” many of them as enthusiastically celebrated as those by the sea of jerseys on Georgia, Robson, Granville or Scott Road. And is it “positive potential” when war apologist and Patton knock-off Don Cherry is the game’s most conspicuous spokesman? Or that national anthems are delivered like they might have been at the dawn of D-Day?
But conceding that hockey isn’t war, it also isn’t a substitute for war. If the unprecedented hysteria (and I myself was here cheering in ’82 and ’94) tells me anything, it’s that Lower Mainlanders have never felt so isolated and alienated, and as politically disenfranchised and disinterested, as they do now. Look just past the tattooed orcas on the sea of fevered foreheads and you might recognize a slightly veiled desperation. Hockey’s over-the-top fandom (and the same could be said for the Olympics) seems a frantic expression of what the post-modern metropolis and its high-rise ghettos lack and even deliberately negate — a human-scale community in which individuals feel purposeful and acknowledged.
Something got lost on the way to an authentic social democracy. In its place we are told, “We are all Canucks,” a contradictory and totalitarian lie, marketed with the same chutzpah as the Telus dictum, “The Future is Friendly.” If hockey’s mass hysteria isn’t a substitute for war, it may well be a training ground for one. That would be the war in a future that may not be so friendly.