I remember the sinking feeling I had walking out of the "Bertuzzi-punch" game when I was in high-school. I turned to my friend and said the words: "I’m embarrassed to be a Canucks fan." I was seventeen at the time, and it wasn’t an experience I’d ever had before. I remember it vividly – it was a tough moment, and a dark one.
I’m getting used to that embarrassment though, sad as it is to say. Yesterday evening – news surfaced about some harassment Milan Lucic has been enduring this summer from a handful of probably young, probably drunk young men. The Courier reports that the frosty reception from some lowest-common denominator Canucks fans has caused Lucic and his family to recalibrate their Cup celebration plans this weekend. The piece, it should be pointed out, doesn’t cite a single official complaint or police report – but I don’t think it requires a huge leap of faith to accept that most of what the Courier piece claims, sounds pretty likely to have occurred.
It’s not like being a Canucks fan has ever been particularly easy – but it’s been an awful lot harder over the past couple of months. I’m still a dye-in-the-whool homer, I’ll live and breathe Canucks hockey until the day I grow up and get a real life. In the postseason, I was prepared to defend the team over just about anything – biting, diving, the Aaron Rome hit, Raffi Torres – no big deal, the mainstream media was blowing it up. I still think the team takes too much flak, but the fan-culture surrounding the team is another matter.
It’s a problem at this point. Don’t tell me the rioters weren’t Canucks fans, or that the Courier report about people harassing Lucic is specious (it is) and limited to a few drunk ass-hats. Even if you’re right, and you are partly, there’s a pattern emerging that’s hard to ignore.
Lets make the requisite qualifiers before we go any further – I don’t know a single person who personally participated in the riot. I’m not friends with anyone who would do anything but congratulate Milan Lucic on his cup win if they saw him at a festival ("Loved you on the Giants, man"). The Canucks fans I regularly talk to on twitter are class. When one of our regulars came out over the weekend – he recieved nothing but support from everyone in my timeline. I’m also not convinced that sore-loserdom is a unique attribute of Canucks fans – any more than I’m convinced that rioting over hockey games is something unique to Vancouver. I swear to god, I considered live-tweeting Freud’s Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego after reading a handful of particularly tone-deaf and judgemental riot takes.
With those qualifiers made – the first step towards fixing a cultural problem, is to admit you’ve got a problem – and like it or not Canucks fans, we’ve got one. It manifests itself in malignant ways that embarrass the entire city (the Lucic harrassment, the riot) but also in more subtle, benign ways. Think about the "REF YOU SUCK" chant that the regulars at Rogers Arena are so attached to – is there another fan-base that has a chant like that which they go to habitually? Because for Canucks fans – it doesn’t even matter whether or not the ref makes a terrible call or not, "REF YOU SUCK" is just a Rogers Arena standard.
Now that chant is pretty harmless, how does that link directly into looting behavior? It doesn’t. But the chant is based on a paranoid worldview (they’re out to get us!) that the group (Canucks fans) have internalized and identified with. As with any other fan-base we’re permissive of a certain type of delusion the reenforces our group identity (Oilers fans – it’s still the eighties!) but our particular mixture is paranoid, overly-sensitive and aggressive.
When I went to game 5 in Vancouver – I was sitting with my dad in front of 4 young men. Three of them were nice guys, but one was drunk off his face, and I suspect he was the type who is probably just a jerk either way. When he started booing the American anthem, I told him to shut-up. When he "accidentally" spilled beer on me late in the second period, I was pretty pissed. I told his buddies to get him away from me or I’d get them kicked out – which, of course, led to this particular young man slurring me with homophobic crap while mocking me as a tattle-tale. Sorry dude, I flew across the continent and spent an entire paycheque on tickets – I want to enjoy the game dry. Now I was bigger than him, and the fans in our section were agreeable and supportive of me (as were his friends) – but it was still tense, and totally unnecessary. When the Canucks won, I offered the guy my hand and told him I had no ill-will for him, he gave me an enthusiastic high-five and hollered "ONE MORE GAME" or something like that. But imagine if the Canucks had lost – our tension would’ve amounted to a tinder box.
Again – stuff like this happens at any well attended event. You’ve had a tense interaction with a jerk at some point at a bar, hockey game or a live-show – it’s part of the dynamics of a crowd. Also sociopaths, scumbuckets and productive members of society are all equally entitled to their fandom…
Let me share a Bruce Arthur quote with you from right before the Olympics:
When I was growing up in Vancouver my mother used to say that there was something about the unearthly, dreamscape beauty of this edge of the world that — well, it wasn’t so much that it drove people to madness so much as it unmoored certain minds from reality, a little or a lot.”
This line has stuck with me because I’ve always had a sort of naive, unscientific belief that the wildness of Vancouver’s geography – rugged young mountain peaks, whitecap speckled straights – plays an intangible role in the behavior and habits of the populace. Perhaps the minority of Canucks fans – the ones who riot, who harass (on twitter or at Greek festivals) and who are such sore losers that they can’t let a native son like Lucic enjoy his moment of glory – are just more "unmoored" than the run of the mill jackasses in other fanbases. Who knows.
It’s not a question, or an issue we can solve in this space. What we can do, is be aware of our particular perception problem and instead of getting offended or sensitive when Greg Wyshynski recaps a Courier piece that predominantly features the worst behaviors of the Canucks fanbase – is share his disgust. There are always going to be jerk Canucks fans, that isn’t going to go away, what I’d like to see is for the rational, silent majority to start differentiating themselves more starkly from their mouth-breathing cousins. When you look at how responsive the fan-base is to, say, spontaneous charitable events or how many fine people occupy the Canucks blogosphere – there’s really no reason for "Canucks fans" to be regarded so poorly by the majority of other fan-bases.
Changing perception isn’t easy, or even possible. I’m down with the #embracethehate campaign for this upcoming season – but to go with it, I’d like to see us grow thicker skins and be less defensive when a news item like today’s Lucic controversy surfaces. Whoever harassed Lucic at the Greek Festival is a stupid jack-ass, the people pointing that out aren’t necessarily generalizing, or painting us all with the same brush…