All persons ought to endeavor to follow what is right, and not what is established. – Aristotle
A mob’s always made up of people, no matter what. Mr. Cunningham was part of a mob last night, but he was still a man.- Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Vancouver has more than earned its nickname, Hollywood North. There’s a ton of film and TV production at the 49th parallel, locations easily passing for NY or LA and a zillion other places you’d never guess. Because I traveled a lot with my father’s work growing up (and production in Canada was huge in the 90s) I got to know, and fall in love with, Hollywood North.
Last year I took the writing deadlines and book I was editing with me up north for awhile. (When opportunity knocks, I can’t say no to Vancouver.) It was a great chance to see friends and family, find inspiration, and get a breath of fresh air, both literally and figuratively.
My Canadian friends and family are a mix of locals, as well as transplants from the States and beyond. And I was checking on many of them June 15th, when downtown Van was trending on twitter as #riotcouver.
The pictures were shocking. It just didn’t make sense that a town I love for its calm, its small town pace in a cosmopolitan setting, its kindness and compassion, was looking like downtown LA after the Lakers championships. I expect that behavior in LA. But Vancouver? Really?
Never underestimate the power of a crowd.
While I watched on TV as enraged Canuck fans took to the streets, I thought about a fascinating article on herd mentality that David Rieff wrote in The New Republic last year. Whether on the playground or the streets of any city, it’s pretty terrifying to see what happens when people congregate en masse.
I also thought about something Malcolm Gladwell wrote for The New Yorker last year (which, ironically, I read while in Vancouver), about social media, political change, and a thought-provoking look at how twitter and Facebook are redefining activism (or not).
I read a lot. I talk a lot. And I love nothing more than to read something that I want to talk about. Both the Rieff and Gladwell pieces led to some good conversations. And now, months and months later, I’m thinking of them again.
What Rieff says is terrifying and true – mob mentality seems to be part of human nature. But perhaps we can learn to keep it from happening – on the playground or in political regimes – through some sort of cognitive behavioral therapy. Ignorance isn’t bliss.
Gladwell made some great points in his essay, I love MG, but I think that social media may in fact begin to bring change. In the hours following #riotcouver people were tweeting about clean-ups set for the morning, which I don’t believe would have be so swift otherwise. And I think of how Facebook and other social media will play a role in catching those who committed crimes using photo face recognition, for example. This stuff is crazy. I mean, the face recognition in iPhoto can ID me as a toddler. In iPhoto. I can only imagine what more sophisticated versions can do.