Vancouver is a romantic city and I try to spend as much time there as I can afford. I was recently a visiting faculty member at Regent College and became an adopted Canucks fan for the Stanley Cup. The world’s attention has settled on this magnificent city with its rolling mountains, lush forests, imposing sky scrapers and sandy beaches. The reaction to the final game of the NHL hockey tournament; the much coveted Stanley Cup, which has never been won by the Canucks was unprecedented. With a full scale riot involving cars being burnt, people being stabbed and charging riot police is not something the world associates with Canada let alone with the sophisticated multicultural city of Vancouver.
In the middle of the violence two anomalies stood out. The first was a perfect kiss. An almost too good to be true passionate embrace literally in the middle of a police charge, beautifully lit by burning automobiles.
It is an amazing shot. This image reached global iconic status in just a few hours. It offered hope in the middle of tragedy. A moment of tenderness in the most unlikely circumstances. Perhaps some would see the popularity of this image as a summary of the privatization of life, a visual commentary on REM’s classic song “its the end of the world as we know it… and i feel fine.” It doesn’t matter what is going on around me, as long as my life is ok.
But it turns out the image is a comment more on perspectivalism – that we can understand nothing without context. I might impute a meaning of romance or even eroticism into this picture when actually it is an act of consolation and compassion. We need to know the bigger story to adequately interpret any event – whether that is a passionate embrace or the realities of our lives. (I wrote a book that explained this from a Christian perspective: Destiny: what’s life all about?). A new video from another perspective helps us understand what was really going on.
But there was a second anomaly that took place during the riots. While a few people were making a big mess in downtown Vancouver a lot of people were making a promise to clear it up. A friend of mine wrote to me to tell me that,
Late Wednesday evening, as the riot was being brought under control, a new twitter user called @VancouverClean was created, along with a facebook event of the same name. By early morning Thursday over 2500 people were folllowing the twitter account, and through it hundreds of ordinary Vancouverites descended upon the city in the early hours to help clean up. It was all done before noon. Here are some photos and a video:
Around the same time the @VancouverClean account was created, a friend of my brother began a hashtag called #Thisismyvancouver, and it’s been going gangbusters ever since, one of the top trending topics on twitter. For me it’s been somewhat of a community building exercise.
In both of these Vancouver stories, social media played a role. First social media spread a picture that spoke a thousand words, albeit not quite the thousand words that it should have done. Secondly social media provided a means of collaboration for an immediate response to a immediate problem. I would argue it was the second use of social media that really kissed Vancouver – with a compassionate response in a time of crisis.