Enter the boohoo generation

LBy Nick Busse

Last weekend, as activists pouted, Iraqis celebrated their freedom by dancing in the streets, defacing statues and pillaging anything of potential value – and Gophers hockey fans did basically the same thing.

I happened to be watching TV at 3:45 a.m. Sunday when a local news team went live to the scene of the riots, and what I saw looked like the embodiment of every University administrator’s worst nightmare: drunks hurling empty 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor at advancing cops in riot gear; two Minneapolis police officers savagely beating some poor kid with their nightsticks, Rodney King-style, as he lay defenseless on the sidewalk; some freak humping a lamppost on Fourth Street Southeast; a kid I knew in high school dancing suggestively with a beer in his hand next to the KARE 11 reporter and a throng of firefighters surrounding what appeared to be a sport utility vehicle burning in the middle of a Dinkytown intersection (a sentiment I’m sure the antiwar people can appreciate).

I don’t follow sports and hence was not aware of the game that night, but if I had been I would have taken the night off work and driven over to watch the riots go down in person, because even I could have told you this was bound to happen.

Welcome to the wussy version of the 1960s, where listless protesters defend the fascists instead of denouncing them, and the angry black mobs that tore apart Washington, D.C., and the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles have been replaced by swarms of over-pampered white suburbanite frat boys hurling flaming garbage at cops every time their hockey team wins a tournament.

Next year maybe they ought to have National Guard forces waiting in riot gear outside Mariucci Arena before the game even ends and just have them start clubbing fans as they walk out the doors. Other than that, I don’t see how anyone can possibly prevent such debacles in the future, given our generation’s propensity for smashing things and generally wreaking havoc in the streets.

There is no point in denying it – Americans today crave the thrill of violent street confrontation. Ours is the generation that razed the Woodstock festival to a pile of smoldering rubble like marauding savages to the tune of Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff,” and then turned the streets of Quebec and Seattle into dystopian war zones (although it’s debatable whether the latter incidents were mostly the fault of overzealous cops).

And while we are by no means the first generation to have our share of anarchy and lawlessness, it seems to me that we are the first to do it for fun. The sight of overturned cars perishing in 10-foot-high flames, drunken college students hanging half naked from traffic light posts and lumbering cops in full body armor firing volleys of tear gas into unruly crowds has become so commonplace that in some cases you could easily bill it as an annual event and sell tickets to it.

Case in point: Saturday’s mob is alleged to have showed up ready to riot, packing a veritable arsenal of blunt objects, sharp objects, flammable objects and booze. Given that today’s rioters actually prepare for their riots beforehand, I doubt any show of force, no matter how impressive, could possibly deter the kind of psychotic apes that overturned cars in Dinkytown last weekend. In fact, I doubt it’s logistically possible for people my age to congregate in any kind of large group at all without setting fire to at least a Volkswagen.

Destroying things on an epic scale is fast becoming our national pastime (in more ways than one). I myself have experienced the temptations of anarchy. I’m a veteran of many bizarre and disorderly protests, and I have very fond memories of an X Fest not long ago in which a good buddy of mine and I, both of us intoxicated beyond all rational thought, spent a whole evening giggling maniacally as a sofa was stood up on its side and burned in the middle of a field, for no reason whatsoever.

But the animus of disorder is not confined to burly, beer-swilling college sports fans and casual misanthropes like myself. It is a characteristic that marks the activities of even the most intelligent, best-intentioned members of our generation.

Observe the antiwar/anti-globalization protests, which invariably assume an air of postmodern weirdness, with marchers banging on plastic pales to keep the beat, lunatics in wild costumes enacting bizarre street theater and green-haired punks who have never held a job marching next to flummoxed teamsters in softball jackets.

Although I give the movement credit for shedding some of its goofiness in the weeks leading up to the war in Iraq (I have yet to see the Anarchist Cheerleading Squad make an appearance this year, for example), today’s political activism has an undeniable party vibe to it. And this vibe can turn ugly.

I recall a protest years ago in St. Paul where a group of environmentalists from the Sierra Club got into a fight with some Republicans outside a fund-raiser where President George W. Bush was speaking. Each side had its own bullhorns and they were blaring insults at each other. Everybody was arguing. Some Republican mom had loosed her little kids on one of the Sierra Club guys and they were jumping up and down in front of him shouting, “You’re a bad man! You’re a bad man!”

I’ll never forget the sight of some poor schmuck, who had shown up that day with his family, sitting forlornly on the steps outside the convention center and getting ready to punch some freak in an Alfred E. Newman costume prancing around on the sidewalk in front of him mocking Bush. The man had obviously brought his family downtown expecting a light-hearted afternoon and maybe a once-in-a-lifetime chance to catch a glimpse of the president and hadn’t counted on finding this kind of dismal freak show outside.

I realized that day that whatever else this generation is, it is addicted to spoiling everyone else’s fun. We are, to use a phrase coined by Hunter S. Thompson, a bunch of savage boohoos – bastards running amuck in the streets, turning the protests into parties and the parties into violent catastrophes.

Nick Busse is a junior majoring in history and English. He welcomes comments at [email protected]

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