No time for a full treatment of this right now, but can I just point out something?
There wasn’t a Superbowl riot at U Mass last night.
The AP story on last night’s events on campus says there were no hospitalizations, and no property damage. A university spokesperson says there were a few fistfights, but all thirteen of the student arrests were for either disorderly conduct or failure to disperse.
Why the “failure to disperse” arrests? Because fifteen minutes after students gathered in a main residential quad on campus, police told them to go home. They used horses, dogs, and smokebombs, cops to clear the area, and busted folks who wouldn’t leave. From everything I’ve seen the big drama all came from the cops.
Which is part of why I was a bit disappointed to see supporters of the Occupy movement snarking the U Mass students. No, their Superbowl party wasn’t a political act, but since when do any of us only like political parties? Occupy is about (among many other things) reclaiming public spaces, opposing police harassment, and creating community. Isn’t a mass campus gathering like the one that took place last night presumptively a good thing? Isn’t it a good thing even if we call it a riot?
A couple of years ago, Malcolm Harris — then a campus radical at UMD-College Park, now a writer and Occupy activist in New York — was present at a similar “riot” after Maryland’s basketball team beat Duke. His take on that night is well worth remembering now:
I know as an activist I’m supposed to oppose sports riots. I’m supposed to complain that students are willing to take to the streets when the Terrapin mens’ basketball team wins but not when tuition increases or black enrollment drops. Sadly, I can’t play the alienated radical role today because I was there Wednesday night, and I saw more than drunk revelers.
When students took to Route 1 after a hard-fought victory over Duke, it was with joy and celebration. We chanted “Maaarylaaaand,” and we didn’t mean the buildings or the endowment or the logo. We meant one another.
Student activism (as I wrote then) has always straddled the line between politics and play, between organizing for social change and acting up for the hell of it. Either impulse can be creative or destructive, either can be deployed for positive or negative ends, but both impulses are inherent to student identity, and both are worth celebrating.
I believe we are witnessing a natural development in an inevitable conflict between two parties that have found themselves following two different paradigms of life: the paradigm of the depression, control, and normalization of apathy versus the paradigm of joyful liberation from the shackles of social and institutional norms to create gratifying chaos.
The latter is what I call “the politics of fun”.
The key to understanding the Ultras phenomenon is to imagine it as a way of life for these youth. For them, becoming a football fan became a symbolic action that was both joyful and a means of self-expression. But the broader social, psychological, and cultural contexts were unable to adapt to the groups’ activities, in part by virtue of their rebellious nature and their defiance of norms.