Michael Turner

On Remaining Open To Suggestions

CTV, “Vancouver Riot 2011” (15 June, 2011)

Every time we feed something into a search engine a robot goes to work. This work usually takes less than a second and produces a list of annotated URLs based on a use-pattern established by humans. From this use-pattern comes a default form of populist curation, with the robot/curator an electronic “Virgil” to the Web’s “Divine Comedy” museum.

With the 2011-2012 NHL hockey season over, I thought I would look back at last year’s loser city to see how, if at all, losing has changed. After feeding “Vancouver hockey riot” into Google, “Virgil” provided me with a short list of YouTube videos topped by this “live” CTV helicopter shot where ant-sized humans circle a fire, while others attack parked cars.

As is often the case while watching YouTube, my attention wanders to the right side of the screen, to the “suggestions” column. “True Fans Defend Our City” caught my eye so I ditched the ants for an on-the-ground telephone-eye view of three young Quixotes who, instead of attacking windmills, risk their lives to protect a pane of glass, fending off those who, we are told, assume the right to break that glass because their team lost the final game of the season.

VoiceOfVancouver, “True Fans Defend Our City — Vancouver Riot 2011” (June, 2011)

While I find it hard to defend transnational companies like Budget Rent-a-Car, I am sympathetic to those who tried to protect their pane. Indeed, I would say the same of the mob of mostly suburban attackers who, through various injuries, have come to see Vancouver less as a city that cares about who they are than how much they have in their pockets, and as such have come to characterize the cosmopolitan city as a jerk in need of a lesson.

At the end of “True Fans” I glanced at the “suggestions” list and saw a Vancouver Police Department “wanted video” entitled “Name That Moron.” But after the third freeze-frame portrait my eye once again returned to the “suggestions” column, where I clicked on a video that had nothing to do with hockey and everything to do with attackers and defenders.

SoNess9, “Drunk Kid Tests Bouncer — Midtown East, NYC” (2010)

Watching this tale brought to mind another work of literature, this one set in Manhattan: Jay McInerney’s second-person novel “Bright Lights, Big City” (1984), the story of a hard-partying (pre-internet) magazine fact-checker who lost his model wife to that which he himself could not attain. For a time, “Bright Lights” stood as the ultimate 1980s Manhattan novel, one that spoke to the ambitions of youth, but also its failures. Not until Bret Easton Ellis’s first-person “American Psycho” (1991) did the consequences of the “greed-is-good,” 1980s market state come into focus, this time through a man so devoid of empathy you might think he was not merely an investment banker working for a financial institution but an algorithm plugged into a web crawler. In short, a robot.

Mattel, “Rock Em Sock Em Robots” (1964)

– Michael Turner

Ryeberg Curator Bio

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Michael Turner is a Vancouver-based writer of fiction, criticism and song. His books include "Hard Core Logo," "The Pornographer’s Poem," "Fred Herzog: Vancouver Photographs," "8x10," and "9 X 11: And Other Poems Like Bird, Nine, X, and Eleven." A frequent collaborator, Turner has written scripts with Stan Douglas, poems with Geoffrey Farmer and a libretto with Andrea Young. Curatorial projects include “To show, to give, to make it be there: Expanded Literary Practices in Vancouver, 1954-1969" (SFU Gallery) and "Letters: Michael Morris and Concrete Poetry" (Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, UBC). For more Michael Turner, go here.