Why Cracking Jokes About Rob Ford Won't Solve Anything
Look up pro-Ford videos on YouTube and they'll be flanked by a Hard Rock Cafe lunch coupon and a suggested video that is just a Panzerotto Pizza commercial.
If you live in the 416 (or 647) and have an internet connection, odds are your world ended late at night on Monday, October 25. The clouds gathered ominously and thunder cracked and veins of lightning split the sky and a guy who looks like the cousin of Chris Farley, Rodney Dangerfield and handyman Mike Holmes became mayor-elect of Toronto. He reportedly entered the Toronto Convention Center to the tune of Rod Stewart's "Do You Think I'm Sexy?" (for the record: no, we don't). As #VoteTO hash tags flooded Twitter and Facebook statuses lit up with callow indignation ("Shame on you, Toronto!") and resigned disbelief ("Well, fuck"), two things became apparent:
- Rob Ford is the new major of Toronto, like it or lump it.
- People (or at least people who use the internet) seem none too happy about it.
Monday night's diarrheic flow of anti-Ford tweets, anti-Ford puns and anti-Ford everything was instantly compelling. For those of us who didn't vote for him, and who network with each other incessantly like precisely the kind of future-savvy centre-left elites the Fordists take us for, all the Ford-bashing proved pleasingly cathartic. Even before enough polls had come in to clinch Ford's victory over challenger George Smitherman and third-wheel Joe Pantalone, people were already comparing Ford to the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters, or Biff from Back to the Future, or Dynamo from The Running Man (my favourite), or the Penguin from Batman comics, or any number of other grumpy, blubbery pop culture icons.
For about an hour, my roommate and I sat three feet away from each other on our sofa, repurposing quotes from Caddyshack, Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, Dirty Work and The Big Lebowski and volleying them across Facebook walls in order to feebly (though hilariously) apprehend Ford's victory via the parameters of all the slobs-versus-snobs comedies we were weaned on as adolescents. It was fun. Because when something bad happens, it's fun to commiserate with like-minded people.
But let's get over it, yeah? Because it's slippery slope.
I'm not one of those self-hating political masochists looking to create some lame sense of solidarity with the sufferers of America-under-Bush by drawing lazy comparisons between some guy who is mayor of Canada's largest city and the boy prince who ascended to the highest political office on the planet. (Though there are loads of them on Facebook and Twitter, should you need to find one.) But I'll invoke the Bush II administration to illustrate a point.
As Bush's reign dragged on, the response to his dopey tyranny became sluggish and commoditized, with the same kids who wore It Store-issue "Poke Me and Die!" t-shirts in grade seven growing into "American Idiot" tees with Bush's dim-witted face on them. To his most vehement detractors, Bush became a bumper sticker, a straw-man for bad pop-punk bands looking to capitalize on the sense of righteous rage Thatcherism and Reaganomics imbued music with in the eighties. As Bush-bashing becoming increasingly exhausting and pointless—as if anyone, let alone the President of the United States of America, cares what Green Day has to say about them—it bred a kind of counter-apathy. People were so fed up with hearing snarling idiots mock W. that they couldn't be bothered to be angry themselves, lest they risk joining the ranks the novelty-tee-clad-anti-whatevers.
Let's not let that happen here. Let's check our Ford-filleting and name-calling and (often very funny) pop culture references. Let's take the high road.
As my roommate noted, one of the most obnoxious outcomes of four years of Ford will be four years of crappy, impulsive alt-weekly and blogosphere editorials winging about how Toronto has gone to hell, calling Ford every halfway-libellous name in the book in the process. And Toronto may very well go to hell. But if it does, it's the kind of thing that mean-spirited punning and political cartooning can't properly rebuke, no matter how easily Rob Ford's sweaty pink-face and, er, generous proportions may lend themselves to caricature.
If the right wing has one thing going for it, it's a custom of being more-or-less entirely solemn and not really trying to be funny. Just think of Ford handing out train whistles at campaign HQ on Monday, in keeping with his populist crusade's leitmotif of gravy trains running off the rails all across Toronto. Is Ford the new conductor of the gravy train? His supporters? Do the whistles stop the gravy train? Or is there some whole other kind of non-gravy-based train that Ford will be engineering? As a joke it doesn't make a lot of sense, and it's nowhere near as precious and clever as Pantalone's "Good Things Come In Small Packages" slogan.
But a lot of good being precious and cute did Joe Pantalone.
So if anything, let's take a page from Ford's playbook. And not the page about how to backpedal on ethnic slurs. Or the one about how to drive under the influence. Or the instructional guide to getting bounced out of a Leafs game. Let's be serious in our unity against Ford. Maybe even to a fault. Because if Ford's runaway victory proved one thing, it's that no amount of centre-left media bashing, however crafty, can sway voters.
Nobody who votes for a blustery, populist, gaffe-prone, good ole boy is going to bat an eye when they see an unflattering picture of him on the cover on a weekly paper (every week for nine months). They're just going to regard it as a cheap shot by the snooty liberal downtown elites, with their condos, and their road bikes, and their mocha-chai-what-have-yous. They don't care. Just like they don't care when Ford uses un-preferred nomenclature like "Oriental" or "lifestyle choices." So with so much of the election spent on snark tactics, maybe now's the time to productively harness that rage and put it to work, instead of just bouncing it off concurring friends and Twitter followers. Maybe now it's time to get serious. Or at least pretty soon. Maybe we need, like, a week to get all the puns and japes and Photoshop gags out of our system.
Because, c'mon—the guy really does look like Dynamo from Running Man.
Related on maisonneuve.org:
—Urban Poetics: Toronto vs. Vancouver
—G20 Protests for the Medium Brave
—Toronto's Café Aesthetic
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