The White Trash Oedipus: Rob Ford and Toronto’s Long, Slow Descent into Madness

“The genius of comedy is the same as the genius of tragedy, and the writer of tragedy ought to be a writer of comedy also.”

So says the character of Socrates towards the end of Plato’s classic work Symposium. On the one hand, this is exactly the kind of pretentious crap aristocrats say to each other at parties as the waiters are clearing away the champagne flutes at two in the morning. But on the other hand, it’s something the Ancient Greeks were acutely conscious of, and the reason that a well-staged production of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex still has the power to chill the soul thousands of years later, and a badly-staged one can have you rolling in the aisles long before Eddy claws out his own eyes to atone for unwittingly banging his mother.

Rob Ford has probably never read Oedipus Rex. Even if he heard the name bandied during his two terms at Carlton, I’d still bet good money that he’s totally unable to spell it. And yes, this is a good encapsulation of why he makes a lot of snooty pricks like me so very, very angry. But it’s also a fairly good parable about why he’s totally unfit to be mayor of Canada’s largest city. And yet so far, despite the crack scandal, despite rehab, despite the goddamn cancer he’s being diagnosed with as I write these words, he’s still running for public office. And there are an awful lot of people who are going to vote for him no matter what else happens. At this point he could publicly sodomize a puppy and still probably garner a respectable ten to fifteen percent of the vote.

Welcome to Toronto’s municipal politics in the waning days of the Ford era: a masterclass in insane contradictions more infuriating than the most impenetrable zen koans.

It hasn’t all been a joke. As he’s been barreling his way back and forth across the invisible line between tragedy and comedy, leaving it bleeding under his hooves like Pam McConnell on the floor of city council chambers, he’s been exposing some dark stuff about Toronto that we don’t often tell the rest of the world about, because we don’t necessarily always see it ourselves.

He’s completely blown the lid off of Canada’s strange, invisible class system, for one. I spent five years of my life in Britain, where class infuses everything people do, and they’re all acutely aware of it, conscious of their place in its intricate hierarchy, and don’t have to think very hard about how in any given situation they should relate to other people within its parameters. By the end of my first year there I was obsessively, unhealthily obsessed with the whole concept. Both because I hadn’t ever really thought about it before, and because my own place as a colonial within it was totally uncertain, oscillating wildly between its upper reaches and its nether depths. Coming back to Canada, I did start to dimly perceive that we have one too, even if we don’t often think about it. But it took the blazing white light of Rob Ford’s spectacular self-immolation to really bring its contradictions into stark, glaring light.

His blue collar fans think he’s one of them, and his wealthy detractors find this risible because he’s never had to work a day in his life. But he’s also relatively new money, and the grit of industrial Etobicoke hasn’t yet rubbed off the family name. So he’s got a foot in both worlds, but somehow belongs to neither. He’s exposed some of the worst elements of both camps. Their unwavering support perfectly illustrates the crass, boorish pettiness and self-perpetuating proud ignorance of the working suburban poor. And the undying hatred of the chattering downtown elite illustrates both their totally unbearable snobbery and their nauseating but completely shallow pretensions and compexes about Toronto’s emerging status as a genuine world city. We’re growing up, sure. But we’re also starting to turn into the Eloi and the Morlocks from H.G Wells’ time machine, and it’s getting super creepy.

He’s also blown the lid off some simmering, perhaps even really dangerous ethnic tensions that are too often obscured by the downtown elite’s pious cooing about the glories of multiculturalism. The fact that Ford Nation almost certainly contains at least one urbane, well-educated Pakistani doctor who’s been driving a taxi for the last thirty years because of Ontario’s byzantine, unexaminedly racist system of credential recognition, and who is totally getting off watching the WASPy journalistic elite completely lose their minds is terrifying, if you stop and think about it. That there are people who rude people can call any number of horrifying ethnic slurs, who cheerfully going to vote this October for a person who calls them stuff like that to their faces isn’t just weird, it’s totally fucking insane.

The masks are falling to the floor. The elephant in the room is trumpeting in heat, and shitting all over grandma’s Persian carpet. There is a great disturbance in the force. Our noses are a bit out of joint. The old joke about Toronto being New York run by the Swiss is getting both more and less true. Less because the Swiss wouldn’t put up with this shit for two seconds, and more because the Swiss are also nowhere near as perfect as the rest of the world sometimes thinks they are. There’s still a lot of Nazi loot in the vaults of Zurich.

Honestly? I can’t. I can’t even. I just. Can’t. Even. Deal. Anymore. And while there’s a slim chance that the end is in sight, and this is the last time I’ll ever feel compelled to write something about Rob Ford? Two things are true:

First, how I feel about that reminds me of the scene in the Dark Knight where Batman asks the Joker why he wants to kill him, and Heath Ledger laughs and says “I don’t want to kill you! What would I do without you? You complete me.” And when you start seeing where the Joker was coming from, it’s possible you went round the twist a long time ago and just don’t know it yet. So that thought is festering.

Second, I honestly don’t know anymore. This is 21st century Toronto. Not Rome during a Borgia papacy. But suddenly, and I’m still not totally sure how it happened, municipal politics in my hometown has become better TV than Game of Thrones. And while it’s possible that John Tory or Olivia Chow will win in October, and everything will start to go back to normal, it’s also possible that Doug Ford will pull off an upset victory, and then Rob Ford will burst out of his stomach like Alien and declare himself King of the Andals, the Royhnar and the First Men. And if that happens, and it’s then followed by former mayor Barbara Hall bursting out of the sky riding a dragon and reducing City Hall and the financial district to a smoking ruin in vengeance for our repealing the plastic bag tax, then the truly weird thing about all of it will be this:

I will be completely unfazed. And Jon Stewart will put it in a segment, and the world will move on. Because no one, anywhere, can even deal with this shit anymore. Jihadis in Syria will see it today on the internet, and feel bad for two seconds about OUR problems.

I’m both totally losing my shit about this, and so bored with it that I could yawn. At exactly the same time. It’s either an earth-shattering drama with world-historical significance, or it’s of less importance than Kim and Kanye’s pillow talk. Or both. Or neither.

I need a muffin. And a hot towel. And possibly a nap.

Somewhere in Robyn Dolittle’s book Crazy Town, which to my shame I still haven’t found the time to read, she points out that Rob Ford and his family really do think of themselves as Toronto’s Kennedys. This is funny not because it’s a lot easier to picture Doug Ford on the set of Jerry Springer than it is Bobby Kennedy, nor because JFK’s supposed breeding was a total sham, and actual Boston Brahmin society loathed Joe Kennedy as a parvenu, new-money Nazi-sympathizer without a shred of basic human decency. This is funny because it is totally, completely, one hundred percent true.

They are the trailer park Kennedys. The blue collar Medicis. And Rob Ford is the white trash Oedipus. By wishing it, they have made it so.

I’ve never met Diane Ford, nor do I particularly want to, but I can’t shake the terrifying suspicion that I would much rather hang out with Jocasta. By comparison, the suicidal mother of Oedipus seems generally much more grounded and sensible, and we’d probably get along better. RoFo and DoFo may be schoolyard bullies writ large, but I don’t doubt for a second that they come by their demons honestly.

As Rob Ford copes with his cancer diagnosis, and Doug Ford rushes to city hall to file papers to register in his place, and the extraneous tabloid bullshit piles higher and higher around them both, maybe this is as good a time as any to try and take sensible stock about what exactly this all means. And we can’t do that until we stop indulging the narcissistic wankfest that is Furd Nayshun.

This became spectacularly clear to me yesterday when I realized that the health and sanity of some fatass rotarian gasbag who doesn’t even know my name had the power to totally ruin my whole day. That’s completely insane.

Seriously, it’s been spectacular to watch. It’s not every day you get to watch a world city completely lose it’s collective mind, and have a four year nervous breakdown live on late-night TV. But it’s jumping the shark now. It’s time for us all to stop indulging the lunatic pretensions of a gang of feral children, and let the grown-ups start cleaning up the mess they’ve made.

That’s really all. Let’s all go home.

Rob Ford and the Shaming of the Town Drunk

Well, shockingly enough, he’s off the wagon.

The latest video, of His Worship the Mayor of Toronto drunkenly ranting in Jamaican patois (impressive, at least) in a Rexdale fast food joint, lacks the mysterious allure of the infamous, and as yet unseen, crack video. It doesn’t have the voyeuristic, dangerous thrill of the rage-fuelled rant the Star unearthed for public consumption in December. It doesn’t even have the cringe value of the third, and least discussed, video that Toronto police continue to quietly hold in their evidence locker. (Which I have on good journalistic authority is a sex tape. Sorry for putting that image out there.)

It’s just plain sad.

I know I should be filled with righteous indignation. I’ve torn numerous strips off the guy in posts past. I’ve ranted, I’ve raved, I’ve torn my hair at the indignity of it all. I’ve demanded his head on a spike for violating all my bourgeois notions about how politicians should think, speak and behave. My most puerile rant, which is also sadly among my all-time most viewed posts, piously denounced him as a ‘complete sociopath…a bully, a liar, a coward, a hypocrite, and a cheat. A thug who associates with violent criminals.’

Strong Stuff.

He may be these things. He may be all of them and more. But at bottom, all he really is is your garden variety drunk. An addict and an alcoholic in the deepest, darkest funk of denial you ever did see. He’s slowly unraveling before our very eyes.

He’s not the first, nor will he be the last person to discover he has a problem with drugs and alcohol. The poor guy has just put himself in a position where he can’t work through this issue in private. Every lapse in judgement, every stupid decision is immediately posted to the internet for the mockery of the masses. Every slip is front page news from coast to coast. He’s late night comedy gold, and will continue to be so for as long as he remains in denial about himself and his issues.

And though the Toronto Star has simply been doing their job in exposing his weaknesses, frailties, and criminal behavior, there comes a point where they’re hurting, rather than helping their cause by publicly shaming the town drunk for weeks, months and years on end.

I oppose Ford politically, and look forward to his electoral destruction in October. But I also feel for the guy. He’s a sick, sick puppy, who’s refusing all help and continuing down a path that leads, in the end, only to jails, institutions and death. I feel no schadenfreude anymore. I just wish he’d take responsibility for himself and become a legitimate opponent once more.

Everywhere I go, I’m assured that there’s still a very good chance he can win in October. That the ravening hordes of Ford Nation will descend upon the ballot box and once again foist their man upon the rest of us, with all his powers reinstated.

I’m frankly not worried. Ford Nation aren’t stupid, no matter what the downtown glitterati believe. They know a train wreck when they see one. On the path he’s on, this can only get sadder and more pathetic. And a pathetic politician is a politician who’s career is over.

If he admits he has an unmanageable problem and seeks the help that is available? Then I’ll be worried. Because the guy has massive political strengths when he’s at the top of his game. He’s personable, he connects with blue collar voters, and he’s a true multiculturalist; capable of relating naturally and honestly with people that most of the downtown elite don’t even know exist.

When he’s drunk, he’s just another sad lunatic raving on a street corner. He just happens to be a famous one as well. And that won’t last forever.

Rob Ford and Stephen Harper

In conservative media outlets in what is now many countries, Rob Ford has been receiving kid-glove treatment.

Sun News are not only going to continue airing the mayor and his brother’s hateful opinions to what they increasingly imagine is an adoring faithful, they’re going to pull out the big guns, like Ezra himself, to defend him. Fox News and CNN have sat him down in a chair and given him the cooing, Barbara Walters treatment. As I’ll note they have done for Hermain Cain, Bashar al Assad, Muammar Quadaffi, and other lunatics.

I’ve personally seen this spoken of on Facebook as far away as Israel. Total strangers in Britain, where I’ve lived on and off for years, people who have no earthly reason to know who Rob Ford is, have been asking me since last year about our national crack habits. Everyone’s following it. It’s the best thing going. Pure comedy.

There’s an extent to which this has gotten out of control. And I don’t think any of what has been going on is just about him. To be honest, now that he’s literally been sat in the corner with a dunce cap and told to get out of the way and let serious business resume, I’m tempted to forget about him completely and decide who we should have next.

But he’s not gone yet.

A little story has been doing the rounds in the Toronto media world. Apparently, years ago, during John Tory’s campaign against David Miller, Tory was convinced by his advisers that he simply had no choice but to talk to the Fords. Mother Diane, widow of the late Doug Ford Sr., founder of Deco Labels, and brothers Robbie and Doug. They were councillors at this point. Presumably positions in Mrs. Ford’s gift.

Tory wasn’t happy to be going to see them. I don’t entirely remember why. But his advisers apparently convinced him it was necessary. Presumably it’s very difficult to get anywhere in Etobicoke politically if you don’t have the Fords on side. They are, after all, one of the richest families in the area.

It went well. Tory turned on the charm, and won an endorsement. Apparently, the conversation ended with Diane exlaiming, ‘OK, you can have it this year, but next year it’s Robbie’s turn.’

Robbie’s turn has been ongoing since 2010. Really since he was first elected to city council. It hasn’t been going well, in case you’d noticed.

I wonder if I should be, but I’m massively insulted that they decided Toronto deserved this. That Rob Ford could possibly be worthy of this job.

Yet amid all the theatrics, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that there are powerful interests in this country that do not want him gone. And we’re being asked to assent to the fiction that they’re legion by people like the good citizens of the Sun News Network. I wonder if they even release their ratings.

There are no more people slavering over Sun News egging him on against those snooty, downtown, latte sipping types. No one actually thinks like that in this country. We’re actually decent people, for the most part. And fiscal conservatives en masse are not to blame for him. None of them saw this coming. Personally I don’t think they were looking hard enough, but then again, neither was anyone else really. Municipal politics are dull. Important, but dull. So people’s ears only really perked up when they heard about the crack.

He’s let his supporters down massively. They deserved better. Someone fit for purpose, at any rate. A mature, responsible adult. Surely we can set the bar at least that high, as a society?

The only people left in the country pretending that Rob Ford is still fit to be Mayor of Toronto are the people who stand far too much to benefit from him keeping the chair.

He’s not. Still fit to lead. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The fact that he’s still in office is farcically stupid., and every paper in the city now agrees he has to go. That he hasn’t been physically dragged from the building and run out of town on a rail is a testament to the fact that none of us seem to care. It’s an amusing side show. No more.

I don’t really exempt anyone from the blame for this, including myself. Toronto has gotten, in some ways, the leader it deserved. Things only get this bad if we let them.

But I don’t think that means we should lose sight of what we’re dealing with when we talk about the people who have kept Robbie perched, wobbling, in his chair for three long years. By that I mean the Big Blue Machine. The Conservative Party of Canada.

Robbie is the stupid cousin of the clique of powerful Conservative interests that this country increasingly functions for the benefit of. He had to have something. Had to keep Mrs. Ford happy. So why not have him be mayor of Toronto, and watch all those downtown lefties choke on it. It’s hard not to imagine smug grins in a quiet, warm room somewhere in Ottawa, and certainly in Calgary, when Ford donned the chain of office. Especially as, I’ll note, they did just fine with their progressive, generous mayor. We dealt with this buffoon. A man who shouts at his people when he doesn’t immediately get his way. Like a spoilt child. A feral 16 year old boy.

NDP or liberal types at City Hall, I’ll note, won’t tell you who they work for there. They take the independence of municipal government seriously.

I won’t forget who took Rob Ford fishing, repeatedly, at Harrington Lake. And neither should you. THAT’s what he thinks of you.

No pity for Rob Ford

Now that it’s over, people are making truly gargantuan efforts to summon some compassion for Rob Ford.

And it is over. Make no mistake about that. He will have to resign before next week. And the likelihood at this point is that he should go to rehab, if not jail.

Compassion is not misplaced here. He has an unmanageable personal problem that will eventually destroy him. He is descending into madness, live on international television. There’s nothing funny about him anymore, to be frank. The line between farce and tragedy has been crossed. I do feel for the guy.

But it’s a bit early for that.

If he had bowed out when the video was first discovered with a good grace, if he had acknowledged that his personal life was actively affecting his ability to govern the city, bringing disrepute upon all of us, and paralyzing the business of government, and if he had gone to rehab months ago, perhaps he could still reasonably have been spared the ordeal he now faces. If he had done so, he would be entitled not just to our compassion and to our forgiveness, but even to our respect.

But he hasn’t yet. And I’m beginning to suspect he never will. As a result, it’s premature to be feeling pity for this pathetic excuse for a public official, who as of my writing this, is still clinging to his job.

Because he’s a complete sociopath. Our media, with a few notable and laudable exceptions, have been subservient to the point of cowardice. Our Tory friends have been indulgent to the point of blindness. Ordinary citizens who happen to agree with Ford’s small, petty vision of City Hall, have been smug and obstreperous to the point of denial.

But he’s a bully, a liar, a coward, a hypocrite, and a cheat. A thug who associates with violent criminals

King of the Douchebags

Rob Ford, yesterday.

and who when he puts his arm around you, there’s a chance you’ll end up dead.

Too far, you may be saying. And no, I don’t know if Ford had the slightest thing to do with the cruel slaying of Anthony Smith.

But I’ll say this: the true depths to which our Mayor has sunk will only start to become clear in the coming weeks and months, as the evidence the Police have been building against him comes to light. I’m not ruling anything out. And neither should you. All the dirty laundry is about to come out. And it’s naive to think it’s going to be pretty.

And since we haven’t woken up this morning to a statement of resignation from the man himself, an announcement from the city or the province that he has been removed from office, or the sight of the Mayor of one of North America’s largest cities being led away in handcuffs, then we have a duty to go down to Nathan Philips Square and demand that we get it. This has gone far enough.

And frankly, Ford Nation, stripped as it now will be of all decent, right thinking people, should acknowledge that gracefully.

I think nothing less of people for having voted for Rob Ford. I genuinely don’t. There’s no way they could have seen this coming, and though I may disagree with some of them on how this city could best be run, I don’t in any way hold them personally accountable for what has happened at City Hall since 2010.

I do think less of anyone who still supports him now.

And to those of you who do? Who still want him to stick it to those downtown latte-sipping nancy boys? You know who Ford is? You know who the closest historical analogy I can think of to this shameless buffoon you seem to think it’s funny to impose on the rest of us? Benito Mussolini. With all that that implies about you.

You may hate the Toronto Star, and the people who read it, but they hate you right back, and with some justification. You called them liars, you called them maggots, and questioned their right to do their jobs and live their lives. You put not having to pay your fucking taxes over the good governance of the city, and you’ve turned a blind eye to the antics of a crackhead and a thug because you think he cares about people like you.

He doesn’t. But you know what? No one else does either. You’ve gotten the leader you deserve. It’s up to the rest of us now to clean up the mess you’ve made.

There should be no pity for Rob Ford, or his ‘nation.’ Not while he is still actively besmirching our city. He has brought this upon himself. When he has left office, apologized for crippling our municipal government, and begun taking responsibility for his life, then we can begin to forgive. Then we can begin to find compassion.

But not yet. This fight isn’t over. In some ways it’s just getting started.

The Surreal Survival of Rob Ford

Can this really be happening?

Not the mayor smoking crack. I accept that. He clearly lacks even basic amounts of self-control, and would smoke whatever was put in front of his fat face if he knew it would earn him a vote. (It’s the second-to-last quote, but read them all. And know that this man still holds high public office.)

Not the insane international attention Toronto has been receiving. Insanity, crude farce, and spectacular governmental collapse are intrinsically interesting everywhere, and we shouldn’t be surprised that the world is smugly laughing behind their hands at us.

Not the fact that His Worship Rob Ford’s response to the circus he’s inflicted on all of us is some sort of wounded spite, as though we’re the ones responsible for this situation.

No, none of this fazes me. Let alone shocks me.

What shocks me is that we’re moving on from this. Without his resignation. Hell, screw his resignation. Without his immediate removal from office.

Admittedly, I’ve been watching this whole spectacle unfold from across the ocean in London. Which in some ways makes it a doubly surreal experience. (Total strangers, who have no reason on earth to know who the Mayor of Toronto is, laugh at me when I say I’m from Toronto, and ask me if I want some crack.)

But now inertia seems to have finally set in. The media attention has gradually drained away as nothing new emerges, and even the Toronto Star have been forced to move on to other things. The pundits, the public, and the world at large have gradually ceased to care.

And Rob Ford remains.

Toronto will linger on in a state of inertia and despair. And there’s not a damn thing we’ll be able to do about it until next year, when after he’s trounced in the election, I suspect that he’ll have to be physically dragged from his office.

Guess I’d better find some crack. It would appear to be a wonderfully effective way to kill my sense of shame.