Please Advise! Gregor Wants to Get Ford-Level Famous

Tyee advice-man Steve wades into the awkward realm of mayoral envy.

By Steve Burgess 7 Mar 2014 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Read his previous articles here.

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Mayor Robertson: 'I too can be zany like Rob Ford.' Photo by Kris Krug, Creative Commons licensed.

[Editor's note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a Ph.D in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

I too would like to be on the Jimmy Kimmel show. I am a Canadian mayor who is attractive and fun and has lots of good ideas. Why can't I be famous like Rob Ford?


Gregor Robertson, Mayor of Vancouver

Dear Gregor,

Thanks for writing, Your Worship. I believe that's the correct form of address for a Canadian mayor -- you, Calgary's Naheed Nenshi, Ottawa's Jim Watson, and Hollywood's Rob Ford are all officially referred to as Your Worship. It makes city hall sound like a cult. But that's really only true in Toronto. And maybe Calgary.

Rob Ford has even become Your Devil Worship. A group of Toronto satanists called Cloven Path Ministries has organized a Rob Ford bus tour. If Ford is truly the Beast, it's a bit of a letdown. The Book of Revelation suggested the Antichrist would do a little more than bring down Armageddon on Toronto bike lanes.

I realize it's a bummer to see Mayor Ford hogging all the glory (and apparently all the desserts in Kimmel's green room too). But you have to understand, Mayor Robertson, that Rob Ford is more than just another mayor. He represents something of a scientific breakthrough. Ford may be the first GMO politician. It's clear that he has been cross-bred from different news categories to create a perfect media hybrid.

Politicians are elected to administrate, to solve immediate problems, and to create policy for the future. But who wants to read about that? Serious political coverage does focus on issues, but it's not exactly sexy. The sexier stories are either who's up/who's down horse race-type items or better yet, scandals of the Clinton/Wiener type. Politics and celebrity blend seamlessly as public figures who have nothing in common but their fame are nonetheless treated as performers in the same soap opera.

But while actors and musicians become famous for their work and are then subjected to intense media scrutiny, an obscure Canadian mayor like Ford becomes famous only through crack and scary drunken rants and public urination and so on (and on). While an actor or musician can typically go on outraging public sensibilities for years and keep working as long as they don't go full Lindsay Lohan, politicians are usually good for a couple of scandals at best before their careers are destroyed.

A whole new breed

Enter Ford, a hardy new perennial. The Toronto mayor, it appears, has been genetically engineered to be without shame, a varietal known to flourish in Italy but never before in Canada's cold climate. He is like a durian tree that somehow produces a boundless, stinky crop, even in the cold and snow. It is science run amok.

Among his dubious accomplishments Ford has introduced into Canadian civic politics a new focus on oral sex, boasting of his own with his poor wife, then making pejorative claims about the Toronto police chief's habits (which would be acceptable if true, but that was hardly the mayor's point). When you commit so many outrages it eventually ceases to matter. At this point, Ford is like a much-bitten snake handler who is immune to venom. Ford could probably run campaign ads based on Rob's Greatest Video Hits and get away with it.

There was even a crack-smoking Rob Ford float in the New Orleans Mardi Gras parade. Fitting that Ford would be honoured on Fat Tuesday, the annual celebration of wild excess. But the idea is you're supposed to stop the next day. Hard to imagine Ford giving up crack for Lent.

Go for Nenshi, instead

Rob Ford is the Mayor of Mayhem, the Putin of Partytown, the Fuhrer of Frolic. Somehow he has managed to create a whole new kind of identity politics. There is a long history of people voting for one of their own -- a WASP or an Irishman, say. Ford has supporters who back him because they like Adam Sandler movies.

In fact for Ford, the biggest political drawback of his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live was what a dullard he appeared to be. Before the show aired I accused Kimmel of being an enabler, but I have to give props now -- he did the Ford interview Conrad Black should have done. Along the way Kimmel gave Ford opportunities to show some spirit, but all Ford could do was giggle nervously and repeat campaign bromides. If you really want to be Mayor Homer Simpson, you can't let Bart get all the good lines.

Perhaps Ford should have used the Kimmel appearance to lay the groundwork for an Los Angeles mayoral candidacy. Certainly he'd have a decent shot at getting elected in a city best known for a love of entertainment and hatred of public transit.

So no, Mayor Robertson, you don't want that sort of fame. You have my sympathies though. The other route to civic glory is to assume the role of Supermayor! But good luck getting the cape and Spandex tights off Nenshi.  [Tyee]

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