Whether or not Toronto mayor Rob Ford is clinically crazy, he is certainly crazy like a Fox News instant celebrity. For all the crack and vodka he has confessed to consuming, after all, Ford obviously mainlines that most addictive and destructive drug of all: attention. The cure for what currently ails Canada's adolescent neurosis capital, then, is to simply turn out the lights, turn off the cameras, and declare that the show is no longer worth watching.
Is this even remotely likely to happen? Not on a bet. Why? Because it would require a major act in the public interest from the very self-interested media outlets that contribute so substantially to Toronto's urban neuroticism.
Will the media—these great, self-proclaimed protectors of the common good—acknowledge they are not merely enablers of one man's public self-immolation and a city's political paralysis, but dirty-handed panderers for this debasement of democracy? Don't wait up.
Rob Ford is the freak show. The Toronto media are hyping the gate and scalping the tickets.
In fairness, in a city where the Leafs are an automatic sell-out, the incentive to shill schlock is powerful. Demonstrably, this is a place where the locals will buy anything that gives them an excuse to talk about themselves. Few journalists alive could resist the easy pickings of selling readers the fix they crave.
Even an icon of the right stuff such as Andrew Coyne can fall into the trap of contending that the way to end the Ford follies is with the gambit of continuing to talk about it. In today's excellent National Post column, Coyne dismantles the mayor's character and lays it out on the work bench as an assortment of parts variously labelled "buffoon", "bully", "lowlife", "egomaniac", "lunkhead", "spoiled rich kid", and so on. Alas, Coyne then mistakenly concludes the message the mayor should be receiving is not "get help" but "get out".
Anyone who has ever spent any time around addicts and abusers know that regardless of whether their addiction is to ego, violence, or intoxicants, an exhortation to "get out" is simply an invitation to prolong the acting out. It is a paradox of our species that those who cannot control their appetites become antic controllers of their environments, like scenery-chewing hams who must be at the centre of every scene.
The one thing—often the only thing—addicts and abusers are masters at maintaining is the focus of attention upon themselves.
Years ago, I was witness to a conversation between two colleagues, one of whom was a downtown party animal verging on serious alcohol dependency, the second of whom was a steadfast suburbanite whose idea of a big old time was Friday night with the wife and kids at Swiss Chalet. The party of the first part said: "You're so boring. You're so in control." To which fellow number two replied: "What makes you think you're any less boring just because you're out of control?"
The always clear-eyed Margaret Wente described it in a weekend column about Mayor Ford as our essential inability to look away while he self-destructs. While the media feed the lie that frenzy and flailing and falling apart is inherently newsworthy and so, by circular definition, automatically interesting, this is the antidote: we do have the capacity to choose to look away. We can look away not out of misplaced pity, or even a misguided notion of respect for his privacy (you want privacy, don't take your pants off over your head in front of Fox News cameras), but because he is a boor who is a bore.
The proper message for Toronto's mayor is neither "get help" nor "get out" but rather "shut up, you're uninteresting."
Will the Toronto media ever deliver this message? Not on a bet. Why? Because Rob Ford is one more excuse for the Toronto media, and Torontonians at large, to talk about themselves. It's the city's character.
Montreal is an impoverished roué in a bar gone to seed, falling into a drunken stupour beside his mistress with the missing teeth. Calgary is the annoyingly upbeat V.P. of sales and marketing who you would rather poke yourself in the face with a pin than listen to at a meeting, but who always shows up when your car needs to be pushed out of the parking lot snowbank. Edmonton is your Auntie Griselda who still doesn't know there are ketchup stains on one leg of her oversized blue flannel sweat pants. Vancouver is a 53-year-old who, over quinoa salad at Swings, insists on pulling out his iPad to show you the SportsStats results from his most recent marathon.
Toronto? Toronto is the Leafs fan who switches channels after yet another humiliating loss only to discover that his crazy mayor is acting crazy like a fox for the world media, which means the whole world is watching (and talking about) TO. Embarrassed as he knows he is supposed to be, he kinda likes that. He kinda likes that a lot.