Sunday, 8 December 2013

Rob Ford, Fear, and the overthrow of the 4th Estate

Where is Chris Farley when you need him? That's the hit I keep hearing when someone mentions the mayor of Toronto. Anyone who remembers Farley's comedic genius can crack a smile at it. A powerful image for the mind's eye: Mayor FarleyFord rolls on the ground with an abundance of energy not thought possible for a 300 pound man, before gutturally croaking for more crack.

Despite that image, Ford's support is rising. The political class keeps asking 'how could this be?' But some can see the answer plain as day. I think it's time for us to admit an inescapable truth: we see politics as a farce.

There is a great quote some PR folks will spout to sound edgy and sage:

"In a closed society where everybody's guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity." - Hunter S. Thompson.

The mechanics of that quote worked for spin-masters like a physical law of the universe. Fifteen years ago a political strategist could devise their plan on a foundation of closeted skeletons. Entire campaigns have been built around the strategic release of foul smelling personal dirt. Princes and Princesses of Darkness alike have milked that concept for generations.

But something isn't right here. There's one thing bending the picture frame... Rob Ford is still employed. There are no masses of pitchforks ousting him from office.

In private, those who work in media and politics react as most would over this. They display embarrassment, anger, humour, the full gambit. But there's one other emotion I see running just under the surface, like a tapeworm shifting after a big steak. Fear. That rising fear you think you can push to the side, but just won't go away. To me this fear is as palpable as it would be among physicists if they discovered the laws of thermodynamics had changed overnight.

To any politician or journalist, smoking crack on video -if nothing else- should be enough to force someone out of their job. Right?


Lights. Camera. Action. These make up the three walls of reality for the political-media complex. I've always noted with interest how some old school media types call interacting with the public 'breaking the fourth wall'.

The fourth wall analogy is perfect for traditional media, because the wall between the show and the audience was invisible. Like a force field you couldn't see but was somehow holding you back. So to me it's no surprise most people haven't realized the fourth wall no longer exists. How could it when anyone with a computer is both a viewer and a broadcaster? The 4th wall now only exists in our minds.

The new media age has arrived. A silent revolution is taking place before our eyes. Throughout history we have seen the various estates of power overthrown. Usually this involves at least threats of violence if not outright warfare. But who'd have thought such a revolution could occur simply by giving people networked computers and tacit decision making power in the affairs of the media? Certainly not the owners of media companies.

There is no sense in hiding it anymore. No need to hold these cards close to the chest: the media has been successfully overthrown in their dominance of the public discourse. Rob Ford just happened to be the one crazy enough to prove it to us all completely by accident.

We're now at a point where there is no single broadcast system that has an audience larger than facebook's network. There is no news channel that can deliver information as fast and far as twitter. And there is certainly nothing else available providing people the power they deserve to direct media outlets and political parties in their efforts.

For a generation that gets most of its political news from satire and comedy, this is a watershed moment. It demonstrates clearly the farce we see politics to be. Telling pollsters we support Rob Ford is the best possible collective middle finger Canadians could raise to the power brokers of the world.

Through his mental illness and illogical action, Rob Ford has shown everyone that the rules of old media only apply now in so far as a person is willing to follow them. Yes, despite all odds, Rob Ford is still tweeting. Still engaging with people. Still displaying good humour in the face of what should be a career ending scandal. He's starting a youtube show. Your move, Olivia Chow.

When Justin Trudeau admitted to smoking pot at a dinner party as a sitting MP, journalists were titillated. Political allies raised their eyebrows and opponents voiced their disapproval. But what did the nation do? It applauded his honesty. Why? What has changed the rules of reality so much for these things to happen?

By now I hope you know the answer: The Internet.

Once it became possible to bypass the mainstream media to engage with voters, the process was complete.

People like to think the new media age hasn't arrived yet. "It's coming, but main stream media still dictates the rules." If you think that way, you need to think again. The largest media outlets now trawl the internet on an hourly basis for their content. By some estimates we have surpassed an important point, over half of the stories generated by media are now produced via online search as opposed to employing true investigative journalism.

Hunter's gem of wisdom has now been replaced by theories like The Streisand Effect, where the act of suppressing information online causes it to spread further. But researches like myself are beginning to think our understanding of the Streisand Effect is extremely limited. Indeed, I believe it is one small piece of a larger puzzle. This story spread far and wide beyond Canadian borders, just like another of 2013 that involved the perceived suppression of information. The sexual-assault and suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

To deny the role of the Parsons story in the utter trampling the presiding government received in the subsequent election would be a folly of epic proportions. In both cases the Streisand Effect was a critical factor in the spreading of the story. By common sense, both should give us a change in government.

But Rob Ford's support numbers are rising.

In the Parsons story, we were dealing with a government notorious for its closed doors and thinking. In Rob Ford's case, he's the mayor of a world class major city, and he still personally returns phone calls. All while allegedly consuming a variety of dangerous substances at levels capable of slowing a bull moose mid-charge.

Rob Ford isn't a scandal or a mayor or an addict. He's a legend. He's become a way of conveying a message.

The politicians who gain support in this age are the politicians who give people a voice. And while he may have bumbled into it, Rob Ford is doing just that. Which means one simple thing: unless you're actually representing the people and giving us a stake in the affairs of the nation, you may as well be Rob Ford. He might be a crackhead, but at least he returns our phone calls.

For a poll whose results will be viewed around the world, nothing seems to be making a Torontonian feel heard right now more than saying they support Rob Ford. That feeling trumps everything else. Even crack addiction.  


  1. How many polls have there been showing that Ford's approval has been rising since the crack video broke? I saw one poll showing so, published shortly after the video was published, being cited over and again as proof. But one poll is awfully little to go on for such certain pronouncements; it's practically journalistic malpractice. Have there been more by now?

    1. Rob Ford will be elected again. The fraud of the left is over. Too bad

    2. It will be hard to win an election from jail.

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  3. I was restating the poll results to be cute as much to make a point. I think the rest of the evidence I lay out speaks for my case more clearly than the poll. Even if the polls start to reverse in trend, the main point is that he's still in office. That traditional media tactics to oust someone have failed.

    I'm by no means saying the mainstream media is all of a sudden irrelevant, far from it. Simply that they are no longer the gate keepers. The people are.

  4. I enjoyed this take on things. Not a bad look at the world.

  5. Great Article, thank you for sharing this.

  6. Great article. It makes me nuts that the media and haters keep calling him a 'crack-head'. He probably doesn't even remember doing it. You wanna see crackheads? Go to downtown Oshawa.

    I tried Acid ONCE, 42 years ago. Didn't make me a junkie...

  7. The people have taken over the reins in the information world, and Rob Ford is the champion of the people! Nice irony, eh?

  8. The more the Media brings up the past the more they fall into it - Old news is just that old boring news - Bye Bye Star!! Karmas got a hold of you!!

  9. who cares if he is still in office his powers are diminished and only an election will tell you if you are correct. I think you are taking this to be some sort of victory. Who cares what Rob Ford did I think more people are concerned at the extent he went to lie about it because that makes you think about what else he would go so far to lie about. He should have just admitted what he did from the beginning whether he was in a stupor or not he must have at some point knew whose house he was going to and for what. His constant secret meetings with Lisi which he tried to hide are also very suspicious behavior of which he does not have to be convicted of anymore (since he has shown he is very capable of doing such things) for people to assume he had some sort of role in.

    1. Tarji - You must live under a rock!!! R U really going to base your argument on the fact he lied then come clean? But, it is OK for a council to engage in "Democratic Terrorism" and to engae in "Ideologies In Line With DICTATORSHIP" !!!! Please, please, please wake up!!!! If you are looking for lies go talk with Kathleen Wynne!!!!