An Apologie for Celebrity Train Wreck Rob Ford (or, How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bum)

I have to begin with an apology to my new followers who have come here because of my somewhat viral piece on what the life-cycle of Latin has to teach us about “Classical and Vulgar English.” In general, I try to write about things of literary and cultural import—and to me, the comings and goings of en vogue Hollywood celebs don’t really belong on that list. Western Civilization cares not a whit for what purse Amy Adams took to the Oscars, or “who” Leo DiCaprio is wearing (“whom he’s wearing” sounds too much as if he killed and skinned Demenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana and had them sewn into a tux).

These people, generally speaking, are culturally important insofar as they work together to make texts (movies are texts) that inform and shape the way we relate to the world around us on a massive scale. They are not important in terms of whom they sleep with, how they spend their money on themselves, or what goes on in their private lives.

And yet, there are metafictive occasions on which “celebs” themselves do become a cultural text, and present us with something that can be critically read—something that can be discussed on the level of philosophy rather than gossip. And so I’m going to talk about some big celebrities today—and to get it out of my system, I’m going to talk about a lot of them. Part of me wants to apologize for that—especially for bringing into the mix one Mayor Rob Ford—a bona fide international celebrity in spite of his denials to the contrary, a truly unhappy man whose personal struggles with alcoholism have brought the world more bad-taste comedy gold than anyone since W.C. Fields.

On one hand, as it was said an anonymous epigram (frequently misattributed to Eleanor Roosevelt), “great minds discuss ideas[…]small minds discuss people.” But what happens, in the case of the living text of celebrity, when a person becomes an idea? Well you get well-trained but middling minds like mine, which waffle with pleasant ease between the exalted and the debauched with equal curiosity. As my long picaresque poem Don Quixote observes,

His readings would have baffled a chimera:
    Tales of adventure stole young Quixote’s nights
Regardless of their genres or genera,
    And hounded him at leisure. Who invites
Into their brains both comic-books and homilies?
Such well-read youths are now but rare anomalies.

 So, onward to Tinseltown, to talk, not so much about fame for fame’s sake, but about narrative, eucatastrophe, and the ways we learn—all wonderful and enlightening subjects which do, in fact, intersect with famous Hollywood entertainers more often than Harold Bloom, our generation’s curmudgeonly Statler or Waldorf, would care to admit. But we’ll come back to the Muppets in another 1,800 words or so.

Let’s begin, just to assure people I’m not taking the low-road into celebrity gossip, with an idea from the eminent social philosopher Charles Taylor (not to be confused with Liberian war criminal Charles Taylor). In Taylor’s book Modern Social Imaginaries, he introduces the idea of a “social imaginary,” his term for a shared set of beliefs and values that, generally speaking, establish a tacit understanding between society and its participants about how things are done. That’s a big mouthful, so let me break a “social imaginary” down into two chief components:

(1)Common belief, and
(2)Common practice.

Common belief is exactly what it sounds like: a set of presumptions about the world that is common in two senses: common in that it’s shared between people, and common in that it’s shared between most people. Common practice, similarly, is a shared set of how people live and what they do based on those beliefs. Example: homosexual persecution in Russia is not, at its source, a result of the terrible laws. Rather, the laws are a result of a social imaginary that’s different from ours. It consists of a common practice, that of shunning, abusing, marginalizing, and hurting LGBTQ people, which is based on a common belief that such people are deviants and this deviance makes such atrocities permissible. Fighting to change the laws will only help insofar as it addresses the social imaginary that allowed those laws to be put into place, and so on.

Think this is only a phenomenon other people have? Here’s a much tamer, sillier example: Very few tall buildings in the United States have a thirteenth floor. Take note of it next time you’re in a hotel or a skyscraper. This is a common practice based on a common belief that the number 13 is unlucky. (ASIDE: Triskaidekaphobia is, in fact, very common, and probably not related to the number of the Apostles, as it appears in various other cultures from the Persians to the Vikings).

So now you know what a social imaginary is. It’s much more than a “custom,” but it certainly results in various customs. It is a custom to bow rather than shake hands in Japan—a fading custom, though—based on the still-surviving Japanese social imaginary of the body and how principles of bodily contact operate. But why am I talking about social imaginaries when I should be ragging on celebs? In short, I want to suggest that the whole genre of the late-night talk show (even as it’s distinct from the daytime talk show) is, in fact, its own social imaginary.

Shared between producers and audiences of the late-night talk show is a common practice driven by common belief. Let’s not worry about the common belief right now, and simply talk about the talk-show format—a set of surprisingly strict conventions that we as viewers have agreed to accept, and show-hosting administrations from Steve Allen to Jimmy Fallon have all agreed to provide.

1.There is a show opening, sometimes with a teaser but mostly without. It often features abstract camera work showcasing the show’s host city by night, especially taking in the crowds surrounding the theatre and various marquee signs.

2.A band, usually with a horn section, plays music that somehow manages to be exciting without being interesting. It’s common practice (and “proper late-night etiquette”) to have a bandleader who doesn’t duplicate the instrument of another bandleader. This is why Letterman has a keyboardist, Leno had a guitarist, Conan O’Brien had a drummer, and even the now-obscure Canadian talk-show host Mike Bullard had to go with a bassist, the brilliant Orin Isaacs. This is why Conan’s move to Jimmy Vivino, a great guitar player, might have been seen as a passive-aggressive jab at Leno’s Kevin-Eubanks-fronted band. This is why latecomer Jimmy Fallon, stepping into a market where all the instruments are taken, has to go with The Roots, a great ensemble but a band with no discernible bandleader (unless you count Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, who as lead MC could be called a vocalist). This is why, in this crowded market and no instruments left, poor lonely Craig Ferguson doesn’t get a house band at all—just a smarmy talking robot skeleton. As you can see, social imaginaries can be pretty subtle things—things that we intuit in our veins, but don’t really think about consciously.

3.There is an opening monologue, carried entirely by the host and punctuated by rimshots and chords from said house band. These bits are always timely, based off of immediately current events.

 4.The shows devote not less than five and not more than ten minutes to content that sets them apart from the formula. For Letterman this includes the Top Ten list; for Leno this includes Headlines; for Kimmel, this includes an amazing roster of Hollywood stars reading mean tweets about themselves.

5.The non-musical guests come on. More on this in a moment.

6.Sometimes there is a musical guest performing one song (usually the hopefully-hit single) off of an impending new release. The host walks over to shake their hand just before the credits roll.

This is largely what all of the major late night shows do every night; deviations from the pattern are extraordinarily rare. There is, of course, a subset of rules for the guests: all guests are featured on the basis of something significant just about to happen, or having just happened in the case of non-artists. Movie and TV stars are by far the most common. The format for these stars is comprised by a few pleasantries about their family, a folksy anecdote about their wacky life that has nothing to do with their work, a few words about the work they are trying to promote accompanied by a clip, and a fade to commercial (very big stars will sometimes get two segments rather than one).

This format is virtually never deviated from. This is why the incredibly entertaining Tom Waits, who has transformed in 30 years from one of the hardest talk show guests to wrangle to one of the easiest and most rewarding, only gets the OK for Late Night when he’s got a CD in the pipes, even though he could support, no problem, a weekly segment with his Faulkner-on-acid folktales alone.

In short, it’s a pretty stagnant form. What was fresh and original in the days of the original Steve Allen Show has become as commonplace and formulaïc (yes, I use the diaresis when called for) as that moment at 1:45-2:30 of a pop single in which A Wild Rapper Appears to lend the waify white singer some good ol’ ethnic street cred. See Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” Katy Perry’s “California Gurls,” and even Justin Bieber’s “Baby” for examples of this phenomenon with disturbingly racist and colonialist implications—a common trend, now, in a genre of radio hits I like to call “Tom 40” Radio.

But I digress. The point is that there is a stagnant formula to late-night talk, which is no longer an art of its own so much as a tie-in distribution tool to market other art. The ongoing gossip about how Jimmy Fallon is going to “do” as the new Tonight Show host is largely irrelevant. I love Fallon’s satirical musical numbers, and only really find him funny in that narrow context; but the truth is just about any idiot alive could do a late-night talk show host’s job and do it passably.

Now… enter the hero of this story: Rob Ford, the very worst mayor any city in North America has ever had (and yes, that includes Talkeetna Alaska, where the same housecat has been mayor for more than 15 years).

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The best thing about this file photo is it looks like he’s wearing a teeny tiny crown.

Impossible, I hear you say. How can Rob Ford be a hero? Well, remember that heroes become heroes in unlikely ways. Because celebrities are disposable, you probably haven’t thought much of heiress Paris Hilton lately.  But there was a time, back in 2006 or 2007, when the former heiress was such an idiotic embarrassment to her old-moneyed family that her mortified grandfather, hotel magnate Barron Hilton, completely altered his estate plans, leaving 97% of the family fortune to charity instead of willing it to awful people who never worked a day in their lives. Thanks to Paris’s antics, which in hindsight we could easily call Rob Fordian, she ruined a perfect little one-percenter fairy tale not only for herself, but for every one of Barron Hilton’s heirs. Perhaps due in part to a visit from the three spirits of Embarassing Celebrity Scandals Past, Present, and Yet to Come, the Hilton patriarch left nothing unearned to any of his 23 squabbling descendants, and poured it all into philanthropy.Today, the Hilton Foundation (named for his father, not his celebrity granddaughter) is a $4.4 billion charity devoted to global disaster relief, caring for AIDS-affected children in East Africa, fighting for better foster care for at-risk youth in the United States, building permanent supportive housing for the homeless, promoting smarter substance abuse education in American middle schools, treating preventable blindness in the third world, and a number of other outstanding initiatives that really need the help.

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“No, don’t help her up! She’s curing Multiple Sclerosis and bringing clean water to Ethiopia as we speak!”

If it hadn’t been for Paris Hilton—if her behaviour had been only slightly less shambolically vapid and entitled and drunk-drivey—all those incredible projects might not exist today. From a certain point of view, indirectly speaking, she’s done more substantial and lasting good for humanity by being a drunken idiot than most ordinary folks like you or I could do if we went to school, founded nonprofits, and devoted our whole lives to philanthropy. If there’s a lesson to be learned there, perhaps it’s the one Gandalf taught us about why scrawny, wretched addicts like Gollum are worthy of our pity:

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“Do not be so quick to deal out death and judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

Which brings us back to the Cadillac—or should I say the Ford—of drunken idiots everywhere. Let’s get back on the subject of Toronto’s personal one-man wrecking ball.

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I warned you there’d be celebrity pop-culture tie-ins. This ingenious Photoshop isn’t my idea, sadly; it comes from the Tarboro Times.

All references to Canadian snow aside, the holidays came early last night for talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel, who was as giddy and excited as a kid on Christmas morning to get an in-person crack at his favourite walking punchline. In an extended “interview” that radically broke the formula of the late-night talk-show, Kimmel paraded Ford around the set like a grinning, sweating piñata, taking swing after swing and delivering well-deserved abuse with such subtlety (it actually didn’t take much subtlety at all) that I’m fairly certain Ford had no idea he was being incessantly mocked, at least until he got back to the dressing room and an undoubtedly furious Doug spelled it out for him.

The spectacle was a brilliant satire. Even the second guest seemed perfectly arranged to skewer Ford. The newest Muppet film, Muppets Most Wanted (I told you we’d get back to them), was represented not by the usual spokesfrog, but by the Great Gonzo. There are reasons why this was a brilliant decision, not least of all because Gonzo is the last of the golden-age Muppet Show alumni to be voiced and performed by his original creator, the now-67-year-old Dave Goelz. The other greats from Jim Henson’s original crew—Frank Oz, Richard Hunt, Jerry Nelson, the underrated Louise Gold, and Henson himself—have mostly left the films behind. Only Goelz and Carroll Spinney—the unstoppable 80-year-old behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch—remain full-time in their beloved roles. There was an ease and a naturalness and a familiarity to Goelz’s Gonzo, in a way that you just don’t get with the Kermit of Henson’s well-meaning replacement Steve Whitmire. But more than that, there was a biting iconoclasm to Henson’s original Muppets, a keen wit and sophistication underneath all that vaudeville camp. Henson’s original team were brilliant improvisers, and Gonzo brought the charm in spades.

The combined effect, of course, was that a felted hand puppet (an admittedly complex one) came  across as more intelligent, well-spoken, personable, and “with it” than the bumbling Ford, who spent most of his spot flopping around the stage awkwardly, spouting pre-recorded messages, and otherwise looking as if he were the one with an old man’s arm stuffed up his backside. Kimmel, who was transparently gleeful about the whole night—not just “stage happy,” in that way talk show hosts are every night, but genuinely loving every minute of it, owned his stage with facility, wit and charisma that nobody in the hosting biz gets much chance to really display.

The question is not whether Kimmel was mean, or whether he capitalized off of Ford’s stupidity and gluttonous appetite for the limelight. Of course he did. He has made a fortune off of Ford’s antics, and by scooping this exclusive interview has struck celeb scandal gold: this is a win-win for Kimmel, and something he freely cashed in on, even in spite of his final, sobering comments to Ford, a genuine (I think) attempt to get through for a moment:

You know, if you’re drinking enough that you can try crack in your 40s and you don’t remember it, maybe that’s something that you might want to think about, like, talking to somebody[…]I can see that your family really loves you and, you know, just something to think about. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. And I think it’s a good example for other people who might be in a similar situation.

What’s telling is that crack cocaine isn’t the focus here: making fun of Ford, people generally target his crack smoking. When they talk about his alcoholism, even his most gleeful detractors get a little serious. People in general are under the impression that it takes a special kind of stupid to become a crack addict. But alcoholism is something we see around us all the time, even in privileged white middle-class neighbourhoods. A lot of us, I think, imagine cocaine as the poison of jive-talking 1970s Blaxploitation-film pimps (as in this priceless clip of Sesame Street’s Gordon as a jive-talking 1970s Blaxploitation pimp). We imagine alcohol as the poison of our absentee fathers, our estranged uncles, the ones we don’t like to talk about because their stories are closer to home, and for that reason, more heartbreaking to the white middle class.

I think it’s important to underscore the seriousness of addiction here, in part because I have to admit I haven’t laughed so loudly or hard at a late-night talk show in years. Kimmel was so relentless and on-target, and Ford so clumsy in his clinging to rote phrases and transparent evasion, that I started having flashbacks to Tom Mulcair’s now-famous Question Period skewering of Stephen Harper. It was almost like journalism—almost, only because anything resembling journalism surrounding Mayor Ford is now so steeped in his own private theater of the absurd, his own delusional bubble of circus buffoonery, that nothing resembling serious journalism can take place. Even Robyn Doolittle’s viral book on Ford, Crazy Town, can only be so “journalistic” about him before collapsing into the massive gravity well of ridiculousness that surrounds Mayor Ford at all times.

We now come to the truth of the matter: utter ridiculousness, ego, and a total lack of shame are all it takes to be a celebrity. I’ll even go as far as to suggest that people who say Ford shouldn’t be milking his reality-star potential for all it’s worth are dead wrong. It’s the only thing he’s ever been good at, and probably the only thing he’ll ever be good at. Telling Ford not to make a blustering fool of himself on national TV is like telling Bruce Lee to quit the martial arts. It’s like telling Wolvervine, who is famously the best at what he does, to stop thrashing evil with his crazy adamantium claws. It’s like telling Sidney Crosby that, hey, maybe there’s something you can do that would be more fulfilling than being the greatest hockey player in the world.

Let’s be frank: there is a certain thing that Rob Ford is better at than anybody else in the world right now. And unlike most celebrities whose talents are severely compromised by drugs and alcohol (the incomparable but tragic Eric Clapton was for too many years a fine example), Ford is genuinely better at this job the worse his substance abuse gets. In an age when talented celebrity artists like singer Justin Bieber, actresses Amanda Bynes and Lindsay Lohan, rapper Chris Brown, and other people we don’t like merely dabble in making a public train wreck of their lives, the way Paris Hilton dabbled in pop singing, Rob Ford is schooling each and every one of them. If you’re looking for a celebrity train wreck, don’t go looking for Lohan anymore; she’s somehow still a professional actress, for good or ill, and just an amateur train wreck in her spare time.

Rob Ford is the world’s only highly paid, publically endorsed, professional celebrity train wreck. Like Stubbs the Cat, the Mayor of Walkeetna, Ford’s professional mandate is no longer to handle budgets or transit agendas, liaise with City Council, or have any contact with the affairs of municipal government. Instead, he is being paid his full mayoral salary to do exactly what a ceremonial cat mayor does: show up at official parties and inaugural events, lie around the office, chew on catnip whenever he gets the urge, lick his own behind, and appear in adorable Internet videos in which it’s funny watching him fall off of things. At all of these tasks, Ford excels.

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I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE #stopmayoring

As a cartoonish mascot, Ford is finding the success that eluded him as a serious politician. He’s as watchable as a LOLCat despite being only half as articulate. His downward spiral, a meteoric and ongoing crash that makes Charlie Sheen’s meltdown look like a three-point landing, is positively hypnotic. Turning and turning in the widening gyre, Ford cannot hear his brother and campaign manager Doug, shouting orders from Ford Nation central in a desperate bid to keep re-election hopes alive. Doug is the last person alive, perhaps, to think Ford’s brief future as a terrible politician would be better for anyone than his brief future as one of the greatest celebrity train wrecks who ever lived.

Whatever you may think of the ethics of Jimmy Kimmel’s all-guns-blazing roast of Ford—whether you think he abused an addict shamelessly for ratings, or did Toronto a huge service by ramping up the circus to 11, nailing the coffin shut on Ford’s re-election hopes—you can’t deny that the show was “good television,” whatever that means. Kimmel’s schtick, his art form, his whole thing as a performer, is this kind of mean-spirited skewering of public figures, this satirical comment on what it means to be a celebrity. Whatever the ethics of that art, Ford has inspired him to create his best work. It might have been a cruel show, but it was not a mediocre show. It might have been a bloodbath, but it was a bloodbath worthy of Dexter. As a comic muse, as North America’s pre-eminent grade-A laughingstock, there is no substitute for Rob Ford—no one who does the job better. He’s a court jester in every sense of the word—a government-funded clown given free reign to say anything he pleases and an unprecedented amount of diplomatic immunity. He has broken late-night out of its formula; he is breaking politics out of his formula as cities like Ottawa scramble to reform their weak municipal precautions to ensure that a crippling Rob Ford Attack can never happen to their own city councils. And finally, this patron saint of sauced-up bombastic delusion is so much larger than life, such a dominant figure, that he’s pulling attention off the young celebs I’ve mentioned—former child stars ill-equipped to handle the pressures of public life and substance abuse. Can it be that this is, in fact, a good thing?

No matter how much you hate Justin Bieber’s recent antics (I sure do!), you can spin a certain tragic narrative. A kid too talented, made famous too soon, is exploited by an entire industry, taken out of his already broken home, hooked on various drugs before his brain’s even finished growing, harassed and stalked and heckled over the awful breakup of his first serious relationship. And when his life falls apart, he’s expected to put it back together while we all watch. This is true of every public celebrity meltdown: by the time these meltdowns occur, sure, those celebrities are often awful people—but we owe it to the people they began as to ask ourselves how they became that way. The was once an adorable hopeful 14-year-old singer-songwriter named Justin Bieber. There was once a painfully shy and sensitive teenager named Michael Jackson, who was Pinocchio before he was Peter Pan: he just wanted a chance (the one he never got) to be a real boy. For every cute-kid Anakin Skywalker on the brink of the pop culture dark side, there is a classical tragedy waiting—one of hamartia, hubris, and decline.

Robyn Doolittle’s Crazy Town, which remains a well-crafted work in spite of the inescapable gravity well of Ford tabloidism, does the service of asking this question: just where did this awful person come from and why? Every public figure who’s undergone a great fall (especially those like Ford, whose public life is one gigantic pratfall) deserves the asking of this question—or else a healthy shunning while they get their life together. Note how Amanda Bynes was only a celebrity train wreck until she began getting help—then the tabloids backed off. If Ford is “pulling” the press off his fellow addicts and public-eye criminals while they get their lives together, like a patois-shouting mother bird leading us away from the nest, can it be that his presence is helping people more than it’s hurting? Can it be that Rob Ford, like Gollum before him—a socially maladjusted criminal helplessly enslaved by his addiction as much as his own shattered psyche—actually have come to us for a reason? Perhaps, as Gandalf would say, we were meant to have him. And perhaps, in the unlikeliest turn of all, the pity of Jimmy Kimmel will rule the fate of many.

We must remember that we are as capable of learning from bad examples as we are from good ones. Before Rob Ford, the white middle class’s dominant pop-culture cocaine abusers were amazing and attractive people in the public eye: Eric Clapton, as mentioned, but also Sherlock Holmes. Even one of Holmes’s two signature actors, the brilliant Robert Downey Jr., shows people just what an extraordinary life of genius, sex appeal, fame, fortune, success—and yes, even happiness—can follow a severe crack problem. This is a dangerous thing for people to see, because of course these drug-dogged heroes are the rare exceptions. For every Robert Downey, there is a River Phoenix, a John Belushi, a Philip Seymour Hoffman. For every Clapton, there is a Hendrix, a Jim Morrison, a Keith Moon. Celebrity aside, for every one of these post-drug success stories, there are tens of thousands of people who die alone in concrete stairwells drenched in their own fluids.

And yet, despite these numbers, and despite the efforts of recovering addicts to educate the public about their mistakes—consider, for example, this incredibly frank interview of just how much addiction governed and ruined Clapton’s life—the celebrity mystique, sometimes driven by unparalleled talent and creativity, sends an unstoppable message that drug use can be cool—or at least, that drug users can be cool in spite of their personal vices. We love our recovering addicts, our survivors, because their stories are hero-stories. It makes us feel good to know adversity can be overcome.

Rob Ford is my anti-drug, and I think he’s an important one. We need to know that anyone, not just disadvantaged inner-city youth, can be ruined by addiction and the damage it causes. We need to see the ugly truth about the aggression, paranoia, brain damage, and physical wear and tear that addictions—and even one-time use of some drugs—can cause. We need to see that alcohol is not any more harmless than cocaine just because it’s perfectly legal to buy and drink all you want. We need to see, and see quite publically, that no matter how rich and powerful you are, no matter how easily you dodge censure in the workplace or the courts, there is no escaping the toll it takes on you. We need to see that middle-aged addicts are not rich and handsome and brilliantly creative. They are sometimes ugly, and stupid, and hypnotically pitiful. We need to see, as only Kimmel has shown us, that the people we think are our friends are not really laughing with us. In short, as a culture, aside from the degree of lowest-common-denominator reality-trash entertainment of Ford’s tailspin, we may actually need what Ford gives us.

And what is the cost, now, that we pay for this public spectacle? The Toronto City Council chugs on as it always has, with the perfectly-capable Norm Kelly at the helm. He may be a good mayor or a bad mayor—he may echo Nathan Phillips, or Art Eggleton, or Mel Lastman—but it really doesn’t matter. Any mayor, good or bad, could do the job better than Rob Ford—even the venerable Mr. Stubbs of Walkeetna. Ford’s power is completely eroded, and his hopes of regaining it before his liver follows suit are virtually nil. What once might have been the risk of reputational damage is gone: as film industry execs have said, Toronto is economically strong and thriving with or without Ford’s help—preferably without, but either way. There is no more mistaking the voice of this multiclassed village idiot/town drunk for the voice of the council or the city who so loudly and publicly despises him. There is only Rob Ford, the anti-drug, the poster boy for what kind of person substance abuse can turn you into. The only thing taxpayers are “out” over Ford, now, is Ford’s own salary, and that seems a reasonable price to pay for the anti-drug education and the massive public attention that Ford’s hilariously ineffectual presence continues to generate. There was a time, perhaps, when his antics were dangerous; he was political plutonium; he was a toxic presence in City Hall. But his half-life has worn down, and for all his bobbleheads and incomprehensible yelling and flailing, he is now non-toxic politically—indeed, he is quite politically inert, except as a cautionary tale for our young gangbanging crack-smokers: “You keep up running with those hoods, son, and one day you’ll be just like the Mayor of Toronto. Mark my words.”

We didn’t need him to go to Los Angeles to laugh at his expense—indeed, if the media is hungry for more of Rob Ford’s stupidity, they have more than enough to eat at home. But Ford’s whole game, both intentionally as a politician, and unintentionally as a cautionary court jester and cultural touchstone for substance-driven psychosis—is to go big or go home. As flabbergasted as I am with him, as opposed as I am to what shreds of his civic platform remain between “2pm-ditch mayoral summit to get plastered in bar” and “4pm-yell a lot and shake my arms around,” I find myself ending with the extremely unpopular opinion that maybe Rob Ford is not just the boorish, drunken, embarrassing hero we deserve—he’s the boorish, drunken, embarrassing hero we need.

To paraphrase again that greatest of wizards:

Frodo: I wish Rob Ford had never come to us. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide[…]there are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Toronto was meant to find Rob Ford. In which case, you were also meant to have him. And that is an encouraging thought.

Alternately, as it is often said “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” Before he died of alcoholism at the age of 41, Brendan Behan appended the words “—except your own obituary” to this old saying. Let us hope that whatever happens next—whether he accepts the invitation to Senator-turned-alleged-wife-rapist Patrick Brazeau’s strip club with hilariously predictable results, whether he goes on a gasoline-huffing bender and hijacks the Goodyear Blimp, whether he suffers a semi-conscious pratfall into the Queen’s nethers like the brilliant, much-more-intentional Canadian buffoon Leslie Nielsen, whether the next cell phone video confiscated shows him living out every hilarious moment of Grand Theft Auto V’s Trevor Phillips (very NSFW) in real life, whether he climbs the CN Tower with his bare hands on a crack-fueled rampage, or whether he wins a heroic re-election only to spend his entire new term living out the best moments of Curly the Stooge—let us hope for Ford, for humanity, for at-risk youth, for late-night entertainment, and for ourselves, that the inevitable Ford obituary is still a long, long way off. “I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies,” said Gandalf, “but there is a chance of it[…]my heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end.”

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