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Photos by Saajid Motala.
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Someone was clearly trolling someone.
In one way, Friday night's Ford Fest - with its thorough subversion of every lazy assumption regarding the narrowness, shallowness, and homogeneity of Rob Ford's support - was a massive troll on those for whom his reelection is unfathomable. It's sorta like Doug Ford saying, "You know the silent majority we're always talkin' about, the ones who come up to Rob and tell him what a great job he's doin' and to stay the course and ignore the media and keep on keepin' on? Well, here they fuckin' are."
In another way, Ford Fest - with a burger line snaking so long and so far that I could only quantify its length via the measurement tool on a Google Maps satellite image of Thomson Memorial Park - was a troll on Rob Ford's own supporters. It's the Fords living out their peculiar anachronistic vision of themselves as wealthy landowners inviting neighbouring peasants for a yearly feast in tribute to the family and its largesse. Only the most devoted (or hungriest) of serfs would brave a quarter-kilometre, two-hour lineup for a hamburger and pop.
In yet a further way, Ford Fest - with its thrice-performed charging rock hymn to Fordian resilience and frugality - was a troll on the Fords themselves. Mayor Ford (The World Will Remember) is an 80s-style anthem that could have come straight from Team America: World Police, yet betrays no hint of irony, unless you count its own self-evident absurdity. ("Mayor Ford, cost cowboy and rollback viceroy," goes the chorus.) After speaking to singer/co-writer Jenny James, however, I'm less sure that the song is 100% sincere, either. Although she was legitimately grateful for the opportunity to perform at Ford Fest, James said the ballad's genesis was a friend of hers making "a joke" about writing a song for Rob Ford.
And what is it the world will remember? "It could be like negative or positive; uh, it depends on who you talk to."
What better way to get Rob Ford to sing along to a ludicrous parody anthem about himself than to present it with a straight face?
Everything Ford Fest, and everything Ford, is suspended in this precarious limbo between earnestness and cynicism, criss-crossed with the suspicion that everyone is playing a prank on everyone else. The alternative - that obliviousness could penetrate so deeply to the core of the human soul - is too discouraging to seriously consider.
There was a kiddie midway with a miniature Ferris wheel. How could that not be a conscious reference to Doug follies of yore?
A man walks around with iguanas on his head. A Sun News reporter and her boyfriend hang out in the beer garden wearing matching camo pants. Mayor Ford receives well-wishers in his own little white tent, surrounded by hulking private security guards.
I have been to enough of these events to know what I am getting into. And yet I am always taken in directions I do not expect to go. Like the time I found a golden chimpanzee statue complete with sculpted genitalia in the Ford family backyard. (It was gone the next year.)
This year's Scarborough location presents new challenges and opportunities and keeps me on my toes. The sprawling park northeast of Lawrence and Brimley unfolds in every direction, families cluttering the hills. It's like a particularly crowded day on the Toronto Islands.
There are fewer Ford tourists (downtowners making the trek out of morbid curiosity) than in the last couple years, though it maybe just seems like it since everyone is dispersed over a much larger area.
It's tough to grasp Ford's grip on a substantial slice of the electorate until you've attended one of his carnivals. His appeal extends past ideology or policy into identification. Many people who feel disenfranchised not just by the political establishment but by the entire social hierarchy that underpins our culture have found in him a vessel for asserting themselves and their right to shape the world in which they live.
And they love him for it, the way you might have loved Barack Obama once upon a time.
The lineups for beer are short. This is likely due to the one-drink-per-person limit enforced via hand stamps. Or the fact that the Cool beer of years past has been replaced by Coors Light and Canadian. But the drinks are still free, even though this is a public park, not private property.
Rob Ford does not take a drink. He never drinks in public (though he's sometimes seen at the LCBO).
In an essay for the Ottawa Citizen, Andrew Potter argued that Rob Ford is "the Amy Winehouse of Canadian politics." He was referring not to specific self-destructive tendencies but to the way in which such tendencies are reinforced, normalized or lauded by fans who mistake them for marks of authenticity. "The worse things get, the more you spiral down, the more your so-called supporters cheer you on and tell you that is exactly how you are supposed to behave."
Potter castigates Ford's enablers - his handlers, media cheerleaders, and public devotees - for being "dangerously, even criminally, wrong" when they proclaim that "Ford's vices are actually virtues."
Ford Fest is a celebration of a man who, by many accounts, has personal problems that are not receiving the attention they require. It is a toast to who he is now, not to who he could be in the future. It is a festival and not an intervention.
In this crowd, it's difficult to remember a month and a half earlier, when the Toronto Sun ran a front page headline "Chief of staff axed after telling Ford... GO TO REHAB" - the last three words placed in such large type that they were plainly intended as a message from the paper itself.
At Ford Fest, however, it is as though the last month and a half never happened. It is as though the last three years have never happened, and Rob Ford is once again a plucky outsider campaigning for mayor on a straightforward platform of lower taxes and new subways.
It is a big, elaborate joke on everyone who hates him and everyone who loves him, and on the man himself, who has no incentive to ever, ever change.
At Ford Fest, everything is fine.