When Rob Ford burst onto world stage two weeks ago like the plump kid in Hook barreling down a rickety gangplank, it aroused a certain interest in Torontonians. Like dorks trying to catch the eye of the cool kid at a school dance, we all slicked back our eyebrows and straightened our neckties as the glance of global media snapped in our direction.
How would they write about our ludicrous mayor? "A colorful, controversial candidate with a lot of skeletons in his closet," offered the Miami New Times. How do you ask if the mayor of Toronto smokes crack in the language of love? "Il sindaco di Toronto fuma crack?" Italy's il Post answered, in the form of a question. But anyone waiting on the western world's premiere periodical of leather-elbowed cultural critique and obsolete diareses to weigh on was left starved and unsatisfied. Until...wait for it...right now.
Exhale. Breathe easy. Adam Gopnik has written a thing about Rob Ford for The New Yorker. Yes, The New Yorker.
Titled, Falstaff in Toronto, Angelo In New York, Gopnik seizes upon a rare moment of frivolous dormancy while being ferried from Montreal to Toronto aboard a speeding (rather, "strolling at velocity, this being Canada," whatever that means) locomotive to skim his prose-quiver ‘cross the shallow inkwell of his imagination, deigning to explain Rob Ford, managing to use the word "burghers" in the first sentence, which clocks in at 70 whole words. (That sentence just now was carefully drawn out to 71 words, to prove that it is possible to be even just one word wordier than Mr. Words, Adam Gopnik.) He is en route to Stratford, Ontario, "to give a talk on Shakespeare and feasting."
Reading this thing more-or-less replicates what it must feel like for a cartoon thermometer to be dipped into an active volcano, mercury slowly rising until it grows a furrowed-brow angry face and explodes.
Gopnik follows the whole Rob Ford-as-revenge-of-the-post-amalgamation-Megacity argument, as if he overheard someone clucking about it at a wine tasting hosted somewhere in the well-upholstered Laurentian corridor. He then (perhaps intentionally) misrepresents the motives of the Somali men allegedly in possession of the Rob Ford video, while simultaneously working in a cheap crack at the expense of Calgary.
The best detail in the story, though one capable of being truly relished only by Canadians, is that the Somalis, who were peddling the video for money, wanted the money in order to leave Toronto and escape to Calgary. (Calgary is a place that not even an Albertan would confuse with Rio de Janeiro or the Bahamas or any other more customary site of post-caper getaways.)
In fact, according to Gawker, the men in possession of the video intended to use the money to move to a city where they could extricate themselves from the drug trade, Calgary being (like Toronto) another major port-of-call in the Somali-Canadian diaspora. Further, Gopnik seems to possess zero knowledge of Toronto's abounding envy for Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, whose seemingly bottomless likeability has positioned him as Canada's anti-Rob Ford, even though it's about as tired and well-trodden as the whole Rob Ford: Suburban Payback! line. But Calgary sucks, though, right? It's cold there. Brrrrrr...
And there's so much more!
Being as he is currently thinking about Shakespeare (and feasting) and being as Rob Ford is currently a thing, Adam Gopnik connects the dots and pops a Falstaffian comparison out of the can.
[W]hat an honest observer has to accept is that the obese and unashamed Ford is, by any accurate, unsentimental standard, a ‘Falstaffian' figure: a man of appetite for intoxicating, or merely inflating, substances who prevaricates [sic] and luxuriates and bounces from scandal to scandal and roguelike imposture [sic] to roguelike imposture [sic, again] without, it seems, any sense of honor, or any stopper on his gullet.
To clarify: if you do not think that Rob Ford is literally a "Falstaffian" figure who "prevaricates and luxuriates and bounces" and who has a "gullet," you are at least inaccurate, if not dishonest (or worse, sentimental). Because New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik wrote so while he was riding on a choo choo train, destination: a Shakespeare festival where he's delivering a talk on "feasting" (opening line, delivered to the laughter equivalent of a golf clap: "Do dine! To feast! But seriously folks...").
Gopnik goes on to generously use the pronoun "we" to denote not just some common plural personage, but any pseudo-Shakespeare scholar who has read "Professor Harold Bloom in particular," effectively minting a whole new patronizing "we" that splits the difference between the editorial "we" and the royal "we."
At the risk of losing New Yorker readers - who are, generally, either New Yorkers or aspiring New Yorkers - Gopnik expands the Shakespearean analogy to include Anthony Weiner, whom he compares to Angelo from Measure For Measure, "a sensual hypocrite" for snapping pictures of his own dick. It's like Gopnik is using teeny-tiny Shakespearean finger puppets to break down municipal politics to the pair of gently nodding opera glasses that are his presumed reader.
Gopnik's point, it seems, is this: while "we" (i.e. people who have read or seen or studied Henry IV and Measure For Measure) are taught to, at some level, feel for characters like Falstaff or Angelo, "in life such an extension of our empathy seems unnatural." Of Falstaff, Gopnik says that the general takeaway is that "[f]lawed human appetite, we're told, is better than abstract principle."
Gopnik seems to fundamentally miss the idea that Falstaff and Angelo are fictional constructions drawn up by their creator - what's his name...Shakespeare - precisely to illustrate such lessons in empathy; i.e. that they are, for lack of a better designation, abstract principles. Ford (or, sure, Weiner) may be cautionary tales to their respective municipalities. But our "learning" this isn't a reprisal for our snoozing through too many upper level Shakespeare seminars, or for not having parents who are both of them McGill professors. It's a matter of life being both more and less rich than literature, and even Shakespeare, if we're to take for granted that that's still some zenith of literature circa the year 2013.
Despite Gopnik's laughably closed-off assumptions to the contrary, nobody elected Rob Ford as burghermeister of Toronto because they were responding to his Falstaffian dimension. Now that would be some pretty wild suburban revenge-type stuff: a commingling of comedy and high tragedy worthy of, well, nevermind.
By New Yorker standards, one of those sandpaper dry single-panel comics depicting a couple dining at a fancy restaurant with the caption "Rob Ford." would have scanned as more insightful than Gopnik's scribbled, sub-academic hackery. Christ, what an asshole.
Mediaocrity runs every so often.