In 2008, David Miller was mayor, and we were bored.
In lieu of real scandals to cover, Toronto alt-media came to embody the worst elements of 00s-era hipster navel-gazing and consequently turned on itself. The big deal that summer was a Kate Carraway piece published by Eye Weekly, in which she demanded a meaner, more vicious, more critical local media scene.
Carraway's manifesto insisted that Toronto should be more like New York, and that we were poorer for not having our own clique of quasi-literary assholes such as those described in a then-infamous coming-of-age essay by Jessica Roy.
That Roy essay, New York Magazine wrote, "got us thinking [about] all of the things that had happened to us and our friends when we were younger that have could put us off writing forever. Like...those times when we've realized: Everyone knows each other. And it's kind of awful."
By the following summer, 2009, I had been fired from my gig at Torontoist and had started thinking about Toronto media in similar terms - about how the structures of it reward some types of people and exclude others. I wasn't sure if I was in or out.
There was a monthly night at 751 on Queen Street West that was DJed by assorted Eye editors and their friends. It was called Track Meet and brought out a respectable cross-section of the people who comprised our little alt-media world at that time. As I wrote on my (now-defunct) personal blog that fall:
Usually the hipsters and the journos dilute each other's less welcoming qualities, but last month the two groups ended up sufficiently stratified such that the main floor was predominantly populated by people who had all interviewed / been interviewed by / edited / been edited by each other: the complete Eye Weekly/Spacing/National Post/The Varsity axis, if you will. There was something dispiriting about such a gathering, though not through the fault of the individuals involved. (Nor do I consider myself independent of this clique.) I'm still trying to pin down exactly why that was, as "incestuousness," in and of itself, seems far too lazy an answer.
In 2013, Rob Ford is mayor, and Toronto media is bound together by a common enemy and mission. This is neither sustainable nor healthy, but it's still an interesting moment.
And there is something to be said for a broad, mainstream effort to correct the perceived injustice of the worst person imaginable achieving the highest public office in a city. A person who is not especially good at anything should not be able to get away with everything. Rob Ford can't help but rouse a primal journalistic craving for public accountability.
In this context, a Rob Ford Trivia Night makes so much sense, hardly anyone cared that it was essentially organized by media people for media people, to be covered by yet other media people.
The June 19th event at The Ossington was put together by Barry Hertz (of Maclean's) and Erin Criger (of CityNews). It was won by a team that consisted of myself and several friends who work for Torontoist. At the end, a Toronto Star reporter interviewed some of us, and one person joked that they might find themselves laying out the page on which that article would appear.
There were other outlets represented on other teams, but the more journos you had, the better a chance you stood. As John Semley (my editor at NOW, who wasn't there) later cracked, it was like competing in Seinfeld Trivia if your team was made up of Seinfeld staff writers.
It was an artificial set of circumstances in which to feel superior, whether by choosing a team name that was more obscure than anyone else's ("That Was a Verbal Assault") or by knowing who finished fifth in the 2010 mayoral election (George Babula). Some of the notes I scribbled down for this article are, in retrospect, disgusting. Like, "If you don't know the date of Ford Fest, why do you know the date of this event?"
Kate Carraway wanted a sphere "where people trade intellect like currency." But I'm not sure a scene in which people hurl municipal minutiae like spitballs is any less icky.
Star reporter Robyn Doolittle was there. More than anyone, she knows the answers to Rob Ford trivia questions that no one else would think to ask. But she did not compete, figuring it would look bad on her whether she won or lost.
She departed mid-way through. And as she was stepping out, she turned to the screen showing the Taiwanese animation of Ford smoking crack, and casually quipped: "That's what it looked like."
By the end of the second it took me to process that statement and how it put each of us in our place, she was already out the door.
Answers to the above [highlight to reveal]
1) Jim O'Heir on Jimmy Kimmel Live
2) Gawker editor-in-chief John Cook
3) Toronto Star editor-in-chief Michael Cooke
4) Former Washington, D.C., mayor (and current councillor) Marion Barry
5) This Hour Has 22 Minutes' Mary Walsh
6) Professional villain Nick Kouvalis
7) City Hall security guard Mike Toolaram
8) Eldest brother Randy Ford
9) Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale
10) Former Ford staffer Michael Prempeh, whose Twitter account was @PeeTeePeee