It’s too late to feel sorry for Rob Ford

Humber Et Cetera Editorial

When Rob Ford died on Tuesday, instead of mourning, some people only continued to laugh at the former Toronto mayor.. TMZ ran a headline simply describing him as “Crack Mayor” while international outlets angled their coverage towards his boorish public persona. Meanwhile, on social media, R.I.P.s rolled facetiously proclaiming Ford “the greatest rapper of all time” and “a legend”, as though he were an eccentric genius instead of an addict.

Ford definitely knew that there were benefits to being a visible personality, but much of what was muckraked in the last few years did not seem like an elaborate PR campaign. It looked like a downward spiral. Crack cocaine and alcohol abuse were publicly acknowledged by the mayor. He made messy associations with Toronto’s criminal underworld; many of the men pictured in the scandalous “crack photo” went missing or were mysteriously found dead months later. He sought the frequent company of his “driver” Alessandro Lisi, a known drug dealer whose own brutal enforcer was also hired by Ford to coach Ford’s high school football team. He went on intoxicated rants that were offensive to women, gays, and people of colour, sometimes simultaneously. These shouldn’t have been read as entertainment. Yet because these were so outlandish (and because Ford had already established himself as a clownish heel), the world chortled at our buffoon of a mayor with Torontonians being the first to point and laugh.

The coverage of Rob Ford during and after his crack-smoking scandal should have made him look ridiculous. It should have caused people to look at the man behind the public drunken racist slurs and deduce that he needed help and even more that he was unfit to lead the country’s largest city. Instead, he was cheered on by a bloodthirsty audience, eager to see how far down he would plummet. Torontonians were proud of his infamy. For once, we weren’t just known for Drake (when pictures of the two together surfaced, the retweets and Facebook shares flew wildly). This fandom propelled Ford, adding to his legend as a consummate populist as much as his supporters did when they sympathized with his bungled attempts to save face. It took Ford’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent disappearance from the public eye for him to stop being a meme.

When a prominent figure displays signs of being unwell, whether mentally or physiologically, public reaction usually depends on how beloved they are. Because Ford was both admired and reviled for his bumbling everyman character, this reaction was in limbo and few knew whether his antics were just an act or a cry for help. By default, the latter should always be assumed. There is no need to entertain someone’s public meltdowns even on the off-chance they’re purely for attention. There is value in having compassion for celebrities. Beneath the infamy, Rob Ford was human—no matter how flawed he seemed to be. Maybe if this were taken into consideration Ford’s health wouldn’t have declined so drastically.

Now that he’s dead, the Torontonian public is showing a strangely disproportionate amount of respect and reverence for Ford. In the days following his death, he has been compared to Princess Diana and hailed as a visionary politician. Where was all of this in the thick of Ford’s personal crisis? During his tenure he was rightfully criticized for neglecting Toronto’s LGBT community and his counter-intuitive adoption of fiscal conservatism. Our nature as humans ­– feeling callous for speaking ill of the dead – pardons and erases sins instantly.

So, how to remember this man? Ford’s positives were what won him the election, but it was apparent hubris and/or addiction resulted in his worldwide infamy. Those qualities are not something that should be celebrated, especially considering the damage they did to the city he ran. But perhaps it doesn’t matter what he did here. A person’s terminal illness does not wipe out their sins. Let’s remember Ford without the polished and apologetic tributes. It is possible to be respectful of the dead without rewriting a man’s history.

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