Is crack supposed to make you all scratchy?

Alexandra Kimball has described Rob Ford’s irony well. But we should remember the source of that irony. Ford himself strikes me as sincere. He may lack nuance and dignity, but it’s not on purpose. His political team has turned his deficiencies into “relatability,” but this irony was not generated by Ford himself. Ford is just a crank who loves coaching football, talking to constituents and mucking up Toronto politics.

So if Rob Ford did smoke crack, it’s because he enjoys smoking crack, not because he’s perpetuating “a deep mixing” of “masculine power with the signifiers of poverty and powerlessness.” Kimball is right to point out that the irony lies in Ford’s “public image,” and that from a distance Ford’s supposed crack smoking adds up to more of his “white-guy power [being] wrapped around … symbols of powerlessness.” Ford certainly is seen as “lower class”(and what’s more lower-class than being pictured with hooded black drug dealers?) while promoting typical “white-guy power” politics. But what if he doesn’t have to pretend in order to achieve that end?

People assume the well off act a certain way, that they do coke instead of crack. But why do we assume dignity—if you can call coke dignified—flows from wealth? Because of his privilege and political agenda, Ford is supposed to be above this “white trash” behaviour. But might not the idle-handed mayor be exactly what he seems?

For guidance on the “ironic take,” I turned to Gabe Foreman’s A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Kinds of People hoping there was an entry for “Crack Heads” that I had forgotten. Sadly, there was not, but I was reminded of what I learned from that book: that a joke like we make of Rob Ford “has longed for death so long/ it isn’t even funny.” Rob Ford is still funny, but like Foreman’s book, below the joke “a darkness [is] upon the face of the deep.”

“It’s a world of heartache and pain…that’s why I’m sellin’ ’em crack cocaine”

As for the “white trash” angle, Ford’s been connected to a few acts described in Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady:” like his brother Doug, he’s proud of not having “to sugarcoat [his speech] at all,” he’s been accused of groping women’s asses and rumours have swirled about domestic abuse. I especially hope the latter rumour is false, but I have no idea. But if there’s any truth to them at all, here’s the thing: Eminem, no matter his personal record, ironically distances himself from his content using the Slim Shady persona, while Ford is his persona.

We must create Ford’s irony, or his paradox, in our perception of him. Without that, Ford’s his own sincere person. He’s always been “an embarrassing guest” at Conrad Black’s dinner party, the one guy in the posh room with some real street cred and probably the only one who could do something as working class as coaching football.

Rob Ford is unironic, belligerent and supports a conservative “starve the beast” agenda. There’s no reason he can’t act genuinely “low-class” while supporting rightwing policies (my native country, the USA, has plenty of this type). Is he in power because too many people failed to realize this? It would seem we don’t need to detect irony, but to see through irony in order to detect the sincerity behind it. While that’s not a concern for the irony-obsessed crowd, it should be for those who mistook a sincere lack of sophistication for a commitment to the common person. Not that Ford isn’t concerned for the common person, or at least believes himself to be, but if he is the proof is in his actions, not his personality. Kimball gets that, and she sees an “everyday guy” bluff obscuring a rich guy agenda. But she’s preaching to the choir.

Like G.W. Bush, Rob Ford is loved because he seems to be grounded. Literary arguments identifying the gap between his public perception and his policies, while interesting, will not change that. This crack thing, though, might be a bit too real.

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