What does it take to be Canada’s next top mayor? According to Rob Ford’s reign, it’s all about sex, drugs and reggae. Add a couple of felonies and you have yourself Jimmy Kimmel’s newest guest star.
Sadly enough, Rofo with his big gut and Big Gulp is winning the votes and garnering more attention than the majority of real political issues surrounding Canada and abroad. Hailed as a celebrity in the U.S., he was even considered for Jimmy Kimmel’s plus one to the Oscars.
Wynning Sympathy Votes
This celebrity culture has been reinforced by politicians themselves, such as Kathleen Wynne, who, instead of talking about serious issues and policy for the province, seems to be more interested in using her political platform as an opportunity to be the group sponsor these days.
So whose hands is she holding? Only the two most embarrassing Canadians of the year: Ford and Bieber.
While Wynne has also passed large political judgment on Ford, Wynne decided it was her public duty to provide emotional guidance to Justin Bieber, who now belongs to the United States in accordance with the ancient rites.
On Bieber, Wynne said that he “is a 19-year-old boy, young adult, who’s really been on such as fast track since he was 14 years old. I really hope there are people around him who are going to be able to circle around him with the love that he, I know, deserves and needs and help and support him so that he can get on track and stay on track.”
The Real World: Parliament Hill
While a glimpse of humanity in politicians is a relieving quality, perhaps celebrity intervention and diagnosis should be left to the likes of Dr. Phil and Oprah. We’re beginning to experience a reality-TV-style politics where Ford is the newest participant on Intervention or the Biggest Loser, and Trudeau is the latest contestant on The Bachelor. With just one click on YouTube, you can go from watching cats run into walls to watching Rob Ford run into well, everything.
However, Kathleen Wynne isn’t driving this crazy train herself. It’s hard to tell where exactly the delineation between politics and stardom became derailed. Something tells me this merge is emanating from the culture down south. After all, in both countries, this fender-bender of celebrity and political culture is leading to a watering down of important issues. Exhibit A: Obamamania.
While I’m a convert myself, the Obamenon is a perfect example of the rise of celebrity culture within government, and the effectiveness of this tactic– whether conscious or not. From having his face plastered on shirts, key chains, and any other paraphernalia you would pick up from an airport, Obama has become one of the biggest brands in the U.S. Ford is another brand name, with Ford himself throwing Ford Nation t-shirts in the crowd and his nay-sayers handing out “No Mo Ro Fo” buttons.
Policies aside, what does this hyped up form of recognition for Obama and Ford say about the state of politics?
Political Will and Political Bills
Perhaps one of the biggest culprits is the culture of political endorsements, where Oprah went from endorsing Obama to sipping Mai Tais with him and Michelle on their birthdays in Hawaii. Yet Obama is certainly not alone in this phenomenon, and rewarding donors with titles regrettably happens in every campaign.
On Team Romney, there was Lindsay Lohan, Jerry Bruckheimer (a former Bush pusher), Kid Rock, Meat Loaf, and Adam Sandler, just to name a few. Obama definitely lucked out with Jerry Springer, Snoop Dog, Leonardo DiCaprio, Paul Rudd, and Morgan Freeman.
From recent academic research coming out of Harvard to various newspapers across North America, there has been a lot of interest in how much weight celebrity endorsements have on political outcomes, especially in pushing the Obama brand. Overall, the consensus seems to be, quite simply: how could this sponsorship not influence political will? An even more troubling issue is that, while it seems as though celebrities are drawing people towards political issues, the glamorization of politics can actually dilute them.
While Jim Carrey was the target of a deportation petition by right wingers after his Ventura-esque video against American gun culture, Canadian celebrities have historically kept their bank accounts to themselves, save a few instances. However, like some American celebrities, they haven’t always kept silent on politics themselves.
The Political Spectrum
From Ellen Page’s powerful speech about increasing tolerance and equality for the LGBTQ community to Neil Young’s Honour the Treaties and anti-War tours in the past, it seems as though Canadian celebrities are more concerned about policy pressure than with poll pushing. And although Ryan Gosling has been relatively mute on political issues, that hasn’t stopped the internet from willing it so.
However, for every astute observation, there’s five more coming from the likes of the Biebs: “I’m not sure about the parties… But whatever, they have in Korea, that’s bad,” or humanitarian Mariah Carey: “Whenever I watch TV and see those poor starving kids all over the world, I can’t help but cry. I mean I’d love to be skinny like that but not with all those flies and death and stuff.”
And then there’s Arnie, a prime example of the hybrid this collision of celebrities and politicians can produce. While he made an impressive stand to support gay marriage while serving as a Republican governor, there is something suspect about Arnold’s evolution from celebrity to machine to governor. Similarly, there is something suspect about Rob Ford’s metamorphosis from mayor to crackhead to celebrity.
This type of evolution speaks to the devolution of political culture overall, where Bieber could very well be Kathleen Wynne’s opponent, with our girl Avril coming up the middle. Strangely enough, there have even been parallels made between sk8er girl Avril and pretty boy Trudeau, aside from their weed dealer. The commentary by Rex Murphy in The National Post questions the delineation between political and celebrity legitimacy in Trudeau’s case. Murphy asks, “Mr. Trudeau has the burden/benefit of being simultaneously a ‘pop’ figure as well as a real, vote-seeking politician. His fame is, to put it plainly, both serious and fluff. The question is what is the proportion of each?”
Some might argue this isn’t the end of the world – that this is what it takes to get people interested in politics, and, to be fair, the youth might actually get out and vote in Toronto’s next mayoral standoff. While there may be too many ironic votes cast in his favour, there is something to be said about the fact that more people are expected to vote in general. At the same time, the focus on Ford has been less on his politics and more about his next outrageous head line. Even worse is the fact that his popularity rates seem to hike with each shot he consumes.
So, my vote? Let’s not tempt the Beliebers into attending Trudeau’s “Ladies Night”, and let’s try to get celebrity and political culture as far away from each other as Rob Ford is from sobriety. After all, we vote for politicians to govern society, not tabloids.