Even now, I can’t help but smile when I see Rob’s face.
Why do we love Rob Ford? Is it the delightful way he smokes his crack? Is it the tender way he describes cunnilingus? Is it the precious way he proclaims the details of his drunken stupors and other acts of debauchery? Is it the endearing way he runs into cameras, trips with footballs, and impersonates Jamaicans? Believe it or not, the correct answer is all of the above.
We love him for two reasons, one empirical and the other normative.
For the empirical reason, we love him because he really can’t fall any further down the rabbit hole than he already has. We can’t possibly lower our standards for him more than we have already done, and, by God, he’s met our incredibly low standards! In the wise words of Phil Dunphy from Modern Family, “The key to happiness is lowering your expectations.”
At this point, no one is surprised by anything he does, because we’ve already seen the worst. At this point, he’s predictable. Oh dear, could he get boring? Ha ha! Nope. Never.
The normative side to explaining why we love Rob Ford is a little more complicated, but the point is crystal clear: we love him because he’s Elvis. No, not 1950’s “Hound Dog” R&B-meets-Rock-n’-Roll, appropriating-black-culture Elvis, I’m talking about 1970’s karate-chop-kicking, white-disco-jumpsuit-wearing, Rockabilly-singing, imitating-white-workingmen Elvis. If you bear with me –hold on, don’t close your browser—I’ll prove to you that 1970’s + Elvis = Rob Ford. I’ll do it. Just watch me.
But first, a little Cultural Studies. According to Eric Lott, author of “All the King’s Men: Elvis Impersonators and White Working-Class Masculinity”, 1950’s Elvis is all about imitating black culture and addresses the white workingman’s anxiety about race. On the other hand, the 1970’s Elvis impersonates white culture and deals with the white workingman’s anxiety about class.
In the 1950’s, Elvis became the so-called King of Rock n’ Roll. But that title assumes that he’s the one who dominated the genre. Don’t get me wrong, I love Elvis, but he did not dominate Rock n’Roll. He didn’t even initiate it. No, it was, in fact, the African-Americans of the 1940’s who actually initiated—and dominated—Rock n’ Roll. Elvis was really just a black-rocker impersonator, the kind of true-to-form impersonator Elvis himself would come to have. What 1950’s Elvis represented was the white man’s link to African-American culture. By virtue of their skin colour, whites were able to venture into the world of soulful and passionate music, while still being anchored in the “White World” and reaping its benefits.. Elvis was the rope that whites used to swim in the shallow ends of the black pool, and their pale skin was the anchor preventing them from getting too deep, ensuring that they would always be able to come home.
Well, all that changed with 1970’s Elvis. Instead of representing white working people’s feelings of being threatened – and simultaneously tempted – by black culture, 1970’s Elvis represented the white workingman’s anxieties about having a lower income than the upper classes while still being forced to deal with them. By class, Lott meant income level. Even though Elvis was making about $17 million dollars a year (he’s STILL making money!), his image in the 1970’s was all about the working class because he specifically rejected elite culture. He did cheesy moves like karate chops, wore kitschy outfits, and refused the hoity-toity nose-up-in-the-air sophisticated lifestyle of the elites (as in those with income levels comparable to his). Why? Well, because the working class was his base—sort of like his supporters—much like the case of Rob Ford.
Just like 70’s Elvis, Rob Ford purposely distances himself with the upper class. He dismisses elitist policies, he fights for the little guy, and, most importantly, he chooses crack over upper-east-side-esque coke. Every time Rob Ford says that he doesn’t watch CNN because he prefers to watch hockey, every time he dances around or laughs at someone in Toronto City Hall, every time he trips, falls, or goes into a Tim Hortons (presumably to put on a Jamaican accent), and every time he plays Bob Marley, he reinforces the statement that he doesn’t play by the big man’s rules. What’s more, he doesn’t want to. So take that, elites!
1970’s Elvis represented the workingman’s anxieties about feeling inferior to the upper classes, and, by intentionally rejecting the gestures, fashions, and vogues of the higher than thou class, so does Rob Ford. Even when Elvis got nearly too ridiculous and almost became a parody of himself, we still loved him. See the connection now?
On a less cynical note, every time Rob Ford fights for the everyday workingman, like by achieving collective agreements with the unions, he proves he’s willing to fight for you, even and especially when no one else will. See, Rob Ford hugs people and shakes Hydro workers’ hands during Toronto 2013 ice storm while John Tory tees off in Florida.
Rob Ford and his voters say that they don’t care about the gossip because they have more important things to think of, and that, regardless of the elite-driven left wing media’s accusations, they still believe in Rob. He’s still doing a good job, and they still support him. Whenever this happens, Rob Ford gets closer and closer to being the ideal everyman.
Even his name, Rob, seems friendly and befitting of an everyman. Not Karen, not Christopher, not Gregory or David or even John, Rob is a name truly worthy of an everyman.
So Rob Ford really is 1970’s Elvis. They both represent the average working man, they both signify workingmen’s stresses about feeling threatened by upper classes, and they both make more money in a month than their supporters make in a year.
We love Rob ‘cause he’s an everyman, ‘cause he’s us, and ‘cause he can’t get any worse.