I sit in front of my laptop, a credit card in the palm of my hand. Then I pause. Should I cough up some dough for the chance to watch Toronto’s mayor raise a crack pipe to his lips?
As I write this, the Rob Ford Crackstarter – a campaign by gossip blog Gawker to crowd-source $200,000 to buy the video allegedly showing Ford sucking on the proverbial devil’s dick – is about to crack the $100,000 mark. Local publisher House of Anansi has upped the ante, offering up free electronic copies of their Little Book of Rob Ford to those who donate as little as the cost of a $5 rock.
Excitement is high among the many Torontonians who’d love to see Ford bite the dust. But like so much that surrounds our cuddly looking but nasty-talking mayor, the situation has made me more jittery than a rail of Colombia’s finest. Just because we can – through the power of social media and online fundraising – turn a private moment into a public spectacle, does that mean that we should?
From the Tommy Lee sex tape to the US congressional sexting scandal known as Weinergate, we’ve seen over and over that public figures have no privacy. And with the increasing encroachment of CCTV cameras into all manner of Toronto urban spaces, little is sacrosanct for ordinary individuals, either. And admit it, most of us have done something in private that we wouldn’t necessarily want on the public record.
With the ubiquity of iPhones, YouTube and XTube, it all comes down to who you believe you can trust – to questions of judgment. And if our mayor were in fact impaired by the excessive use of crack cocaine and hard liquor, what would that say about his decision-making capabilities and his ability to effectively hold the reins of North America’s fourth-largest city?
When I heard about the allegations about Ford’s alleged substance-abuse problem, my response was far more sadness that schadenfreude. Issues of addiction and recovery are very close to me and the people I care most about. It can be so hard for people to admit they battle such a personal struggle but so rewarding – both to the individual and everyone around them.
And to Ford, that “everyone” would mean not just his wife, son and daughter, not just his mother and siblings – including a sister who has reportedly struggled with drug abuse – but also 44 city councillors and 2.6-million citizens whose lives are affected by his erratic behaviour.
Unlike Ford, many people earn the label of “functioning addicts,” who manage jobs and relationships with a perhaps foreshortened potential but little negative impact on others. But Ford’s list of dysfunctions is longer than the most well-endowed pornstar’s schlong. One local citizen has been tracking a sobering list of his most egregious and offensive gaffes that have occurred over the past decade.
If you abhor racism, care about preventing HIV, see through a rich man’s transparent rhetoric about sparing “the taxpayer” – there are plenty of reasons to despair over Ford’s reign and wish to see him deposed. Does that mean he should be outed as a so-called “crackhead”?
Let’s set aside for a moment that Ford is a polarizing public figure. I don’t feel that drug use is inherently wrong. And I don’t believe that just because something is illegal that makes it immoral. I support the decriminalization of drug use and the drug trade. I wonder if those of us on the left would be as zealous about this media circus if we were talking about Margaret Atwood snorting Oxys or Olivia Chow popping E.
Many of us would like to live in a city where no one in the Ford family had any political power, but if we leverage society’s skewed hatred of addicts and crooked drug laws to bring down Ford, aren’t we just – in the words of black lesbian-feminist pioneer Audre Lorde – trying to use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house?
Consider the origins of outing as a political strategy advocated by queers starting in 1989. (Of course, outing people as queer was assuredly a political strategy for centuries before that.) Closeted people who supported anti-gay positions were exposed, facing shame and stigma in a homo-hating society.
The argument against outing is that it robs people of the ability to come to a sense of identity and level of public comfort in their own time and on their own terms. And there are more modern parallels indeed. Witness the contemporary question faced by HIV-positive folks regarding openness regarding their status. For many people, this can be very empowering. But conversely, our country’s HIV-criminalization laws also mean that innocent people’s health statuses can be used against them by vindictive and sometimes-dishonest grudge-holders. As in the Ford case, personal identities and private practices can shine under very public spotlights. Is that fair or not?
At the advent of gay political outing, the rallying cry was that of exposing hypocrisy. Should a public figure get to munch on that same-sex dong or muff if they publicly abhor queers or benefit from those who despise us? And along those same lines, when it comes to a possibly drug-impaired Rob Ford, the shoe of hypocrisy – or perhaps the tie-dyed, psychedelic scarf – fits.
Ford, you fought against HIV-prevention money for people “doing needles.” You were caught on tape offering to buy someone OxyContin while claiming “you don’t even know any drug dealers” – well, they sure say they know you. You called the idea of a homeless shelter “an insult” to your constituents. Dude, if this video is real, homeless folks are your brothers and sisters – where do you get off treating them like garbage? And did you seriously call Justin Trudeau a fag? I think I need to see this for myself.
In the short time it’s taken me to produce the article, the Rob Ford Crackstarter has moved another $15,000 toward its goal. As I wrap this story, I open the other tab in my browser window and click on “Contribute Now.”
Shawn Syms has been a queer activist and journalist for more than 25 years. He’s the editor of Friend. Follow. Text. #storiesFromLivingOnline, out this October from Enfield & Wizenty.