Rob Ford's Tragedy, Our Shame

To say that the world is cruel and that the Internet is a public square harsher than any stocks-strewn space the Puritans could have dreamed up is to state the obvious. The proven success of judgmental Web content is why we have to put up with Perez Hilton’s near nakedness at red-carpet events. That acknowledgement aside, I can’t help but find the coverage of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford—of crack-smoking and drunken-tirade infamy—more than a little off-putting.

A video of a man presumed to be Ford smoking crack surfaced in May, and on Tuesday, he admitted to having used crack, “probably in one of my drunken stupors.” On Thursday, following the release of another video, this one showing the mayor in the midst of an expletive-filled tirade about his desire to commit “first-degree murder,” the mayor spoke to reporters, saying, “I hope none of you have ever or will ever be in that state.” Whether Ford was referring to his inebriation or his frame of mind isn’t clear, but it was a sad moment. Pathetic, really.

That Ford is sick seems fairly obvious to me. I don’t hold any medical degrees, but I’d say he has an addiction problem, and substance abuse—of, for instance, alcohol or crack cocaine—is treated by doctors as a disease, classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Ford’s still being in office is, from where I sit, a function both of his sickness—denial much? —and the idiocy of Ontario law, which doesn’t allow for impeachment. I am in no way suggesting he should be allowed to stay in office—this is politics, after all, not the Starting Over house, but there is something to be examined in our way of processing this whole scandal.

People who are progressive-minded have gone out of their way in recent decades to change the way we talk about addiction. It often goes hand in hand with mental illness. It slithers through family trees, a genetic weed. It has blighted urban black communities at epidemic rates for some decades now, and as of late, it is wreaking havoc on rural white communities.

At this particular moment in time, when we have both the medical knowledge of the science of addiction, and the statistical data to prove what awful damage it does to lives and communities, it seems unduly cruel to treat Rob Ford in the manner that we do—the auto-tuned videos and gifs of him falling aren’t funny. They’re examples of cultural regression; we feel entitled to make fun of Rob Ford because he’s every bit what we expect a worthless lush looks like. Red-faced. Fat. Boorish. Before my eyes, the Internet has turned to 19th-century patterns of human understanding, echoing of phrenology, with its prognostications of how criminals’ skulls are shaped, and what a sloping forehead or close-set eyes denote about a man’s character.

I know that the Web is not a place where the milk of human kindness flows freely, but really, a trickle would do here.