Rob Ford is a superhero

Colin Horgan makes sense of the spectacle


(CP photo)

As most anyone can tell you, there’s a difference between being famous and notorious. One detail separates the two. If you’re simply famous, a lot of people know you. If you’re notorious, a lot of people know you for unfavourable reasons. So it was that two men — one having slipped slightly from fame to notoriety thanks to a certain leaked tape; the other always more notorious than famous, but with an alleged leaked tape to help anyway — sat down at a table in downtown Toronto on Friday to arm wrestle.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford won. Or, at least, he “won” the contest, which was set up to promote Fan Expo. After struggling for a moment or two, Ford wrestled Hulk’s arm to the table. He was almost standing at one point, such was his effort to pin Hulk’s arm. As the cameras flashed, Hulk held on just long enough to guarantee everyone at least one usable shot. Hulk, unlike Ford, is more accustomed to building audience suspense. And while Ford seems destined to never, ever take part in a well-choreographed performance, Hulk is known for little else. It was staged, obviously. No surprise, surely, for Hulk fans. And perhaps no surprise, either, for those who doubt Ford’s every move – another mildly unbelievable, bizarro moment to add to a lengthening list.

But so much of the tilt made sense. It made sense because both men have had their disputes with embarrassing (allegedly, in Ford’s case) videos leaked to Gawker, and it made sense because both men seem to have an eye for the unapologetic spectacle. It made sense because politics, like wrestling, is so often perceived to be a theatrical performance with the real decisions made in advance, backstage, by performers other than the ones people see every day.

It made sense because both men, in each of those respective realms, seem almost super-human. Hulk’s career was built on his body and strength appearing to be more than real — a kind of hyper-man set to do battle against other hyper-men in the alternate universe of professional wrestling. What else but a super man could take down a 475-pound French giant with a body slam? So it goes with Rob Ford, a man who remains, against most reasonable expectations or odds, consistently appealing to a steady 30-odd per cent of the voting population of the Greater Toronto Area. Or perhaps as much as 50 per cent of them, depending on what poll you want to use. Ford’s body slams are different, of course – they’re the kind that sound like this: “People in Scarborough deserve a subway… I’m a true believer in this, and I’ll fight non-stop for it, and the people of Scarborough want, deserve, and will get subways.”

And the arm wrestle made sense because it was for the Fan Expo, the “Comic Con of Canada,” as the event’s website notes, in a characteristically comparative Canadian way. In part, the Expo celebrates superheroes, those classic archetypes onto whom we are so often welcomed to project our lives and cultural fears – the ones who for that reason must always be fundamentally flawed and damaged, but who rise above and win despite it. Hulk Hogan, dogged in his later years by scandal and family issues, is this. And so is Rob Ford.

Friday night in downtown Toronto, fans from far afield wandered the streets dressed in elaborate costumes. Walking around, you might have seen a robot wandering King Street or a handful of comic book characters pour from the front doors of a four-star hotel – the same one, you might remember, where the New Democrats held their post-2011 election party, reminding you of another flawed man who appeared briefly to also be superhuman, who in a different reality might have been where Ford is now.

For many in this city, the idea that Rob Ford might be a superhero is probably jarring, but then for those same people, there is likely little about Ford that isn’t. The downtown population generally looks down its nose at his perceived destruction of the city they love and their particular perception of it – the almost-Toronto, as it might appear in fiction. For them, Ford is the marauding force, the man from afar descended upon them from a cave somewhere, a rogue element in the system fighting to enforce a new idea. He is the man who might be a criminal with a double life; the man who is, at least, notorious. The superhero for someone else. The dark knight.

Colin Horgan is a writer with CTV News Channel’s Kevin Newman Live, set to launch in October. He is a frequent contributor to Maclean’s, the Guardian and iPolitics.ca.


Rob Ford is a superhero

  1. Rob Ford, Don Cherry, Ralph Klein….comic book culture…..the Bob and Doug legacy.

  2. Might have a double life? Count on it! The police do.

  3. It’s not surprising that 30 per cent of the population continues to support him. That’s ballpark base conservative support. Rob Ford would have to murder someone to lose that support. The 50 per cent number seems far more unlikely.

    • Although he didn’t pull the trigger, two of the people who appeared in the ‘alleged’ crack video are dead. Isn’t that sort of an accessory to the fact enough for his constituents to throw in the towel? Or is that just par for the course in Etobicoke?

    • The distinction is between approval (Rob Ford’s approval rating is in the high 40’s) and voter support (Rob Ford can get about a third of the electorate no matter what). There are people that like Rob Ford, but like Olivia Chow more.

      And the Tory bedrock is much smaller than 30%, considering we are talking about Toronto. In 2004 the CPC won 31.5% of the vote in Ontario, much less Toronto. That distinction is important, because Rob Ford’s support is not strictly partisan/ideological. e.g. could you imagine Conrad Black – certainly a Tory – voting for Rob Ford?

  4. Press release. A washed up ex wrestler and a mayor with a substance abuse problem ham it up for what publicity they could get from it. No taxpayers were hurt in the filming of this cinematic spectacle.

  5. This week, as with almost every other week, Rob Ford gave something easy to write about to the hordes of columnists . Usually, this is unintentional, but Rob’s been working hard to take charge of the narrative. So after saving Hazel from certain drowning last week, this week he beats Hulk Hogan at arm wrestling. Next week, I think he bats one out of the Rogers Centre, unless he’s found on the US shore of Lake Ontario claiming to have crossed it overnight.

  6. Why does a match with a predetermined outcome featuring a pro wrestler make so may progressives poo their panties?

    • Yes its always been progressive’s versus regressive’s Doreen. Especially those regressive’s who make references to ‘pooing their panties.’ An infantile remark that fits right into your kind of backward thinking mindset.

      • The reaction of some to this obvious publicity stunt is much more infantile

  7. YES!

    Rob is….. Sloth Man!!!!

    Now all we need is to design a sloth suit!

    Something that defines all that Mr Ford stands for… perhaps a slothcave! A slothmobile!

    And of course a movie… no … wait … we have his movie… wanna see????


    • Lay off the Carton Network Bud

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