There was a time, back in the days of yore (poorly understood by me and people of my generation) where freaky-looking long-haired people terrorized their stuffy upper middle class parents by being as far-out and groovy as possible. All kinds of weird punked-out stuff became cool and hip, mostly because it was so far removed from the buttoned down monoculture of the time.
I have been made to understand that these freaky beatniks had the power to shock and captivate attention. Everyone wanted to know what was up with these hipstery subcultures, and everyone wanted a piece of the action, and as a result entirely new classes of cultural and fashion and social crimes were developed to punish those squares and posers who just couldn't get with it.
But the beatniks were too clever by half. They forgot that whatever was originally outrageous soon becomes the familiar and the commonplace. By now, whatever you do to your body, whomever or whatever you marry, however radically you choose to express yourself- nobody cares anymore. Complain about being oppressed for your sexuality, your race, your gender, and what do you get? "Grow a thicker skin. Get over it." Because it's not shocking anymore. The (insert-whatever-here)archy finds you annoying, not threatening.....and that's because all the taboos have been shattered in the quest to push society's boundaries farther and farther back.
Today, there is only one possible way to get a rise, a real rise, out of the jaded and cynical mass of humanity, and that is to be a clueless, classless, almost deliberately insensitive white person. Your Miley Cyruses. Your Phil Robertsons. Your Rob Fords. Your Justine Saccos. The people who couldn't care less about any of these social crimes, and are unrepentant about committing them.
I would draw your attention to the fact that Rob Ford was declared to be the newsmaker of the year in a year where a future crowned head of England was born, where the NSA was revealed to be spying on Americans on a mass scale, where a typhoon devastated the Phillippines and a new Pope was elected, where the Boston Marathon bombing and the Louisiana shootings took place, where Syria was and continues to be torn apart by war and where Nelson Mandela died. The Lac Megantic train disaster couldn't come close to Rob Ford. The Senate scandal wasn't even in the same ballpark. Not even Justin Trudeau could make as much of an impact.
What do you do when the familiar and the commonplace- uncool and uncouth white people, the thing everyone, even other uncool and uncouth white people, make fun of- becomes the only thing anyone can talk about? What now, hipsters?
Wealthy, privileged, white people who don't care about how the other half lives have become a punchline and something everyone scrambles to distance themselves from as fast as possible. Let us acknowledge this fact. Let us stop pretending that there are shadow conspiracies that keep these people on top. Because if there are any shadow conspiracies out there, somebody deserves their money back.
But the flip side to this coin is while everyone is trying to distance themselves from Ford, he remains the hottest property in Canadian politics. I pay zero attention to the celebrity industry, I proudly shun TV, and now even I know who Phil Robertson is and what Duck Dynasty is.
Why? Because we know that all these social rules and all this sensitivity and caring about feelings is a big, fat, joke. And Rob Ford gets all the attention because he's the only one in this city who doesn't pretend to care.
That's the face of a man who is counting the ceiling tiles because he finds that to be more interesting that whatever nonsense you're spewing. He's not even going to try to acknowledge you, and he's going to make an obvious show of not caring. Don't you wish you could be Rob Ford and just stare at the ceiling when someone's boring you? Don't you wish you had the nerve to say that you think an entire class of people are just not natural the way Phil Robertson did, and then say you're not backing down when you get called on it, or stick your tongue out and come in like a wrecking ball like Miley Cyrus and become a pop culture touchstone?
Now, the good news is that the rest of us are content to just sit around dreaming about how wonderful it'd be to just go around not giving a wet fart for other people and their concerns. The rest of us don't have the benefit of being able to actually do that kind of stuff, even if we have the opportunity. We're too busy being nice to others because that's what's expected of us. You can buy bell bottoms or get whatever body part pierced, but nobody is so bold as to actually imitate Rob Ford and think they're going to get away with it. And despite what the Principled Conservatives think, nobody is going to ride into office telling it like it is. You can fantasize about implementing work-to-rule or about ripping people's burqas off or about telling Quebec to va a diable all you like, but we know you're not actually going to do that, so STFU.
But- and this is the bad news- the fact that we all harbour some kind of grudging, subterranean admiration for these people who revel in their own grossness, who ENJOY being rude, is terrifying enough. It shows you just how fragile this consensus really is. It shows you how we are all just about two steps away from clapping people we don't like into concentration camps. You can be as open-minded as you please, but you're never going to get away from this part of yourself.
And as we move into 2014, and ever closer to the moment when somebody finally decides that they are going to impose his or her will on Ontarians, on Canadians, and on all of humanity, feelings be damned, I predict that we will see more of these bozo eruptions from people who just can't be bothered, and, in turn, more outpourings of emotion, more fixation, by the general viewing public.