Monday, June 24, 2013

The Gordon Ramsay Problem

For a very long time now- years, even- I have been searching for the perfect way to encapsulate a problem opposition parties and leaders face, using a symbol that people can understand.

Most people look at opposition politicians and write them off as whiners and complainers who just want power for themselves. Too glib, too negative, too focused on capturing soundbites, too unfocused on policy. So many reasons why we can't vote for the prospective Other Guy despite all the free-flowing anger people have towards governments.

Then, I was watching TV at a friend's house and I discovered Gordon Ramsay, foul-mouthed top chef and star of approximately 100 different reality shows.

I don't watch a lot of reality TV (I consider it bad for my soul) and I had never heard of Gordon Ramsay until I accidentally happened upon an old episode of one of his reality shows and saw him absolutely demolish the completely-out-of-his-league individual in the clip above. Ramsay crushes him so hard that I felt almost physically ill watching it.

Watching this man in action and learning more about him was fascinating and terrifying. Look at him reduce an angry and tired woman to a smouldering wreck. Look at the way he effortlessly grabs her wrist when she tries to slap him. Here he is humiliating another chef challenging him to a fight- just by doing nothing. Here he is verbally stomping a mudhole into a paying customer (well, at least I think it's a paying customer- these shows have some pretty obvious scripting, but we're not going to get into that today). People are made to look stupid just for having stood up to him, despite how harsh he is. You would think that there would be some people calling him out for being a bully, but all he seems to get is praise for dedication to his craft.

Now think to yourselves how it would go for you if you tried to treat your incompetent employees or co-workers that way. You want to yell and swear at that one person who keeps screwing up? Wanna fight back against a Level 5 jerkwad customer calling you all sorts of names and calling your competence into question? You're not going to do that. You already know why not- because if you did, you'd be the one who got in trouble. Your rudeness would be the issue, or an issue, not his or her incompetence. Does it matter if you, like Gordon Ramsay, just want to get it right? Do you win any points from people for having your heart in the right place? Nope. You're supposed to motivate people without getting angry. That's what leaders do. Except we're fine with Ramsay tearing people new orifices left and right.....and documentaries about him take pains to point out that, well, he's a really nice guy outside of the kitchen, and he has a really tragic backstory, so he can't be all that bad!

Doesn't seem fair, does it? When did we get to the point where you couldn't call out incompetence without being called out yourself for being overly negative and harsh? And why is it that when Gordon Ramsay does it, people start commenting on Youtube videos for him to go into the political arena with guns blazing and clear everyone out instead of calling for him to be medicated?

Well, here's the hard truth: You're not Gordon Ramsay. Gordon Ramsay is a goddamn apex predator. Look at him. He's a 6'2, clean-cut, blond and blue eyed master chef (one of the best in the world) and ex-athlete worth millions of dollars with a sexy foreign accent and a deep booming voice, all of which combine to make women positively drip with excitement. You look like nothing next to him. You have no business wishing you could be like him.

And if you're going to criticize someone for incompetence- even if you are 100% right- you had better be an apex predator yourself. We, the reality TV loving public, demand no less.

The incomparable War Room Boss demonstrates this beautifully with his defense of the Wynne government over the deleted power plant emails. We have a Privacy Commissioner, Ann Cavoukian, whose job it is "to uphold and promote open government and the protection of personal privacy in Ontario." She did so with respect to the Wynne government. And she may be Raffi's sister, which is kinda cool, but she's by no means an apex predator. What did the War Room Boss do? The same thing he did to John Gomery during the sponsorship scandal- go after the fact that her report had flaws and that the way she went about putting it together left something to be desired. By the end of it you completely forget that the Wynne government may have done something illegal.

Then, he posted this: "If you start criminally investigating every pol who deletes email, you’d better build a lot more jails. They’re gonna fill up fast. #onpoli" In other words, let he or she who is without sin cast the first stone. So, if you're going to cast that stone, you- not the person who did the incorrect deed in the first place- had better be without fault, or at least look the part. 

In the nether regions of our brains, we know that attractive, dominating people are more deserving of respect and acclaim and to have their negative qualities and behaviours ignored. Maybe if our politicians looked more like reality TV stars, we'd have more people actually listening to what they said. Or rather, pretending to listen while being enthralled by how flawless they look and sound. We'd also stop worrying about ethical lapses and treat ridiculous public statements and out-of-control behaviour like tabloid news.

What Canadian politics needs is not better people- it's better looking people. 

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