Home > Culture, Current Affairs, Politics > Of Raccoons and Circus Bears: Toronto’s Striving Weenieness and Dubious Righteousness

Of Raccoons and Circus Bears: Toronto’s Striving Weenieness and Dubious Righteousness

There are, undoubtedly, some great things about the city of Toronto. The large population (read: tax) base leads to a plethora of goods, services, restaurant and entertainment options. There are outlets for a great range of interests, niches for a great range of people. There can be genuine large-scale excitement and bustle to a metropolis of this size, and that sort of thing has a vivifying influence of its own. The neighbourhood divisions are also very interesting, and many given areas have a quirky colour and unique personality that only occasionally feels manufactured or contrived. It is, generally speaking, a pretty decent place to live, or at least it is the closer you get to its core.

Still, there is much about the city that is less praiseworthy. I could enumerate both anecdotal and wider sociological details to describe the feelings I have about the town, but it’s all summed up by the quality that Andrew Potter once memorably described on Twitter as its “striving weenieness”. And what is all of this weenie striving all about? Not about becoming more of what the city and its residents are not, but become more of what the city and its residents already are. Growth, expansion and progress in this city always seem to mean this.

For a day purportedly celebrating records, there sure are a lot being wasted in that display...

Witness, for example, the actually fairly mundane news that beloved Annex records store/hipster mecca Sonic Boom is moving from its current location on Bloor just east of Bathurst to a new location at (wait for it)… Bathurst just south of Bloor. Even though a bearded scenester with biceps well-developed by many weekends of ultimate could probably toss one of the Boom’s overpriced vinyl records from the current location to the future one, hands are being wrung, brows furrowed, frettings fretted. One would be forgiven for believing that relocating Sonic Boom into Honest Ed’s would be met by furious geekgasms of subcultural civic pride from T.O.’s alternative flock; both were featured in that illustrated Bible of Toronto hipsterdom, Scott Pilgrim, after all, which lionized the limited area with the Boom at its epicentre as the only part of Toronto worth having anything to do with.

But, predictably, Toronto’s coolest are all doom and gloom. Sonic Boom, it seems, is making way for a Dollarama, and this is terrible. Evidently, a discount store would be wildly out of place in Mirvish Village, and a corporate-owned store where poor people can buy anything is far inferior to an independent-owned store where the kids of wealthy people can buy music and music-related paraphenalia. With the old Sonic Boom being replaced by discount retail space and the new Sonic Boom replacing discount retail space, there’s a relative balance to the proceedings, even. The real outrage for those outraged, however, is one of taste. “How dare the powers that be usurp our ironic pose of tackiness with their actual, genuine tackiness!”, the online protests shout. If there’s a problem with the strain of hip urban liberalism so prevalent in Toronto (and there’s likely more than one), it is just the sort of smug and unthinkingly superior classism implied by becoming outraged at a simple shifting of real estate. Everything that ever happens in this city can be construed as another symptom of the special, beknighted citadel of enlightenment that is downtown Toronto being relentlessly besieged by the suburban armies of mass-cultural mediocrity.

This attitude continues to dominate alt.Toronto’s reaction to the still-young mayorship of that ultimate figure of blithe suburban corpulence, Rob Ford. Lamentable though Ford is with his ignorant demagoguery and simultaneously tight-fisted and haphazard stewardship of city affairs, his every act is greeted by Toronto’s vocal leftists with derision and condemnation. In the past week or two, his rigid-to-a-fault graffiti policy, his brusque rejection of provincially-funded public health nurses for reasons that combined dubious financial scaremongering with clandestine province-wide political motivations, and today’s news that he’ll skip Pride Week to ensconce his considerable self in a safe, presumably non-gay cottage have all raised the ire of his Twittering civic critics.

The issue here is not that his opponents are wrong about Ford. The guy is pretty fucking awful, a rabble-rousing right-wing ideologue who exploits stereotypes and divisions to advance policies that widen the socioeconomic and internal cultural gulfs in Greater Toronto. Most of all, as demonstrated by the nurse controversy, he makes knee-jerk decisions based on poorly-defined principles and inaccurate, sometimes paranoia-inflated information and then refuses to budge from them when confronted with hard, incontrivertible facts that contradict his stances. He’s Sarah Palin without the former-beauty-queen looks or disarming folksiness, but he has twice her determination and steely-eyed intransigence.

Rob Ford prepares for a post-politics career in stand-up comedy.

He’s dangerous, surely, but liberal Toronto lost its best chance to stop him when they divided their energies amongst multiple mid-level competitors in the election campaign. One way or another, they have to live with him, and it shouldn’t be surprising that they’ve chosen to do so by getting outlandishly angry at every characteristic move the guy makes (they’d be better served to consider organizational sorties against the machine erected by his brother Doug Ford, the power behind the throne). But I think this city’s Left should expend a little less effort in pretending that Ford’s intransigence is a bug of his mayorship rather than a feature.

It seems simply silly to be continually annoyed at the man for consistently and repeatedly being what he is. To make an analogy, their outrage is like getting incredibly pissed every time a raccoon knocks over your Green Bin. Sure, it’s a pain to have to clean up the mess each garbage day, but then raccoons are scavengers, and rifling through garbage bins is what they do. And we’re perhaps a bit foolish for putting all of the edible compost together in one convenient receptacle for the vermin to focus on. Now, analogizing Rob Ford to a refuse-gobbling raccoon is admittedly unsatisfying; if anything, he more resembles a Russian circus bear circling and circling the ring on a unicycle. But the analogy implied there is less clear-cut, even if the image has a Rabelaisian truth to it. Would we expect Ford-as-circus-bear to continue performing in dimbulb animalistic bliss, or give in to instinctual urges and unleash a sudden, shocking mauling on his unsuspecting trainers and the astonished Siberian peasant gawkers in the bleachers? Either way, I wouldn’t blame anyone for being confused by such a putative metaphor. I’m already thoroughly boggled myself.

At any rate, my point about Torontonians’ reactions to contentious happenings echoes my point about most such reactions: quit being so surprised by everything bad. Start expecting something at least close to the worst, and even the mildly troubling becomes infinitely easier to cope with. What we see instead is otherwise smart and energetic populations paralyzed by dubious righteousness when it should leap over them like the minor obstacles they are. We can overcome the Rob Fords and Dollaramas if we stop making them more powerful than they are by inflating our own anxieties about them to epic proportions. In a phrase, then: drop the striving, weenies. You’ll do better.

  1. June 23, 2011 at 12:42 am

    Great piece, Ross! Incredibly well argued 🙂 The dealings with the mayor remind me of America and George W. Bush. America’s liberals, myself included, didn’t do enough in 2004 to insure he wouldn’t be re-elected, and that included coalescing behind a single major candidate. After his second win, it seemed it was target practice as usual … but we elected him. Same as when the right ripped into Clinton in the late 90s, after their ineffective candidates crashed and burned in ’96. I think you’ll find that’s the typical reaction.

  1. June 24, 2011 at 8:17 am
  2. July 31, 2011 at 12:58 pm
  3. December 11, 2011 at 9:58 am
  4. May 22, 2012 at 6:58 am
  5. November 27, 2012 at 7:41 am
  6. March 12, 2013 at 5:27 pm
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