I have a confession to make. I, a longtime Christian, am guilty of gossip and of slander.
Moreover, having recognized my sin, I have nevertheless continued to revel in gossip and slander.
It’s been so easy to do: My whole city has been party to it, and I have been an easily swayed sheep. Over the past several weeks, Toronto has been waiting on tenterhooks for the next stage in Mayor Rob Ford’s ongoing epic scandal to be uncovered. Not unlike a reality TV show, the media obsession with the mayor has proven an endless form of entertainment. It has banded strangers together in the coffee line, on the subway, while roaming the grocery aisles; and it’s earned thousands of likes and shares on social media. It’s cool to mock Rob Ford. Like kids bullying other kids on the playground, a jab or a quip easily cements camaraderie.
As appalling as Ford’s actions, actual and alleged, have been, nothing quite equals the jokes and jabs, the speculation and snickers, the fodder for late night television and the eager anticipation that more legal documents, outbursts before the cameras, and quotable, “gif”-able motions will be forthcoming. For once, I have thought in distorted pride, Canadian politics are interesting and featured on a grand stage. Torontonians are perversely proud to watch Will Ferrell in character as Ron Burgundy promote the mayor’s promise about the 2014 election—pronouncing the name of our city as locals do. Our news outlets minimalized coverage of the tragedy in the Philippines to devote pages to recaps of the world’s Ford Scandal coverage—copying and pasting celebrity tweets and linking to videos featuring satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, as well as major new sources the New York Times and the BBC.
Like seemingly every other Torontonian, I have been glued to the coverage of a person now known only as the “crack-smoking mayor of Toronto,” rather than as a man with a name, a family, and an unfortunate substance-abuse problem. I have caught myself time and again reveling in Ford’s tragic downfall, disappointed at the 6 p.m. news if it doesn’t feature a breaking headline showing another of Ford’s foot-in-mouth statements or shots of his Falstaffian and exaggerated movements. As he sinks lower and lower, the jokes become funnier, the reactions of reporters more baffled, and the frenzied media a source of ironic addiction.
I have derived laughter, puns, and guffaws from another person’s drug problem and become part of a social media lynch mob that would see this man’s destruction to the very end. My enthusiasm and eagerness to follow every thread of this sad trail is an all-too-true reflection of my belief that humans have a powerful propensity to make entertainment out of the misfortunes and humiliation of others. Further still, it allows us to feel that we are on a pedestal. That no matter what bad things we may have done in the past, how embarrassed or mortified we feel at our actions, at least we are not Rob Ford.
We even make a virtue out of our public gossip—at least it’s out in the open and not behind his back, right? More than once I, an educated 32-year-old female, have wondered if my participation in Ford’s public shaming can really be considered gossip if everyone else around me is also participating. Citywide. Loud and proud.
This has long since stopped being about Ford’s politics and his abilities or inabilities to govern Canada’s greatest city and represent us on the world stage. It has become, instead, a race to see who can do the best and funniest job of portraying this man as a buffoon.
I have participated in every one of these unfortunate actions and contributed to the collective mockery. As a Christian I have substituted the time I should pursue in prayer for a man obviously troubled, humbled, and mocked by the world at large with my own brand of mockery, jokes, and eye-rolls. Rob Ford, like me, is far from God’s perfection. He is human. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God: that includes Rob Ford, the throng of citizens willing to haul him over the coals, and me. I will not condone what he has admitted to doing; but I know that it is not my place to sit in judgment on him, and yet I continue to do so. I may not support his actions or his politics, but that has become a moot point. He doesn’t deserve my treatment of him. No man or woman does. I am a Christian and I should know better.
A few weeks ago, I had the choice between watching coverage of the Philippines or another recap of the city hall action from a momentous day’s event. The Philippines: a story far more globally important and severe, literally a matter of life and death, but not a good subject for David Letterman’s Top Ten list; a story that is haunting, harrowing, and sad, featuring wonderful and inspiring acts of rescue and heroism. But what is that compared with the quips and laughs and mayhem generated by our mayor saying something unfortunate on television? I chose to indulge once more in the repetition of Ford’s appalling and perverse statement.
What does that say about me?
Rob Ford’s scandal has been many things to my city and country in the past several weeks; but for me, ultimately, he has acted as a sobering reminder of how easily even Christians can fall. Rob Ford has reminded me how human I am and how greatly I need the grace of God.
Image copyright Associated Press/The Candaian Press.
Rachel McMillan is a writer in Toronto. She blogs at A Fair Substitute for Heaven.