Today’s Toronto Star includes a great editorial by Dan Yashinsky, looking at Rob Ford from a storyteller’s perspective. Here are a few highlights:
Progressive Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi told his election-winning story through a multimedia series of twelve Better Ideas, where he described Calgary as a great city that can and will be even greater: Calgary will be a city where its citizens are enriched by outstanding libraries, recreation amenities, and a vibrant cultural scene; Calgary will be a city where every neighbourhood is a safe neighbourhood; Calgary will be a city that reduces the number of people living in poverty and ensures opportunity for all. Nenshi’s telling of what Calgary will be was an effective way to make his listeners not only want to know what happens next, but assure them they have the power to make this visionary story come true.
I think it interesting that Calgary, in he heart of Reform country, has managed a progressive mayor who seems to have the exact priorities that pre-Ford Toronto Councils struggled to achieve for decades.
I wish I’d also warned my little boy about storytellers you shouldn’t trust, the ones who use fiction not to lead you towards the truth, but away from it. As the Jewish saying goes, “He’s such a liar that not only what he says isn’t true, even the opposite of what he says isn’t true.” Which brings me to His Worship Mayor Rob Ford.
Yashinsky goes on to give an insightful analysis of how Ford rode into town as the reluctant hero, taking on a classic storybook role which won him the election.
There were early signs of narrative trouble in his mayoral reign. One of his first acts in office was cancelling the Vehicle Registration Tax, then complaining that the city didn’t have enough revenue to cover its costs. The Irish call this “putting on the poor mouth,” i.e., pretending to be poorer than you really are. Then the mayor’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford, began talking about how anything that “wasn’t nailed down” would be sold off, privatized, or just plain axed in the name of running a cheaper ship of state. Nailed down? That was a new metaphor indeed, and it became the recurrent motif of Ford’s new story, where elements of a hard-earned and long-established common good — libraries, parks, arts programs, police, firefighters, support for our youth — weren’t “nailed down” sufficiently to be safe from the impending cuts.
This is a revealing article, showing how the metaphor of storytelling and mythology can fool a population and win an election. It is actually a very valuable analysis of political persuasion. It’s worth reading the whole thing.