Month: April 2014

2014 Toronto Municipal Election: The Circus is Contagious

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By: James Di Fiore

Toronto’s municipal election is supposed to be an election of reckoning where a candidate shores up support in defiance of the current debacle occupying the top office at city hall. It is supposed to be an obvious contrast between Rob Ford’s bombastic retail politics and the more civil, sensible options like John Tory or Olivia Chow. Some pundits thought Ford would tone down his campaign as a way of fighting sensible with sensible, and all Tory and Chow had to do was maintain a more professional public image so we as a city do not have to fall into electoral absurdity. I think someone forgot to tell Tory and Chow about all this. Since that first awkward, televised debate we have seen first-hand how smarmy, over-rehearsed demeanors do not translate well on TV or online.

Let’s begin with Chow. All she has to do is be herself. That’s it. She does not need to be overly cheery, and she certainly doesn’t need an image softener in the form of some grandma dress or new glasses. Most of all, she needs to stop pretending that she is running a puppies and rainbows campaign where she pretends to take the high road against Ford’s vitriol and divisiveness, yet still seeks counsel from folks like Warren Kinsella who combines the art of dirty politics with a flair for horrible execution. Chow has decided to roll the dice and employ this pit bull to do the biting while saying her campaign is a clean campaign, all with a semi-straight face.

But as anyone in the know will tell you, Kinsella has reached political hack status, unable to muster much more than a peripheral role in any campaign since the 90s. At best, he has been in the vicinity of victories, close enough to get a piece of confetti on his lapel, but not close enough to be credited for making it fall in the first place. On top of that, he’s an asshole, full stop. Feel good candidates and political hacks that moonlight as assholes are not a wise mix in an election like this one.

As for Tory, he has an opportunity to contrast a shit-show conservative with a sensible, more moderate conservative. His is the easiest of campaigns to run; a smart, fiscally conservative/socially liberal classic campaign where no voter feels excluded from a potential Tory administration. Tory could rest easy knowing he could mirror much of the Ford agenda without acting like a rodeo clown. Plus, he isn’t divisive. He’s not an ideological stalwart like Ford or Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak. One might even call Tory a dying breed of, well, Tories.

But then he went and did this. Apparently, Tory’s camp has decided to do away with the pesky reputation of being a unifying politician, the “common sense candidate”, and have opted to go with comic props and tag lines instead. As if incorporating a cheap Twister caricature wasn’t bad enough, Tory has also been trying to brand Chow as the “NDP candidate,” an obviously divisive tactic isolating Toronto’s progressives in an election not usually known for its partisan loyalties. If you identify as an NDP supporter provincially or federally, Tory doesn’t want your municipal vote. Instead, Tory wants you to know that if you don’t vomit after hearing the initials ‘N-D-P’, you aren’t a voter worth listening to.

And of course there’s Mayor Ford. In an election where many believe Ford has a better chance of being arrested than elected (after all, October is still far, far away), his rivals are inadvertently making him look less incompetent than he really is, an astounding feat when you consider the vast amount of material he has given us over the past 4 years. Ford’s stubborn strategy of repeating the same 3 or four rehearsed key messages – mostly statements of self-defense or repetitive-yet-implausible claims of a billion dollars of taxpayer money saved – can only work if his fellow candidates run carny campaigns of their own. Well, his fellow candidates are running carny campaigns, and so Ford benefits not because he is a viable, sturdy candidate but because his rivals are decidedly not viable to anybody but their base of fierce loyalists.

It may be we are in an experimental chapter of this long awaited campaign. But Chow and Tory are two candidates who have had years to contemplate running in this very election, an important caveat when you consider the amateurish stunts and ads they’ve produced up to this point. It could be they are both tied to advisors who are trying too hard, or perhaps not hard enough, to claim branding rights over their opponents. Someone should let them know about the apathy towards long campaigns in this city. Ford’s worldwide notoriety has tricked his rivals into believing they need to climb inside the circus tent on the back of a bearded lady. All they really need to do is run sensible, stale campaigns about the issues. That’s it. No slapstick nonsense, no character assassinations. Just the issues.

This wasn’t, and isn’t a complicated race. The incumbent has been under a police investigation for over a year, lies about his accomplishments and parades his older brother in front of the cameras making ridiculous claims about how his family champions for the little guy. Chow and Tory need to stop with the gimmicks and contradictions, roll up their sleeves and give sensible Torontonians a real choice of who to replace the ginger Godzilla currently wreaking havoc on the city. In short, they need to keep it simple, because thus far the strategy of being unfunny and inauthentic isn’t working, especially for the carnies who already have their undisputed champion.

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The Subban Effect

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He’s the most exciting black player in NHL history, and its number one punching bag

By: James Di Fiore

Before the playoffs began, in a game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators, Habs coach Michel Therrien showed PK Subban how much he respects him. Subban was caught out of position a couple times, not uncommon for any aggressive defenseman, and these errors contributed to one goal by the Sens. In Coach Therrien’s world, this was enough to bench Subban for close to an entire period even though he averages the most minutes on the team. Therrien has been pretty consistent all season long regarding his lack of respect towards his star defenseman, but with one series under their belt in this post season, a series where Subban’s contributions have been front and center, Therrien may want to reexamine his attitude towards hockey’s most exciting black player.

It’s worth pointing out that Subban’s errors are not always the sole contributors to opposition goals, and there are other players, most notably Habs captain Brian Gionta whose mental errors are as bad or sometimes worse than Subban’s.

However, when Subban made an error in the regular season, he was either benched, ridiculed, intentionally embarrassed or exhaustingly lectured during practice or when Therrien is speaking to the media. No other player who has made an error on the ice – and every last player has made a few errors – receives this kind of relentless badgering. And I would wager no Norris trophy winner in NHL history was treated like a rookie after they won the hardware.

So, contrary to hockey pundits and their politically correct sensibilities, the reason for all the negative attention and overly critical reporting is, wait for it, because PK Subban is black. It isn’t overt racism, but it is nestled inside a common problem many institutions have; the tendency to be more critical of people who are not typical representatives of the institution but still make mistakes like everyone else.

An enormous amount of ink has been spilled deconstructing the identity of PK Subban. The critics line up around the block and methodically take their turns bashing his attitude, slamming his unforced errors and claiming his antics rally the opposing teams. Duncan Keith, a star defenseman known for dirty plays, diving and being cocky, still manages to get the ‘hard worker’ moniker from analysts and sports writers. Not PK though. He’s no Duncan Keith, after all.

With the exception of Montreal fans, nobody talks about PK’s enormous contribution to the NHL itself. If the critics, writers and pundits do heap any praise, repetitive analysis criticizing PK’s swagger and mental game usually surround it. But take a step in the opposite direction – make PK Subban a brand for the NHL to encourage young black hockey players to strive for greatness – and all of a sudden the impetuous, cocky black kid becomes a marketing tool, like the Yao Ming of the NHL. Why not? It’s better than being everybody’s whipping boy, no?

Well, it is not a very popular thing to say, but Subban’s critics are not constantly bashing him because he’s the league’s new Sean Avery. It is worth repeating, they are bashing him because he’s a black hockey star who isn’t conservative, reserved or cut from the same cloth as Bobby Orr. Only, he is cut from that same cloth. So far in these playoffs Subban has stepped up his game at both ends, and may have quarterbacked the best play we have seen in the post season thus far. Greatness isn’t measured by a missed assignment in the regular season, but by taking your game to another level in the playoffs. On the latter, Subban is clearly one of the league’s greatest players.

Just an aside here; what history does Subban have with Tampa Bay or their fans? He is booed every time he touches the puck by Floridians, but this kind of reaction is usually reserved for ex players, or players who have had bad blood with the home team. Not so in PK’s case.

Hmm…what could it be? Perhaps Tampa Bay fans are merely standing their hockey ground, who knows?

Fans aside, the critics don’t believe they are treating Subban differently. They are merely calling it like they see it. In fact, I bet Subban would be the first to say he isn’t being judged by the colour of his skin. He would certainly never say that about his coach, but if the rumours of a Subban-Therrien feud are true, the Canadiens organization may have to choose between their coach and their star player. And if they choose the coach, they’ve shortchanged the franchise and the Montreal fans for years to come.

However unintentional, the constant criticism of this young black hockey player is unparalleled. He dives once in a while, acts a little cocky after a goal here and there, and he makes a few mistakes that result in opposition goals, but just the fact that I can rattle off so many of his apparent shortcomings should be evidence that I know too much about one particular player.

We all do.

Manufacturing Outrage: Ron MacLean is anti-French!

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By: James Di Fiore

If you are going to call a person a racist, you better have a damn good reason.

Pointing out the possible perception of impropriety by having a home city referee officiate a game is not a good reason to be labeled a racist. And to not consider the source of such statements is not just unfair, but decidedly lazy as well.

Ron MacLean mused aloud during a recent broadcast that the league should have thought twice about assigning a French referee at a game in Montreal. In the previous game, a French referee disallowed a Tampa Bay goal many thought should have counted, and MacLean thought the appearance of having another hometown referee the next game showed bad optics. It was a rather benign statement, unless you get off on calling someone a racist, which apparently is a widespread problem in this country.

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Twitter twits, desperate newspaper columnists and surface-scratchers all lined up to take their shots at a guy most people view as a decent man. It was as if he had screamed the n word or denied the Holocaust. But of course, all MacLean did was say that perhaps a referee change would be prudent.

He was right, by the way. Assigning a referee from Philadelphia to ref a game in Philadelphia, or a referee from Detroit refereeing a Red Wings game, is a needless risk. Sure, there may be a miniscule chance that the referee would plot to cheat or subconsciously call the game to the home city’s advantage, but that risk doesn’t exist in the first place if the league was more proactive.

MacLean apologized on air the very night he made the comments, probably sensing the avalanche of alarmists and not wanting to have to hold a press conference explaining how sorry he was if people completely butchered his words. He has been railroaded and defended. The loudest group, of course, are those who define themselves through their relentless defense of all things moral, a delicious irony given their reluctance to see the bigger and more accurate picture, placing their motivations in a murky moral swamp at best.

Ron MacLean is not a racist or a provocateur, he just sits beside a reputed one on TV.

Note to Selfie: How A Word Redefined Self Portraits Forever

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By: James Di Fiore

 

We are undoubtedly the most vain generation the planet has seen since Caligula first got high. Hands down.

The Age of Narcissism, the End of Humility, the iWant Generation. Take your pick, because it’s all us.

Also, we are meticulous record keepers. Most of us keep every email we send and receive. Our social networking pages are blueprints to an embellished version of ourselves, forcing the marketing companies to tweak the way they syphon our information before buying ad space from media companies who incidentally measure our data for insights they extract from our virtual profiles.

The world is unreal, literally.

Is it too soon to ask for what the long-term effects might be for staring at digital screens for a few decades? Does asking that question make me a “lefty” or a “hipster”? How many times a day do you see “love it!” or “epic!” or someone else’s cat or an online dating ad or a horrible song produced by an untalented friend on your news feeds? Millions of people live this way, but I feel like in 50 years everyone is going to have eye cancer or something, born out of a lifelong habit of staring at billions of images on various phones, tablets, computers and televisions.

I feel like I’ve been institutionalized, like I’ve been Shawshanked. Because Brooks was right; the world went and got itself in a big hurry, and instead of crawling out of our digital fixation here and there, we sit happily in our virtual prisons.

OK, that was a little overstated. But you get the picture, literally.

We all know technology has hoarded our time, and we are all guilty of letting technology squeeze out some of our good behaviour, our etiquette. Whether it’s scrolling through our Facebook pages while having brunch or reflexively checking our email during those fleeting in-person moments we have with actual human beings; we’ve lost something, all of us.

Coupled with this new bad habit of putting our digital selves before our fleshy loved ones is a new childish habit of creating words out of thin air to describe our interests and behaviours. The genesis of such an unlettered habit may have stemmed from the celebrity tabloids that forced words like Bennifer and KimYe into the lexicon. Apparently saying two people’s names was just too difficult or us, so creating a hybrid moniker became the trend. It remains the calling card of a generation gone mad, and has created the overarching trend of creating nonsensical names for several other every day activities.

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The single most ridiculous word on the lips of people today is “selfie”. Never has a word been so juvenile, so revealing of a culture gone mad as this perversion of language. It is such an unrefined label, such a waste of breath and lip/tongue positioning that I cringe when I force my laptop keys to spell its name. Along with this failure of linguistics is an even more tragic victim; the definition of ‘selfie’ has infected what used to be perfectly legitimate activities in photography, specifically the self-portrait, or the documenting of an event you are attending. Selfie has bastardized the language, our decorum and our ability to think rationally about snapping a photo.

The most recent example of a world gone mad due to the evil branding of a made up word occurred at the Jim Flaherty state funeral where Justin Trudeau stopped to take a few photos with onlookers. Wait, I mean he was being immature and stopped for some selfies. Wait, what?

Let’s examine the new rule of photography now that the word ‘selfie’ exists, shall we? Don’t worry, there’s only one rule.

1. If you own the phone, you can’t take a photo with your face in it.

I know, I know…there’s not much difference between asking a third party to take a photo and taking it yourself, especially if all you want is a memory of meeting a politician at a historical event, but sorry bud, find a stranger to help you. Otherwise, you are immature and worthless. True story.

At the Flaherty state funeral, nearly every politician who was asked to stop for a photo or an interview, stopped for a photo or an interview. Many politicians, including several conservative cabinet ministers, stopped for several photos and interviews. Some of these photos were taken by the media, some by third party strangers who took the photo for the owner of the camera, and a few taken by the people who owned the cameras. That last group….yeah, they’re abhorrent. Period. They clearly have no idea about how things work in the Age of Narcissism. In the Age of Narcissism you are allowed to take selfies only when you are at home making a duck face in the mirror, not to document historical events and have your photo taken with someone famous, unless of course you let someone else grub up your iPhone. Easy peasy.

All kidding aside, if you believe taking a self-portrait lacks proper manners but it’s simultaneously fine to take photos not of yourself, you are an idiot and Darwinism should take care of you in good time. For the rest of us, stop being tricked into trends. It’s unbecoming, and doesn’t jive with our mutual desire to be savvier than the next guy.

This was free advice, Caligula. You should take it.

Political Ad Watch: Olivia Chow – Does Rob Ford Return Phone Calls?

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By: James Di Fiore

The fatal flaw in Olivia Chow’s campaign team is clearly Warren Kinsella. The lifelong liberal political operative was selected by Olivia Chow to do her dirty work after the former NDP MP declared she would be running a clean campaign.

Hiring Kinsella is not a symptom of a campaign running cleanly. He is not just notoriously mischievous, but he hasn’t exactly been a beacon of success over the past 15 years either. In the last Toronto mayoral election, Kinsella was the brains behind Rocco Rossi’s failed run, and the most probable culprit for those horrible mafia-inspired radio ads that dogged Rossi’s campaign.

So, with Kinsella at the helm of Chow’s communications, her campaign is rolling the dice by trying to showcase a positive candidate with a decidedly negative operative behind the scenes.

Let’s take a look at Olivia Chow’s latest political ad criticizing one of Rob Ford’s most often repeated qualities: returning phone calls from Torontonians.

Style: If you are going to release a one-minute ad, you should probably try changing up the production a little. We have a person talking towards the camera in a kitchen. That’s it. Nothing more.

Message: Having a completely unknown civilian talk about how she always calls the mayor and that he never calls her back should take about 6 seconds…unless of course she just repeats herself over and over again for the entire ad. The fact that this ad is more than 30 seconds is a mystery, and why the producers didn’t use more than one person complaining about Rob Ford’s phone calls means the idea wasn’t that strong to begin with.

Effectiveness: This ad doesn’t resonate well with anyone. It’s anecdotal, boring and redundant.

Grade: D

Political Ad Watch: Kathleen Wynne – The Progressive Conservative Record

Tyler the Creator shadow wideBy: James Di Fiore

 

Political ads are going to be more and more abundant in the coming months. Three major elections are slated between now and October 2015; the Ontario Provincial election, the Toronto Mayoral Election and the federal election, meaning our airwaves will be inundated with politicians and parties clamouring for our attention, and ultimately our votes.

Often, political ads fall short of grabbing our attention and rarely ever sway us through its production value to vote for a particular party. Many times these ads are designed to discourage voters from voting for other parties, but mostly these ads are either cynical of opponents or overly complimentary towards the governing powers that be.

All too often, partisan ads reveal how out of touch politicians are towards voters. Connecting with the electorate is key but evasive.

 

The following ad is rated and reviewed by The Digital Reporter in order to disseminate its strategy and effectiveness.

Kathleen Wynne – The Progressive Conservative Record

Style: Here’s the thing about Kathleen Wynne; she’s stiff, awkward and has an image not compatible with walking around a suburb explaining stuff to a camera. Her outfit looks hastily selected; her face is that of a person tired of reading words from a card; and the location is eerily similar to Walter White’s street in Breaking Bad.

Message: Wynne does better here, using actual quotes from her target (PC Leader Tim Hudak) and communicating what the results of a Hudak-led government might mean. She refrains from attacking the character of Hudak but delivers her “facts” using the finest of fine print to cite her source material. Wynne’s team should try stepping into the modern digital world and embed the source material inside the actual video so online viewers can view the references for themselves.

Effectiveness: This ad is too distracting. It’s main message probably seemed easy to communicate when it was still just a script, but a grey sky, a stale performer and too much information to process bombard the delivery of the message.

Overall Grade: C+

Manufacturing Outrage: Laureen Harper Love Cats More than Missing Women

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In one of the cheapest demonstrations from the political fringe in Canada this year, an operative from kindergarten group ‘Shit Harper Did’ hijacked a fundraiser for feral cats by interrupting Laureen Harper’s address with questions about missing and murdered aboriginal women.

Mrs. Harper was obviously caught off guard (who wouldn’t be?), and tried to casually remind the heckler of the event’s primary goal; to raise money for stray cats.

This video, which I find to be more damaging to the ‘activist organization’ than it is to the Harper Government, harkens back to the kind of gotcha journalism utilized by intellectual giants such as Alex Jones or Bill O’Reilly. It tells the audience something that isn’t relevant to what is actually happening, and then rides out that misinformation to fit a predetermined position on a preselected issue.

It would be like going to a seniors benefit dinner, standing up and demanding an answer to pedophile priests and accusing the organizers of siding with child predators when they escort you out.

This is not activism. This does not prove the federal government or the prime minster’s wife is cavalier about missing and murdered women. And for the record, the Harper Government’s progress and lack of action on missing aboriginal women has been appalling, but that doesn’t mean this exercise in propaganda was a success.

Ideologues do this all the time, on both sides of the Left/Right paradigm. The infallible swagger they use to promote their concerns actually expose them for being mischievous, not proactive, as they write their indignant blog posts pretending their ‘activism’ was a success.

Mischief is not activism, and while missing women in Canada is an important issue, you can’t hijack events and pretend you’ve done something righteous.

Manufacturing Outrage: The Justin Trudeau ‘Selfie”

dynamic_resizeThis is a the first of a weekly entry into the most sensationalized story of the week in Canadian politics.     By:  James Di Fiore  

 

It takes a special kind of tabloid, the partisan slanty stuff, to make my Dumb-dar kick into ludicrous speed, detecting the invented and highly ideological spin pertaining to Justin Trudeau.

And that’s a steep slope to climb if you are keeping score. Yes, the sometimes precocious one liners from ‘Justin’ often come off as misguided or un-PR, there’s no doubt. But immovable ideologues – that is to say those who will never, ever vote un-Conservative, are playing the kind of PR game where the sole tactic is to smear, animate and distort. ‘Trudeau,’ say the sensible flame throwers of the right, ‘is a commie-loving, dim-witted and privileged miscreant, whose father, incidentally, destroyed the country through his anti-western hatred!’ (that’s right HATRED!!)

‘Roar’!

Justin Trudeau stopped to take a few photos on the way to the Jim Flaherty funeral. But, the vitriolic flag bearers have spun it by relentlessly publicizing the word ‘selfie’. Apparently they get their advice on slang from tweens, seeing as these are merely first person photographs. It’s also worth mentioning the other politicians who stopped for photographs and interviews: John Tory, Jason Kenney, Peter MacKay, Stockwell Day, Rob Ford and various other politicians. Those are just the ones I witnessed personally.

Jack Layton’s funeral never resulted in people chomping at the bit for the smiles, photographs and interviews that were taken that day. Wait, my bad. Yes they were. The feel-good tributes were simply too much for the same rodeo clowns who are moaning about selfies today. This method of deliberately enraging the electorate is shameful. And yes the left aren’t exactly innocent in the age where everything is public relations.

Existing on the airwaves and digital frequencies are a customized, post-contextualized spin of recorded soundbites and images. It’s becoming noticeable, and it needs to stop. Remember, selfies are just photographs taken by the person who owns the camera. Nothing more. So if those are inappropriate, then every photograph and digital video are too.

The Jim Flaherty Funeral – Videos and Pictures

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Colleagues and political rivals share fond memories at the Flaherty funeral in Toronto

By: JAMES DI FIORE

They say public service is thankless, but if the Jim Flaherty funeral is any indication, public service can be recognized by friends and foes alike. Flaherty was laid to rest today at St. James Cathedral in Toronto in a service attended by familiar faces of Parliament Hill from all the major parties, as well as the thousands who lined the streets of Toronto.

Several cabinet ministers, former politicians and political rivals shared their thoughts on the man known as ‘Jimmy’ in a send off not seen since departure of Jack Layton 3 years ago.

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Like Jack Layton’s Passing, Jim Flaherty’s Death Exposes the Worst Among Us

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The Far Left Proves it can be just as shameful as the Far Right in Canada

By: James Di Fiore

 

 

When Jack Layton died his legacy was such that many people who did not share his politics felt the deep sadness one feels when a member of the family passes away. Layton had a quality that blurred political lines and embraced emotional collectivism instead.

Today, another man in politics passed away, and he had much of the same effect on those he worked with, and the people he represented. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty suffered a massive heart attack and died at his home at the age of 64.

Immediately the news carried sentiments from people on all sides of the aisle. Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair could barely hold in the tears as he expressed his condolences. One after another non-conservatives told stories of the lovable leprechaun and his ability to connect with his political opposites.

But of course, like seagulls with irritable bowel syndrome on a precariously windy day, bombs start falling from the vitriolic fringe. “Good riddance,” said one genius. “I guess he won’t be able to mess up another budget,” said another. And while we all know the Internet is a place where taking things personally is both silly and pointless, it still remains depressing to know there are people in our midst who have lost the ability to censor their virtual selves.

I am reminded of Christopher Hitchens when he absolutely destroyed Jerry Falwell on the day the good reverend died. I think the difference between Falwell, Layton and Flaherty is twofold: first, Falwell was repugnant and used religious dogma to judge other people. Second, Hitchens was so much more intellectually clever than the sloped-brow contingent online.

It’s been about an hour since Flaherty passed away. I had to stop reading the comments. I had to do the same when Layton passed away. Instead, I’d like to point out something that should give us all pause.

As when Layton died, the one demographic who demonstrated the most poise, the most civility and the classiest sentiments is the same demographic whom we universally chastise on the regular: politicians. Politicians are often dishonest, almost always self-serving and probably wouldn’t blink an eye if their policies made you lose your job. But in a time of mourning they are precisely the embodiment of how people should behave, like in the immediate aftermath of Layton and Flaherty’s deaths.

So do yourself a favour…don’t read the comment section of any media outlet for the next few days. Then, never read them again.