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Rob Ford Lived The Gimmick, And That Was The Problem

03/23/2016 04:44 EDT | Updated 03/24/2017 05:12 EDT
Shaun Merritt/Flickr

It's been over 24 hours since the passing of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford was announced. As with any high-profile political death, there's been an outpouring of condolences from all facets of the political spectrum.

Stephen Harper remembers Ford for his courage and love for Toronto.

John Tory called him "profoundly human", which I guess is as good an epitaph to which any of us ought to aspire.

Tom Mulcair said "[age] 46 is far too young to lose a loved one."

And it's in that designation -- Rob Ford as loved one, as father/husband/brother, as "man" -- we run the risk of not having some very important conversations. When someone we dislike passes away, we far too often revert to muted resignation. We purse our lips, dip our heads, and maybe mumble a few innocuous words of remembrance. It feels cheap to assail a dead man, especially when they're survived by a mourning family.

So let's not assail Rob Ford The Man, but we should take a good hard look at Rob Ford The Gimmick.

In the world of pro wrestling, a performer has a character to play, or "gimmick", when they come to the ring. These roles run the gamut of variety and taste. Dentists, barbers, Mounties, accountants, wizards, porn stars, American patriots turned Iraqi sympathizers and back again.

Yeah, wrestling is weird and sometimes really stupid, but it can also offer moments that no other art form (yes, art form) can hope to touch. It can truly amaze.

Over time, depending on the fan reception of a wrestler's character, the line separating person from persona can get smudged as the performer begins to "live the gimmick", so to speak. One needs to look no further than Terry "Hulk Hogan" Bollea giving testimony at his own trial in a du-rag to see that living the gimmick is alive and well in wrestlers.

One of the best examples of this is "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (real name: Steve Williams). He spent the early and middle parts of his career toiling away under the guise of numerous characters to varying degrees of success. From the stoic Ringmaster to one half of cocky tag team the Hollywood Blondes, no persona really stuck until he became "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, a beloved beer-swilling, tough-talking, redneck son of a bitch (his words, not mine). He now hosts a candid podcast and has his own craft beer.

The man once known as Steve Williams is now Stone Cold, and perhaps always has been Stone Cold. Wrestling personas sometimes have a tendency of reflecting a performer's true character and vice-versa. For more on this, read about the life of wrestler Jake Roberts and try to tell me where Aurelian Smith Jr. ends and "The Snake" begins.

"He was, at times, monstrous. He needed help. He seldom received it."

Gimmicks aren't exclusive to the wrestling world. Politicians put on personas in an effort to get votes and harbour support, all with the help and hindrance of the media. They can become larger-than-life characters, ironically impossible to relate to on a human level. They perform on stages. They're lionized on our money like the Monopoly guy. They are drawn as cartoons published online and in newspapers virtually every day.

It's through this lens that we should be able to look at Rob Ford and drop the niceties.

The gimmick, which perhaps resembled his true nature all too closely, was one of a deeply flawed, troubled man in a position of untenable power and celebrity. He was abusive and a true embarrassment. While Ford seemed to give little regard to his own health and well-being, it's the stories of DUIs, police house calls, and belligerent disregard for the safety of others that shouldn't be overlooked.

He was, at times, monstrous. He needed help.

He seldom received it.

Yes, there were positive aspects of Ford's gimmick. The love for his community and constituents seemed real enough, but that kind of positivity only cements a legacy so firm. In neglecting his faults, we run the risk of giving rise to even more abrasive personas.

(Enter Donald Trump, the self-aggrandized king of gimmicks, and no stranger to the world of professional wrestling.)

For the sake of the victims he bullied and abused, as well as those who still hold the mayor's office in high regard, we can't forgive that Rob Ford's legacy is a pockmark on the city of Toronto.

The unfortunate difference between pro wrestling and politics is that the latter is real fucking life. Politicians have power and influence. Their gimmicks carry true consequence. At a certain point, a line of our own gets smudged. We cease being spectators and become part of the show.

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