THE BLOG

Rob Ford and Kevin O'Leary: Selfish Redemption

01/23/2012 05:33 EST | Updated 03/24/2012 05:12 EDT

So I promised last week that I'd tell you more about Kevin O'Leary (or as I call him, K-OL). And in the last day or so, my twitter-feed has exploded with the Toronto City Council budget and Premiers rejecting Flaherty's proposal for a new health accord.

There's a voice in my head saying, "Julie! You're a health activist! Write about important things! Not dumb reality shows on the TEE-vee!" This particular inner voice sounds a lot like Marg Delahunty (so, you know, super-compelling).

But the truth of the matter is, I can't wade into Toronto City politics (and other people are doing a better job anyway) without wanting to make a long diatribe about a) focusing on service cuts and good jobs; not this strange weight-loss pledge Ford has recently come out with and b) how very, very disciplined we should all be about taking public figures' bodies off the table for discussion once and for all and forever. It's inappropriate, breaks solidarity with the thousands of people who also have socially-stigmatized bodies and want to fight the cuts, it's shallow, it's not the point and it's abusive.

That said, budget victory against Ford! Amazing!

And I will write about the health accord. Sometime. After I tell you more about K-OL.

I introduced you to my criminologist friend Jenna Simpson last week. The conversation we had about Redemption Inc. his new reality show, at that time far exceeded what I was able to put into that blog. The thing you should know about Jenna and me, is that we generally have these conversations very loudly while on elliptical machines at the gym. We are often surrounded by men who physically resemble and appear to be of similar social status as K-OL. We often end our mutual ranting about politics and large social problems with one of us emphatically throwing our hands to the sides and proclaiming,

"Well that's it! Solved that one!"

At which point at least one of the men in the vicinity looks like his head might explode. Our first K-OL rant was no different. I explained the premise of the show to her (it's one of our arrangements, we take turns watching and reading things that are angering then describing, so the other doesn't have to experience the agony first-hand).

I start with the show's opening: "10 ex-cons, 1 rich man, $100 000 to start a business, 1 second chance. Then they introduce K-OL like this: Kevin O'Leary is a best-selling author, a self-made millionaire, TV's Mr. Tough Guy."

Jenna groans. And then I say, "Wait for it... the recently criminalized contestants are chosen based on their 'hunger for redemption' and 'entrepreneurial flare and business acumen'. So out of the ten, there's

seven white men, one black man, and two white women."

"The racial make-up of the contestants is statistically ridiculous!" says Jenna. "It may reflect general population of Canada but completely does not reflect the prison population. There should definitely be at least three aboriginal people and there should be at least three black people. The gender balance is outrageous."

"Oh yeah!" I say, "And one of the two women goes home the first week. And what happens to those nine contestants who just got out of prison and now fail to be redeemed by K-OL?!"

Jenna answers, "The rate of recidivism is going to be really high!" And she's a criminologist. She's kind of looked into these things.

So maybe sports-type competitions aren't the best way to run rehabilitation. Maybe having all the contestants who didn't get kicked off huddle together and let out a war cry of "Redemption!" at the end of the show doesn't magically create redemption.

Maybe Rob Ford becoming more athletic will have no bearing on good and fair city policy that maintains strong public services and good jobs. And maybe the provinces shouldn't be pushed into privatizing healthcare by a government who is bent on destroying the principles of the Canada Health Act.

Maybe K-OL isn't redeeming anyone but himself.