I struggled with whether or not to watch the now-infamous video of Rob Ford and his violent, shouting, barely coherent rampage (The Star, 2013). But I did. I understand that the context is unclear; we don’t know what he’s angry at or who he has in mind when he’s threatening to kill someone and “rip his f—ing throat out.” Got all that. I understand that he did not know this video was being shot at the time; that he thought this was a moment of privacy. And he was drunk. Obviously. It was not intended for public distribution, and he’s sorry about it. Got all that. But that does not erase the fact that it does exist, and it says a lot about him as a person. Way too much, in fact.
I’m familiar with emotional outbursts: way more familiar than most. As a brain injury survivor I know that one of the things that is most common in survivors’ stories, and one of the most difficult to reclaim as we recover, is the control of emotional expression. I’ve been through too many moments that were embarrassing myself to be overly critical of others. But I tried to never use my condition as an excuse: I’ve taken responsibility for them. (That includes a reprimand as tech manager at my job in Arkansas.) And although those experiences remain part of my past, I’ve moved beyond them. But although I’ve had some angry and even energetic outbursts, nothing ever came close to what I saw from Rob Ford.
This video is not “embarrassing” (Vancouver Sun, 2013). That is too weak a word for it. It’s shameful. This video is disgusting, in the worst sense that can be attached to that word. Some of Ford’s defenders, such as Christie Blatchford (National Post, 2013) have tried to minimize its impact: she lists a whole series of her own “embarrassing” moments from the last few years: playing golf topless and singing karaoke, speaking to a conference when drunk and trying to fit into a dress that was too small for her frame. As though these come even close to the ranting of Mr. Ford? Come on, Christie. Reality check. Your little “faux pas”s are cute: like so many of our leaders who were “embarrassed” about smoking pot (once); the action doesn’t fit with the image you try to portray, but secretly we all respect you a tiny bit more for that “wild” side of your personality that you try to hide and only talk about on convenient occasions (like this one). Mr. Ford’s outburst is not cute. It’s a new class of expression in comparison to yours. Your moments make you seem a little more human; we can all relate to you a bit more. Ford’s moment makes him seem a little less human. That’s why I don’t really care about the context to the video (unless he’s rehearsing for a play: in which case it’s a bit of overkill) or who he’s angry with. If he can be this mad with anyone, he should not be leading our city.
Alcohol does not cause violent outbursts: it is an excuse to allow for them. There are many studies with respect to family violence on the subject: “Because in our society the belief is widespread that alcohol and drugs release violent tendencies, according to MacAndrew and Degerton (1969) people are given a “time out” from the normal rules of social behavior… an individual’s behavior can be attributed to the admission of being “loaded”… the belief that alcohol is a disinhibitor combine[s] to provide a socially acceptable explanation for violence. ‘I didn’t know what I was doing, I was drunk’ is a frequent explanation for wife beating.” (Association is not Causation, Gelles and Cavanagh, pg. 177, 2005)
Does this sound familiar? Mr. Ford to a T. Interesting that he was charged (though charges were withdrawn immediately afterwards) with assault and death threats against his wife (Toronto Star, 2008).
At best Mr. Ford is a violent man: a grown-up, spoiled rich kid who never learned how to control himself: who uses alcohol binging as a way to express his violence in a way that he has learned his family and friends will accept. He wants his way or he’ll rip someone’s throat out. That is not the kind of man we want as mayor. The leader of this city needs to reconcile many perspectives and many people: he should not be threatening to “kill” those he disagrees with.