Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Search For Authenticity

In their bewilderment over the staunch following that Toronto mayor Rob Ford continues to enjoy amongst 'Ford Nation,' some pundits have advanced the idea that it is his 'authenticity' that accounts for his traction, no matter what drugs he ingests, no matter how many criminal elements he consorts with, no matter how many lies he tells to the public. His deep flaws, some suggest, appeal to the 'everyman.'

At best, I suspect this is only a partial answer. Nonetheless, it has gotten me thinking about leadership styles; serendipitously, the other day I caught the latest Justin Trudeau ad on TV in which he seeks to distinguish himself from the Harper regime without really uttering anything of substance:

While I realize that the ad is directed to a demographic much younger than mine and may in fact 'hit the mark' with that audience, I was struck by a few aspects of the production:

1. It offers an obvious contrast to the button-down, anally-retentive demeanour of our current Prime Minister. Although his suit colour is fairly subdued, Trudeau's open shirt suggests a relaxed manner that only one possessed of a vivid imagination could transpose on Stephan Harper (the latter's blue cardigan campaign costume notwithstanding).

2. Trudeau's cadences are balanced, offering another contrast to the inflectionless Harper.

3. The Liberal leader maintains strong eye contact with the camera, suggesting an openness and authenticity that voters may find appealing.

4. He utters platitudes that no one could disagree with.

However, even though it is a very polished production, the ad does nothing for me; as a veteran observer of political matters, I find the entire effort completely contrived, for all of the above reasons.

We leave in an age of shallow thinking, disengagement and phony 'reality shows.' Given the widespread disengagement from the electoral process of young people, this ad may indeed strike a responsive chord among its intended audience.

How do others feel about the ad?


  1. I would like to see Justin do well, Lorne. But I worry that he is more spin than substance.

    1. That is also my concern, Owen. There is only so far he can go on a winsome smile and general, innocuous statements. As the old commercial used to say, "Where's the beef?"

  2. I don't think that Ford's popularity is tied to his "everyman" image except with a core of rightwing knownothingist wing-nuts. If Ford were the same type of guy in a leftwing politician he would have less than zero support. Rightwing populism is a much easier prospect than leftwing populism because it appeals to a very base, ignorant, often racist, usually sexist and homophobic, crowd without ever threatening the establishment of the rich and powerful. Meanwhile, leftwing populism has to challenge the capitalist establishment - a much more difficult prospect.

    Trudeau, on the other hand, has an easier job - all he has to do is recapture a group of the old Liberal voters who stopped voting seven years ago and a capture a small number of votes who voted for the Tories. Instead of being an "everyman," Trudeau just has to be generic enough and appealing enough to fulfil this basic formula.

    1. You may well be correct, about Trudeau, Kirby. Regarding your observations about the predominant reality at the core of right-wing populism, I guess there is a reason they are referred to as 'base.'