Don’t get all puffed up about it, but the rest of the world has suddenly decided that Toronto is cool. Or at least interesting.
And, yes, I think it probably has an awful lot to do with Gawker’s exposé last month about the elusive smartphone video that may or may not show Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine.
No matter how much the allegation startled Torontonians, imagine the double-take it forced on non-Canadians who used to find it convenient to view Toronto as “New York run by the Swiss” (in the words of Peter Ustinov), a rather sterile and correct metropolis.
(I say “non-Canadians” advisedly because Canadians outside the GTA have such a generally low opinion of Toronto that they would not be surprised by almost any scandalous allegation about our city, our people or our politicians. We Torontonians, on the other hand, think of ourselves as a pretty decent, cosmopolitan lot and the rest of the world outside Canada sees us — or used to see us — as a bunch of nice, polite, boring do-gooders.)
But all that’s changed since the Gawker foofaraw about Ford (or Slurpy or whoever) smoking something in a glass pipe. If Mayor McCheese is a possible crackhead, doesn’t that make the whole damn town a little … impulsive … unpredictable … dangerous?
Don’t believe me? Just take a look at this headline on Time magazine’s website last week.
That’s Time magazine. Not the force it used to be, perhaps, but still a news outlet that garners serious international attention. And that story hit the No. 3 spot on Time’s “most read” chart for June 4.
Unfortunately, they filed the story under the category “Swampland,” but what the hell — you can’t have everything.
Amazingly, a Google search of “Rob Ford” produces almost twice as many results (227 million) as one for “Ford Motor” (120 million).
I won’t say the sophisticates of New York or Berlin or Hong Kong are looking at us with admiration now, but they aren’t taking us for granted any more. They’re watching our eyes more closely and paying attention to any fast movements we make with our hands.
It reminds me a bit of when I learned that a former newspaper colleague, a pleasant and rather ordinary woman, had a concurrent alternate identity as a very hands-on, practice-makes-perfect online sex columnist and therapist (no, not anyone connected with the Toronto Sun). I did look at her in a completely different light after that. I didn’t think it made her a better or worse journalist — just a far more complex and nuanced person than I had previously given her credit for. Much like the rest of the world is now looking at Toronto.
It’s not just the Ford issue that’s set tongues wagging about us, but I think the high-profile Ford kerfuffle started the ball rolling.
The Ikea monkey business hit a sweet spot all over the world and John Malkovich’s recent quick response to help a badly bleeding tourist has been very big — and very positive for Toronto. Imagine a town where movie stars hang out on street corners just waiting to save the afflicted and downtrodden — that’s Toronto, baby.
The Cooling of Toronto has been something in the making for a while. Toronto’s cultural milieu has been on the world’s radar for years, what with Pride Week, Caribana, same-sex marriage, our bubbling music scene and, of course, the high-wattage, celebrity-friendly Toronto International Film Festival.
But even when we were seen to be sorta trendy and a bit avant-garde, the package was still wrapped up in a cuddly blanket of “nice.” Nice is nice but not particularly exciting.
Now that the world’s seen our crack pipes, leather corsets and whip collection, we don’t seem quite so nice. But far more interesting.
And that means things that happen in Toronto — fairly ordinary things in the normal course of events — have suddenly acquired a cachet and deeper lustre simply because they happen in Toronto. Toronto — a cool town, a town with buzz, a town where anything can happen. New York run by Brazilians, not Swiss. (Toronto will never really compare with NYC, of course, but maybe that just means we’re coming into our own, with a completely different set of attributes.)
Future international coverage of Pride Toronto, Caribana and TIFF, for example, will certainly have more zing and a higher profile this summer than similar coverage did in earlier years. And more general news stories will feature Toronto more prominently as a locale or an angle or a flavour.
Take, for example, this piece that appeared on the deadspin.com sports website on Monday. (Deadspin is the site that broke the story about college football star Manti Te’o's “dead” girlfriend being non-existent.)
The article by Hamilton Nolan is about Toronto Pro SuperShow, a three-day cornucopia of all things fit and muscled and strong and steroidal and spray-tanned that took place last weekend at the Toronto Convention Centre.
It’s a good piece — no Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, yet good — but the surprising thing is that Deadspin sent someone up from New York City to cover it. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have happened a year ago.
The fact that deadspin.com is owned by Gawker may have something to do with it, but not all. Gawker and everyone else is simply paying much more attention to what happens in Toronto than they ever did before.
And that’s not necessarily a good thing. Having a rep as an edgy town, a naughty town can attract the wrong sort of “friends.” And once you get a reputation for being down and dirty, it can be rather hard to play the girl next door again.
It’s a little like when the powers that be suddenly declared Toronto a “world-class city” in the mid-1980s. What had been a fun, laid-back, relatively affordable town became — in a matter of two or three years — expensive, snobbish and wound-too-tight.
I long for the Toronto that used to exist before it became a “world class city.” I’m just hoping we don’t all end up regretting the day the rest of the world decided Toronto was cool. And it’s especially weird if Toronto is now cool because of … Rob Ford?