15 August 2007

Every Emperor Must Have His Clown

The title of this post comes from a quote from Marshall McLuhan's great, but under-recognized work, From Cliche to Archetype.
· Every emperor must have his clown … In rigid hierarchical societies only this licensed character dare exercise the probe of free speech. The clown is indispensable as audience-checker … Without his clown, the emperor has no means of contact with the public..
Yesterday's report of former Toronto Mayor, Mel Lastman, dressing up to dress down current Mayor David Miller is a perfect example of McLuhan's observation. By the end of his tenure as the so-called mega-city mayor, Lastman took on what one might describe as clownish characteristics. He was, and occasionally still is, ridiculed for having called in the army to clear snow, his inadvertent pun concerning the World Health Organization during the SARS crisis ("WHO are these people?") and his most ill-advised comments about cannibals during the last Olympics bid. But the casting of the putative clown as court jester (the literary role of the wise fool) is perhaps Lastman's ultimate revenge on the man who's personal imagery was that of the new broom that sweeps clean.

Instead of mayor-as-fool, Toronto has the man who, in his own mind at least, would be king thanks to the "strong mayor" system enabled by the relatively new City of Toronto Act. However, Miller has been handed what has been described as a stunning defeat to his authority by the rejection of his tax-hike plan. Instead of thinking strategically and collaboratively - especially with his ideological opponents - Miller's reaction appears to be more akin to a child's tantrum. This is a tactical and strategic error politically, and a structural error for the citizens of this city over the long term.

Therefore, "where are the clowns? Quick, send in the clowns. Don't bother, they're here..."

...and living at City Hall.

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