Kayfabe

An interview with Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party leader Doug Ford has been lighting up social this week, as ‘Ford Nation’ made its stop on CBC Radio One Ottawa’s morning show.

Already, the Ontario Liberal party marketing machine is churning out carefully chosen soundbites of Tuesday morning’s interview – hoping to discourage potential voters from considering the Blue Team in this summer’s provincial election.

Meanwhile, left-leaning news outlets like the Huffington Post are stoking the moral outrage fires over the fact Ford wouldn’t answer many of the questions during the interview. Even the CBC itself is diving headfirst into the broader narrative of ‘Ford as Ontario’s Trump‘, drawing the comparison in one question, and welcoming the Premier to comment on Ford’s comments.

What the general public, and some media organizations, fail to recognize in these exchanges is that it is all ‘kayfabe’.

What is that???

To borrow from the Wikipedia entry, kayfabe is, “the portrayal of staged events within the industry as “real” or “true”, specifically the portrayal of competition, rivalries, and relationships between participants as being genuine and not of a staged or predetermined nature of any kind”.

Mr. Ford holding a combative interview with the CBC is ‘red meat’ to his base, many of whom might be anti-CBC or at the very least anti-professional politician.

In creating a hostile media situation with an outlet that has a more liberal-leaning reputation, such as the CBC, Ford can play the victim – or as the ‘people’s champion’ – to those who might identify with him and are not yet sure about voting for him (as well as those who are voting for him). The only folks who saw that interview and hailed it as a disaster were almost certainly not voting Ford either way.

Had he been giving the interview on a conservative talk station with a different host, Ford would have almost certainly answered those questions in a straightforward manner and the interview would have been far more boring. Few would be talking about it, and little would have been gained.

To be clear, I think Ford might believe most of what he said. I cannot prove that he doesn’t believe it. But there’s an element of doubt. I wonder if the views he was expressing, and the certainty in which he was expressing them, were ‘Doug Ford the man’ or ‘Doug Ford the character’.

Why does this matter?

  • The age-old idea that a bad interview is bad for you or your business is dead and buried. Politicians have discovered you can use a bad interview to your advantage. Ever heard the expression ‘bad news is good news to someone’?
  • While I do not advise most people or businesses to pick a fight with the media, you can see how some (particularly in politics) can use it as a brand-building exercise. Ford has further used his comments to drive the narrative as he did during the election campaign – now Wynne is responding to his proposals on marijuana sales and his comments about the sex ed curriculum rather than talking about her plans.
  • When you are following the news, and particularly political news, you should apply this critical lens to all media stories and conflicts you consume. Think less about what the actors are saying, and more about why that are saying it and what they are trying to achieve.
  • Media conflicts have always had an element of ‘kayfabe’. Certain media personalities, particularly on the right, have used overblown personalities to generate controversy and increase the entertainment value of their shows. Now, this ‘entertainment-focus’ has crept into politics in a very blatant manner.

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