What is it about the very public implosion of a very public man – in this case Toronto Mayor Rob Ford – that fascinates us so?
We are, almost against our sense of common decency, powerless to turn away from this public spectacle of a man so wounded by his own inner demons that his urge toward self-destruction is apparently relentless, not to say inevitable.
The ancient Greeks understood this urge – in him, in us – and they even coined a term for it: hubris, roughly “the tragic pride of kings.”
Hubris is the mainspring of classic Greek tragedy, a narrative form that has informed all subsequent tragedy, notably in Shakespeare, and in the great, dramatic storytelling of our own time.
The Cole’s Notes plot summary goes like this: a king or queen, a person of great wealth and influence, leads a seemingly charmed life, until he or she overreaches in search of love, the satisfaction of carnal appetites, or even more wealth or influence.
The inability to live a balanced, thankful life, the relentless craving for more casts our central figure into a downward spiral from which he or she cannot escape. At a critical juncture comes the moment of reversal and recognition in which our hero/heroine suddenly recognizes his or her fateful error, too late, as the descent into madness, usurpation and/or penury begins. Sound familiar?
For the ancient Greeks surely this formulaic storyline was utterly familiar, and yet they packed the plays of the great tragedians again and again to watch the mighty fall in a myriad of ways, undone by their own irresistible greed, megalomania, lust.
Shortly after the climactic moment of reversal and recognition begins the karmic outcome of all this, the denouement. Alone and friendless, our once popular hero is left to contemplate the tragic consequences of his actions.
This movie never does end well, and it will not, cannot end well, as I think we all sense, for Rob Ford.
Still, we are transfixed by his sheer will to persevere against all odds, at his boundless capacity for denial, at his heedless ranting against the Fates, like the great wounded beast that he is. But the moment of reckoning looms. We sense the inevitability of it even as he does not. Just like our Greek forebears who sat hushed, bathed in the candlelit glow of the footlights, we sit in the glow of our television sets, mesmerized by the public spectacle of the approaching train wreck. The only real question now is how and when the moment of reversal and recognition arrives, not if.
Those of us in the cheap seats know how this movie ends.
Settle in. The denouement is about to begin.