The Soul of Toronto Is a Dead Raccoon (or; The Pan Am Games Are Boring), Jamming, 13/07/2015

All the millions in marketing and outreach couldn't bring the people of Toronto together
like a little dead raccoon.
Lots of things to talk about, but I had another idea that my friends in the communications field would find interesting. Really, everyone I know in Toronto would probably find this interesting. It’s about the Pan Am Games falling flat on their faces.

At least in terms of attendance. My uncle won some tickets to a soccer game that he sent us, but the game is in Hamilton on a weekday afternoon and we can't go because we'll be at work. I am planning to get some tickets for the track events, because girlfriend Gillian is a big fan of track, and I'm a big fan of hers.

But attendance has been lacklustre at the Games overall, and a lot of Torontonians have left the city on vacation. And I think its failure lies in communications. 

It’s a simple matter. Living in Toronto since this January and being generally attentive to the physical world around me has exposed me to the games in several ways: advertisements on the streets and on transit, and notices of road closures and detours.

The ads, I'm sure, are perfectly constructed by the Games' marketing department. Even the July TTC monthly metropass is a pocket-sized ad for the games. There are images of intense and triumphant athletes on every subway. I see posters everywhere as I walk around the city. 

This is just my experience, of course, but it’s an example that illustrates how ubiquitous the Games are as an event. These images exist to keep the Pan Am Games in the forefront of your consciousness and excite you about the event itself, the clash of international athletes on a global stage.

Yet the road closures, detours, and extra physical inconveniences getting around the city during Pan Am time probably doesn't have anything to do with the marketing department. Those notices would likely be the responsibility of officials with Toronto’s communications department, though I’m honestly not sure how the organizations handling Pan Am related matters are structured internally.

Those notices are necessary to tell people how to plan their days, given the changes to the city’s streets that the Pan Am Games events will cause. But they were probably the biggest poison pill of the Games with the people of Toronto. 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the culture of Toronto, it's that everyone here works damned hard, and commuting is necessary for everyone, even if it's just a 30 minute subway ride. Many residents of the GTA, Toronto and its far-flung suburbs and satellite towns, pray daily only that they escape traffic jams and might possibly be able to see their families before having to go to sleep so they can be up before sunrise for the next day's commute. 

Do you think any of these people will be going to work during the Pan Am road closures? Those who can will flee. That goes for everybody whose commute might be lengthened unnecessarily. Far from being an event for the whole family, the Pan Am Games’ primary affect on Toronto's people is the fear that they'll see less of their families for being stuck on a road home from work. So you go on vacation.

The New York Times article I linked above makes a bigger point of the public’s disgust at the Games’ cost overruns, but I while that may have initially soured opinions, the public could still be won back through excitement about the event itself, the global clash of world-class athletes on an international stage. But the logistical messes and high costs of hosting international sporting events are getting so large that only dictatorships can quiet their population sufficiently to win bids.

I know a lot of high-level officials in Toronto’s government and governing class want the city to grow in prestige, and they believe that prestige comes with things like hosting international sporting events. The city certainly doesn’t build its reputation with hosting international political summits, like the infamous G20 meetings five years ago. World Pride last year, while generally fantastic, was packed too full of people to sustain the atmosphere of relaxed, liberated fun that makes Toronto Pride so fantastic.

And it’s because of geography. Too much has to close down. There isn't enough space to put the events and the population at the same time. Hell, Toronto can’t even host a macaroni festival without a disaster of urban ecology.

The real spirit of Toronto doesn’t emerge on the orders or suggestions of a government marketing department. It emerges spontaneously, as a population turns an act of protest into a beautiful piece of collaborative street art.

A raccoon died in downtown Toronto last week, and an office worker tweeted it to a municipal Twitter account to send animal control units to get the corpse. But it didn't come, and the worker continued bugging the city. People working in neighbouring buildings saw the tweets and decided to mock the city’s slow speed by building a heartfelt memorial to the poor little raccoon. 

This was #DeadRaccoonTO. A spontaneous movement to critique their city government through a sarcastic act that was simultaneously a tender tribute to this and the other urban wildlife that shares our city streets. The residents of the city itself taking a few minutes from their busy workdays to send a kind-hearted message of frustration at the slow movement of their government and the frustrating drudgery of their working lives. It was anarchism through humour, protest with a smile and a little tear falling from your eye.

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