A Tired New @Norm-al
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A Tired New @Norm-al

How the Internet-famous city councillor's Twitter performance distracts from his less-than-cute politics.

Are you beginning to tire of @norm? Of course you are, because even if he just hit 100,000 followers, he’s become objectively tiresome. Just type “block norm” into Twitter’s search bar and see what turns up. Go ahead, do it right now. We’ll wait.

In the warped funhouse that is #TOpoli, the Twitter account of Ward 40, Scarborough-Agincourt city councillor (and former deputy mayor under Rob Ford) Norm Kelly has become a counter-intuitive global sensation, most notably due to the tweeter’s recent self-insertion into the diss track goldmine that was the feud between rappers Meek Mill and Drake—Drake being, of course, our most internationally visible hometown ambassador and an obvious star to hitch one’s digital wagon onto.

Time was among the many international media outlets to do a @norm primer on the heels of the Drake-Meek tussle. There’s even a thread on Reddit dedicated to explaining @norm for the reasonably confused masses. For @norm neophytes, the message board details how “everyone knew Deputy Mayor Kelly was keeping the city running while Ford was literally smoking crack,” offering generic praise of his “dope af Twitter account,” while supplying key contextual information such as Kelly’s fondness for retweeting rapper Li’l B (a.k.a., as I’m sure @norm would remind you, BASEDGOD), and his four-plus decades in municipal politics (and before that, federal politics).

File photo of Norm Kelly (Ward 40, Scarborough-Agincourt) at a 2015 council meeting. Photo by Giordano Ciampini.

In the darkest days of Ford’s mayoralty, the avuncular tweeter was a surprising ray of stream-of-consciousness sunshine. Tweeting under the handle @dmayorkelly, the account’s winsome quotidian mini-takes—on the disappointment of biting into a raisin cookie when you’re expecting chocolate chips, or the agony of stepping on a Lego block—were a welcome refuge from the municipal hot mess dominating international headlines. From city council’s late-2013 decision to strip Ford of his mayoral power, and on through the mayor’s rehab-induced absence the following spring, Kelly’s social media presence maintained a levity we desperately craved. He was Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in our own civic wartime, tweeting the Toronto equivalent of “Let’s put on a show!”

In anticipation of Mayor Tory’s comparably subdued leadership, @dmayorkelly became @norm last December, thus completing the councillor’s full online cartoonization. The rebranding was accompanied by a respectably sheepish Vine, and brought with it a more buzzed-about—and prolific—presence. Before long, even the City Hall–ambivalent were jumping onto the @norm bandwagon to catch the politician’s increasingly absurd mix of pothole updates, weather alerts and ravenous Drake-watching.

Before we proceed, let’s get this out of the way: whoever runs the account is a very good tweeter. @norm’s tweets are good tweets. They strike a rare balance of pop-culture relevance and fogey-voice that works especially well when you imagine a 73-year-old behind the keyboard, triumphantly flexing his downness with the kids. People have made entire careers from sharing the ridiculous stuff their dads say; it’s a formula that sells time and again, and again, and again. Props to @norm for cutting out the middleman, whether or not Kelly is actually the typer behind the terminal.

The trouble is that the more famous and, dare we say, beloved @norm becomes, the easier it is to forget the councillor behind the handle. And, as a politician whose stances have direct impact on our very governance, Norm is not @norm. @norm is the high school history teacher whose dad jokes you hate to love; Norm is an actual former history teacher who denied the existence of climate change while (lol!) serving as chair of the parks and environment committee. @norm brags about online friendships with famous rappers; Norm kept mum on the exoneration of a Peel police officer who killed an unarmed black man while his online persona mugged for thousands. @norm happily marked Raptors Day; Norm hesitated to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Nanking Massacre.

Yes, there should be room for fun in our civic discourse. Lord knows of all cities, we need it. But we already know what it feels like to have a jester hold court over our collective political psyche. Maybe it’s time for a new bag of tricks.