2015 Villain: @norm
Nominated for: being more concerned with online analytics than the city.
Torontoist is reflecting on 2015 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until midnight on January 7. At noon on January 8, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
When we were almost seven years old, Santa Claus left us a handwritten note on Christmas morning to thank us for the milk and cookies we’d left him. “My reindeer appreciated the carrots,” he’d added, and it was the facepalm cherry on the triple-oof sundae that squelched the fantasy forever. It was bad enough that we recognized that unmistakable scrawl as our father’s, developmentally frozen in a 1962 primary school classroom despite the nuns’ best intentions. The earnest inclusion of reindeer snacks was what drove home that (spoiler alert) Santa was not—could not be—real. No sensible gift ghoster would in any way chance a sighting to pause and bust out a mechanical Bic, let alone get into detail for our unexceptional arses.
Which brings us to @norm.
There are plenty of reasons to have opinions about Norm Kelly, councillor of Ward 40 (Scarborough-Agincourt) and former deputy mayor under Rob Ford. We’ve aired those opinions on this very platform, but others have too: in sum, that he’s a climate change-denying waffler whose positions are easily shifted with the right political wind. During the end of the Ford era, his Twitter account was a breath of avuncular air; after the Ford era, it was reborn and rebranded with an eye for analytics.
Conversations about @norm are not about Norm Kelly, Ward 40 councillor and former deputy mayor. They are about a political simulacrum of our own monstrous creation.
@norm is entirely our own fault, and we are stuck with it. We allowed this to become what it has, despite occupying a singularly fascinating megacity with far better objects of cultural affection strewn haphazardly at our disposal. While our homegrown artists stubbornly infect mass consciousness, we’re allowing ourselves to be swept up by a sinister Internet Santa Claus, and frankly, it’s undignified.
To be clear, there’s no crime in embracing a social media-savvy political figure. @norm, howevs, is not that. @norm is a persona that is fundamentally not real, buried behind a politician who is, and feeding off the incredulity of a populace that seems to need convincing that its own city can produce a character that’s simultaneously quirky and benign.
We’ve had a rough half-decade, but @norm is not the lovable weirdo we’re hungry for. @norm is an illusion; the account’s re-christening in November 2014 was its Santa Claus thank-you note.
This isn’t an is-he-or-isn’t-he dive into authorial authenticity. It’s possible that the councillor is indeed behind the Twitter account, or maybe there’s truth in the rumours that the account is the keyboard-child of Kelly’s assistant, Jerry Nasr. We don’t care. The fact is that @norm exists for the sheer purpose of existing, stealing our erstwhile productivity and quantifying our curiosity into tallies of clicks. We are at the behest of @norm’s machine, and it won’t stop until we’re all dead.