Mayoral hopeful Adam Giambrone and partner Sarah McQuarrie are seen at left; at right, Kristen Lucas. From Toronto Star.

Notes from North of 49ºN

This morning, the city of Toronto awoke to a mayoral candidate sex scandal that is likely to have zero effect on the outcome, given the strength of the frontrunner, George Smitherman. The Toronto Star had an article on how a woman came forward with text messages of a sexual nature and allegations that she had an affair with mayoral candidate Adam Giambrone, the Toronto Transit Commission chairman and City Councillor. Giambrone has a long-time girlfriend, Sarah McQuarrie. The article was full of lurid details, reminding me why I think of the Star as a bastion of hack journalism and often poorly-written articles. In the article, Adam called it a lapse in judgement and apologized to those close to him for the embarrassment his actions will cause them.

What I find interesting is not just how this story plays into the routine morality play of political sex scandals, but also how the press frames them. The above photo was in an article posted within the last 90 minutes on the Star, reporting that Giambrone is staying in the mayoral race. I found it interesting that the photo had images of “the couple” in clean-cut political mode, contrasted with “the other woman,” complete with low-cut blouse.  Here’s the photo from the story that ran this morning, echoing more of the same::

Kristen Lucas, left. Adam Giambrone & Sarah McQuarrie, right. Carlos Osorio, Toronto Star Staff

The Toronto Star might think I’m full of it {along with others}, but I think these photos are meant to reinforce, with a visual rhetoric, a specific normative political narrative with the intent of selling papers and fueling pageviews. WJT Mitchell wrote about “what do pictures want?” a few years back. These images attempt to simultaneously evoke an emotional response from us along with a judgment, as well as reinforce a narrative of our politicians.

The Torontoist had a good point by saying that this story is telling of our political culture.  They also question the correlation between one’s private life and the ability to be a good public servant. I have no idea what the truth is in this story, but I have three points to make::

  1. If politicians are to be held to a high moral standard, why not all persons in positions of power? If a boss has an affair, should that be unequivocal grounds for termination?
  2. Doesn’t this scrutiny of politician’s private lives, given how technology is eroding privacy, set a precedent for all of our lives to be potentially in the public sphere?
  3. Doesn’t this scrutiny incentivize more bad behaviours, as in the case of John Edwards who not only had an affair, but went to great lengths to cover it up.

Does this preclude a mainstream politician who is a “player” or polyamorous? I think it does. And the Star will ensure we get out collective fill of any lurid details or allegations of “deviance” to express our collective outrage, just like in Victorian times, when “smut” was published as a cautionary warning—and make fistfuls of cash.

Update {10 February 2010, 8:39a EST}::

Giambrone admitted to more affairs and politicians are going on record expressing shock, dismay, and calling for his withdrawal from the mayoral race. It looks like the Toronto Star wasn’t the only one interested in sexy pictures. There was just differences on the definition of sexy. Here’s an excerpt from today’s Globe & Mail::

“At first, Ms. Lucas seemed eager for more exposure. She sent several photos of herself to a local gossip website yesterday morning because she disliked the portraits that appeared in the Star, according to David Robert, manager of drinktheglitter.com. “She wanted sexy pictures of her to be out there,” he said. “She’s like, ‘They’re going to get out anyways.’ “ But she shrank from attention as interest in the scandal swelled. Ms. Lucas swiftly deleted her Facebook and Twitter pages. Mr. Robert said she also disconnected her phone number and shut herself inside her house in East York to escape the media swarm.

“I think this is crazy for her,” he said. “But, my god, I mean, [yesterday] morning she sent Canada’s highest-rated gossip site 10 pictures of herself.”

Twitterversion:: Blog: Trending topic #Giambrone dustup in #Toronto. Star reciting familiar verbal/visual tropes to make $$. #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Song:: The Wedding Present-”Unfaithful”