On Saturday Aug. 27, thousands of left-winged pinkos and apolitical gawkers gathered in downtown Toronto to mourn the loss of Jack Layton, don paper moustaches, and witness the rare spectacle of a state funeral. There were two processions: The state’s official ceremony, steeped in borrowed Royal tradition, lead the way to Roy Thompson hall. Behind it, the people’s procession carried a celebratory and almost carnivalesque atmosphere.
We find in this divisive spectacle two ideologies vying for supremacy. At the front of the procession, with a police marching band, veterans, flags, the prime minister’s entourage, and various ceremonial guards, the state-sanctioned spectacle serves to generate national pride (at a time when anyone who shares Layton’s politics is likely to feel contempt for our nation’s current political policy). This is the procession of officially endorsed ideology, and accordingly, this is the procession which photo-journalists scramble to record and transmit. Already, Stephen Harper is riding high on a wave of positive PR.
Following the state procession, and separated by a line of police, a heterogeneous crowd of spectacle seekers and Layton supporters march, carry signs, ring bicycle bells, and play music in a public parade. In the crowd of thousands there were at least two bands, a samba squad, hundreds of bicycles, and numerous pride flags. Many dressed in commemorative orange, some dressed for mourning, and others wore Che Guevara shirts and paper moustaches.
By all means, this was a fitting send-off for a public political figure who touched the lives of many. However, we must remain vigilant: In the face of so much vague symbolic celebration and media de-politicization we must remember the politics that we are actually celebrating (or risk turning Layton into a new, Canadian, Che).
To watch a video of the Official Procession and the People’s Procession, click here.
Michael Toledano is a Toronto-based writer, photographer, videographer, and sometimes culture jammer. He edits and contributes regularly to TheMassOrnament.com, which originally published this piece.