It's pretty much guaranteed that if you are a resident of Fort Mac you've already heard this story. For the benefit of those readers who don't live here I'll tell it again, though. On a recent WestJet flight from Vancouver to Fort Mac the flight attendant made a little joke. She asked how many people on the flight wanted to go to Fort Mac. Then she asked how many didn't want to go. Hahaha, right? Except - oops - our city mayor, Melissa Blake, happened to be on that flight.
Hello, awkward moment - for everyone. I'm sure Mayor Blake wasn't quite certain how to respond, and as it turns out another Fort Mac resident and former city councillor responded instead. That resident, Joanne Roberts, called the flight attendant over and explained that the mayor of Fort Mac happened to be on the flight, and that this "joke" could be considered offensive to those who call this city home. I'm sure the flight attendant was taken aback and I can only imagine the "deer in the headlights" look on her face. I'm sure she didn't mean any harm by the comment, and I'm sure she didn't intend to offend, either. The mayor subsequently Twittered about the incident and heard from many folks (like me) who have heard similar jokes on WestJet.
There are those who say it's just a joke, and surely we can take a joke, right? The problem is that when you live in a place that has been buffeted by as much negative media attention as we have the jokes just don't seem funny anymore. Instead of seeming at all amusing they touch on a very sensitive spot, and while we might try to see the humour all we see is another barb aimed straight at the heart of our community.
I'm not terribly upset about this incident because I've heard these comments, too. I travel quite a lot. I've had people say horrible things about Fort Mac to me on airplanes, in hotels, in restaurants, and just about everywhere I've met someone and told them where I am from. My response? Generally I ask them if they've ever been to this city. That always stops them a bit. They generally sputter something about what they've read in the paper or heard on the news. I then tend to ask them if they believe everything they read and hear, at which point they often go a bit quiet. I take that opportunity to explain that while Fort Mac receives a lot of bad press it's also quite heavily slanted press. Good news stories about the positive things happening in the city don't make the news (at least not any more than good things in Toronto or Vancouver make the news, either - face it, people, the media likes sad, depressing, negative stories). I try to tell them about the city from my perspective, and I try to do it in a kind and thoughtful way so they see that perhaps what they heard about this city might just be incorrect.
WestJet says they are taking the incident seriously and looking into it. Humour is a very subjective thing, and there are many who probably think the comment by the flight attendant was harmless and perhaps even funny. In many ways it was just the flight attendant's misfortune that the mayor was on that flight, and if she'd made the comment on a different flight there would have been no reaction at all. As any stand-up comedian will tell you, though, that's the risk with humour. Sometimes you get a person in the crowd who has a problem with your joke, and sometimes they might even have good reason to object to it. In this instance I think it's just a reminder that we need to continue to work on this city's image in the minds of the general public in this entire country - and I think we need to roll with the punches a little bit along the way, because we are going to get those jabs aimed at us.
I'm kind of hoping the flight attendant might come to Fort Mac and then Mayor Melissa can take her for coffee at Mitchell's, and lunch at the Sawridge, and show her some of the city. I think that just might be the best possible resolution of this incident as we can show the flight attendant what this city is really about - and then those Fort Mac jokes won't even occur to her any more. After all, once you've seen a place - really seen it, not just read about it or heard about it - it provides an entirely new perspective, doesn't it? I think in the final analysis that's what we need to continue to do - retain our sense of humour, move forward, and change perspectives, one person (or one flight attendant) at a time.