"What's his beef with Clooney?" asks a young woman, blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, a cluster of stars tattooed behind her ear. "I wish had something to throw at him." Her friends laugh. Within a minute, she's back on the subject. "I wish I had an egg. Right from here, I'd launch it."
By my count, it's about 58 paces from where this woman's standing to Mel Glickman, a Toronto man in a Donald Trump T-shirt who showed up at the barriers behind the TIFF Bell Lightbox to boo George Clooney. "He's bashing Trump any chance he gets," Glickman tells me. "He was bemoaning the state of the U.S.A. and he blamed Trump and he managed to get in a word for that total [non-racial expletive] Obama. I happen to like Trump. And I hate Hollywood elitists."
He's got a sign, too: a piece of bristol board on a long piece of wood. It reads, on one side:
CLOONEYISLOONEY – TO HELL WITH HYPOCRITICAL HOLLYWOOD HEATHENS – I♥ TRUMP
The backside is considerably less inspired: DEMOLISH DEMENTED DEMOCRATS CLOONEY IS LOONEY.
"I like alliteration," Glickman says, which is obvious enough.
Glickman is something of an old hand at this sort of thing: in 2010, he showed up to the Toronto Pride Parade in a pro-Israel T-shirt to rail against Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, and in 2011 he was asked to leave a gathering in Toronto's Dufferin Grove Park protesting city budget cuts. Though Canadian, Glickman is fluent in the cant of American conservative conspiratorial thinking. He swerves quickly from talking about Clooney into derailing the "antifa" and Black Lives Matter movements ("They're the most violent of anyone!") and later I hear him call Hillary Clinton a "lying bitch," babbling about Benghazi and asking anyone who'll listen why they don't read the news. He thinks free speech is being killed by the left. And that political correctness is the bane of our existence. (He also has some choice opinions about this newspaper.)
Glickman, and people like him, present a compelling paradox. At the one hand, it's easy to condescend and underestimate people like this, something which seems be acknowledged in the new seriousness afforded the American so-called "alt-right." On the other, attempting to silence him, or chuck an egg at him, essentially proves him right, at least as far as free speech and political violence is concerned.
As it plays out, his one-man protest is met with little in the way off actual resistance. As he shuffles near the Lightbox's back entrance, he's flanked by four security guards who, frankly, look like they'd have a difficult time physically removing Mr. Glickman in the event that push actually came to shove. They ask him to pull his sign down, and he refuses. He's got as much right to be there as anyone. And indeed, it's unlikely to imagine security asking someone to pull down a "I ♥ GEORGE" placard. When security threatens to remove him, he invites them to call the cops. They don't.
As soon as Mr. Clooney stepped out of a Cadillac Escalade to sign autographs and glad-hand with fans, Mr. Glickman winds up again. He begins barking variations of his anti-elitist contempt: "You suck, George! You suck! George! You suck!" Etc. His voice, hoarse and weary, cuts through the din of undifferentiated fan-shrieking, like Diogenes casting his lantern through the daylight to find an honest man. Or, you know, just like an irate crank who watches too much Fox News and binges on Alex Jones's Infowars-branded "nutraceutical" sugar pills. Whatever the case, Glickman has a rare clarity of purpose in this TIFF star-watching huddle. Showing up to this thing to protest Clooney makes a kind of intuitive sense which is otherwise absent – or at least eludes this observer.
Clustered among the people who are gathered to collect autographs and photos, or even to just catch glimpses of the Hollywood elite, one wonders: what's the point of this? Earlier in the day, those gathered behind the Lightbox bleated "Kaaaaaate, Kaaaaaate" (for Kate Winslet, then leaving the press conference for The Mountain Between Us) that they sound, both figuratively and literally, like sheep. People gather here not even knowing who they're gathering for. A woman in a floral-print blazer looks around, wondering who is coming out or in next. Someone says Clooney. But maybe Matt Damon. She nods. "I think [Clooney] produced it and Damon starred in it. I don't really follow the movies. They're just nice to look at."
Maybe it's that simple. The pleasure of seeing good-looking people is a fundamentally aesthetic one, akin to looking at tranquil mountain pass or a particularly attractive sunset. I'm reminded immediately of that line from Seinfeld: "You don't see any handsome homeless." Perhaps that's all there is: fame itself proceeds from being really, really good-looking. The universe sort of relaxes itself to accommodate anyone with a super-hunky mug.
It certainly seems true of George Clooney, who was so obviously pleasing to the ol' eye that Hollywood didn't even know what to cast him in at first. (Lest we forget a muddled mid-nineties filmography that included The Peacemaker, From Dusk till Dawn and Batman & Robin, preceding Clooney's settling into the more comfortable role of smirking, Carey Grant-ish Hollywood superstar.) In addition to everything else he is, George Clooney is undeniably very handsome. And that's enough. The rest will figure itself out.
Then I'm reminded of another line from sitcom, this one from David Brent on The Office: "People like to see famous people." Again, simple. Glib even. But looking at this flailing mosh pit of celebrity spotters, it feels true. People are drawn to celebrities. Indeed, people are drawn toward the prospect of a celebrity, any celebrity, to such a point that they gather around in side streets and back alleys not even knowing who they're there to see. The rich and famous exude a magnetism. They attract, even beyond their attractiveness. If they didn't, then they probably wouldn't be celebrities. It's a pull that can draw in anyone, even the most hardened, cynical haters.
Later, after Mr. Clooney has disappeared through the Lightbox's backdoor and the crowd's enthusiasm has subsided a bit (one woman sounded actually exasperated, gasping for breath, as if she just went 10 rounds with Clooney instead of, uh, looking in his direction for eight minutes), I run into Mel Glickman again. Nobody has pelted him with anything, and there's no egg on his face, figurative or otherwise. He's smiling, pleased, I presume, at his ability to cause a disturbance. But then he tells me why he's so amused. "Clooney tried to sign this!" he beams, twiddling his protest sign in his hand. "But it wouldn't reach all the way in."
That, then, has got to be the power of celebrity: that it somehow manages to beguile even those who are there it protest it, yell at it, tell it that it sucks.