My hands tremble as I write these words, this foul admission, tearing at the floorboards to reveal the tell-tale heart of my greatest professional shame— and yet, I am filled with an incredible lightness.
I have kept this secret for so long, omitted it completely from my professional CV, and bitten my tongue at parties and mixers; now it feels as if a weight has finally been lifted from my shoulders.
It was me. I wrote those ridiculous captions for Ches Crosbie’s short-lived Instagram account in 2019.
The details of how these things happen are always somewhat nebulous and unexciting as many a freelancer knows, but it was a few months into the year and I hadn’t held a steady news job in a long time. My partner had gotten some work with a small creative agency in town that needed a photographer for an upcoming project, and mentioned that they needed a copywriter as well. With a foot in the door I swallowed my pride and prepared myself to wade into the recesses of the ad world, the pit which inevitably swallows all writers—the dark side.
The project itself wasn’t a terribly ambitious operation: just to create an Instagram account for Ches Crosbie in order to court the all-important youth vote which was sure to propel him to the premiership in the upcoming provincial election. It was an easy task laid out before us, save for a few inconsequential details like creative direction and a firm stance on the issue of ligma, which many constituents who slid into Ches’s DMs seemed concerned about.
For the sake of clarity, I asked my client for a mock-up of the writing style which they wanted me to work with, expecting the usual buzzword-laden jargon which brands most marketing content. To my surprise, however, I received copy that would make Aaron Sorkin blush. After paring it down a little and confirming that this was, in fact, the exact style and tone which they wanted me to go with, I set out to earn my paycheque.
Look, I’m the last person who will defend those posts, and for me writing them was just as weird as I’d imagine it was reading them. For the most part, I was just looking at pictures and coming up with captions, trying to shoehorn in a few details from the different campaign events and Ches’s Wikipedia page. To make things harder, I was almost never actually at these events. I would get the photos, hear a few details, and bam— we’re off to the races. Have you ever tried to write a gripping account of a Wii Sports tournament you didn’t watch firsthand? Try relating it to policy decisions while you’re at it.
On that particular post one commenter pointed out that Ches wasn’t properly using the Wiimote’s safety strap, and wondered if that sort of recklessness would translate into public office. Job to say, really, but given the surreality of everything that we were doing it seemed like a valid point.
One night my partner and I split a bottle of wine and talked about the absurdity of the entire thing. After a pause in the conversation, she looked at me and said, you know when you think about it, all you’re doing is writing Ches Crosbie fan-fiction. In the words of Steve Hanson, that nailed me right in my mind.
Something which always struck me as odd was that over the course of curating his online presence, I never once spoke with Ches Crosbie. This wasn’t for lack of trying either: I had asked on a few occasions if I could sit down with the man for just a moment to gauge his personality, enough that I could impart something close to humanity in the long, rambling posts which I was churning out. Ches, I was told, was a busy man, and that there would be no time to meet him.
And it’s almost a pity too, because Ches Crosbie seems like an interesting guy. From what little I got out of a few staffers, he apparently lived and worked in a kibbutz amidst the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and studied meditation with actual Buddhist monks. A drunken party-insider once alluded to stories of late night yoga when the office was empty.
Eventually I did get to meet Ches as we poked our heads into his office on a tour of the PC headquarters. We exchanged a quick hello before he returned to preparing his remarks for the floor, and we continued on our way to the war room where we ate granola bars and watched him deliver said remarks over CCTV.
For the most part, I think Ches’s political minders would have preferred for the Instagram account not to exist. At one point the account was taken down in an apparent cyber-attack, with fingers pointed squarely toward Liberal espionage. The more likely scenario, I thought, was an attack from within. After all, what seems more plausible: that the Liberal government’s hackers somehow got a hold of the password for this tool of personal branding and sabotaged it out of fear for its inevitable success? Or that the PC’s have something akin to a phobia of being made to feel even just a little bit silly? It’s difficult to say.
If there was a shred of ill-intention beyond the need to pay my rent on time, it could have been fertile ground for political subterfuge. It’s a journalistic faux-pas to tip your hand on these things, but I generally vote NDP. That’s not to say I like the NDP; I just find them more tolerable than the other two options.
Still, something felt dirty about having the controls to a platform for a politician and party that I don’t consider myself aligned with. Stranger still, if there had been any lingering, intrusive thought in my mind of how I might sabotage an Instagram account, what I was being paid to do was already strangely close to it. C’est la vie.
What exists now are little more than fragments of this great, terrible experiment, scattered across an expansive social media landscape in the form of a few screenshots and memes. Ches did not, in fact, take the victory on the back of an overwhelming youth vote, and the account was deactivated soon after the election.
One Twitter user likened the writing style of the posts to Slap Shot’s Dickie Dunn, and a part of me has always appreciated that comparison. Given little to work with and told that brevity wasn’t an option, I suppose I was just trying to capture the spirit of the thing: the blazingly weird, and strangely sincere task of humanizing a man with whom I had never spoken, save for a single awkward hello from his office doorway.
As I deliver this confession now, however, I feel no shame. I don’t recall having to sign a NDA, and the gentle ribbing on Twitter stands only to remind me that at the very least it might not have been my writing which seemed off—only what I was writing for.
It was a strange task curating Ches Crosbie fan-fiction, but all jobs come to an end. Now, as I am finally able to close out this odd professional chapter in my life, I am comforted instead not by Dickie Dunn comparisons, but by the words of Chiefs goalie Denis Lemieux: “You feel shame… And then you get free.”
Main photo by Alex Spracklin. All screenshots via the author.
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