Jian Ghomeshi and the Court of Public Opinion

Public-opinion

EARLIER IN THE week I’d only just walked into my apartment when I was asked Had I heard the news? The news? This was my first of what are now numerous passive updates on—what shall I call it?—the Jian Ghomeshi debacle.

I don’t consume any of the numerous CBC channels, radio or TV. I associate the letter Q with a dimly remembered Star Trek Character of the 90s. Ghomeshi? He was the fellow in that joke band from the 1990s (the one which was not barenaked) and had a minor Canadian hit concerning a certain Iberian regent. I gather he subsequently fell into a heaping of good fortune, and nice work if you can get it—but a fan, admirer, follower or even dabbler I was never.

The thing about that pest called Celebrity is that it’s never about consent: you simply don’t have the option of saying No, thank-you. One way or another, the scandal will find you. Whether in the grocery store, the elevator, the cocktail party, the airport lounge, or your foyer as you arrive home at the end of the day, you will have no recourse but to be pelted with the sordid details.

For example, I now have an informed answer to the question, What kind of sex does Jian Ghomeshi enjoy? I would never have asked the question, and I’ve never wanted to know the answer. But I do know, because celebrity culture offers you nothing by way of alternative. That’s one of the reasons I loathe the very notion of celebrity and the cultural arrangements it spawns. Think of North Korean styled totalitarianism, but populated with people who have nice hair and publicists.

On the publicists point, notice that it was Ghomeshi himself who changed the subject to BDSM and the politics of consent. I don’t know Jian Ghomeshi from Adam. When Twitter was young we had a brief and impolite exchange of contrary opinions, of a nature that I don’t precisely recall, and that I’m sure he doesn’t recall either. That’s not relevant, although I suppose it underscores the point that I never warmed to the fellow. But a lot of people did, and in a big way. Jian Ghomeshi became about as big a star as is possible in CBCland. That’s why he will continue to have supporters, no matter what, who dutifully confine themselves to the script he himself put forward.

This built-in media power explains in part why women did not come immediately into the spotlight with their stories of abuse. Ghomeshi for years has been an influential and privileged media celebrity—a fellow with a reputation, a name, a platform, a healthy bank account and a network. Imagine being a 20-something year-old woman, just out of college and at the bottom of the ladder, with none of these advantages, contemplating an unprovable allegation against a media-saavy darling and the principal horse of the CBC stable. How ignorant, these dim fools who wonder aloud why the victims didn’t go directly to the police.

Now it appears that the creepiness of this man was for years something of an industry open-secret. Only now is the full scope of the matter floating into view, but I can’t help but wonder just how much was known, and by whom? How many nominally responsible heads turned the other way, and how many excuses or euphemisms were deployed? Did the abuses of position and power now on display occur in isolation, with no one the wiser? Perhaps the answers to these will never find the light of day, but in any case what will be done differently henceforth?

We are cautioned from various corners to avoid judgement until the courts have deliberated and declared a verdict. On this point I’m at the least skeptical. The charges are now many and credible, and they paint a consistent picture. Also, be mindful that most abuses of this nature never go to trial, and that appeals to the better judgement of the court amount to a silencing of the issue. As I write, there is no formal charge and no intention to proceed with a criminal pleading.

In any case, the court of public opinion has its own fitting role and its own sphere of potential. By this I mean to say that we’ve still some distance to travel in bringing home the message that violence against women in all its forms is unacceptable. Only public opinion can force an evolution of our species, and I may as well say in this connection of men particularly. That’s the discussion Ghomeshi would not, and could not, initiate by design—but it’s the discussion that follows of necessity from the disclosures of which he is at the centre. Women have been doing all the heavy lifting in this arena for too long already, so maybe this is where we could effect some overdue changes.

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