As news broke of the Jian Ghomeshi's firing from the CBC amid sexual misconduct allegations, I found my Canadian self inundated with questions like, "who the hell is that," and "why are people freaking out"? Because Gawker lives to serve, here's some Canadiansplaining for you.
Who the hell is Jian Ghomeshi?
He first achieved that most self-contradictory of statuses, Canadian fame, as a member of a band called Moxy Früvous. Moxy Früvous played silly twee songs like "My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors" to an eager audience of mid-1990s Canadian teenagers like myself.
Then he became a cultural journalist. Eventually, he ascended to having his own daily arts program on CBC Radio, called Q. He also went on TV a lot. He became a household name on his own.
Keep in mind that in Canada we tend to trust journalists a little more than Americans do, mostly because our own media outlets are, on the whole, calmer and more measured in tone. Ghomeshi managed to fill a weird spot in the culture where he sounded sort of highbrow but also covered enough popular culture items and public debates (like this one about rape culture, which seems creeptastic in retrospect) to keep himself relevant.
So he's like Ira Glass?
Sort of, I'd actually say Glass is more... serious? Ghomeshi traffics in less personal storytelling, more celebrity-interviewing and slobbering over them whilst doing so. Floppier hair, too.
I should also point out here that while CBC Radio is analogous to NPR, my own sense has always been that CBC Radio is more influential in Canada than NPR is here. I have neither time nor inclination to look at numbers, so I can't definitively say more people listen per capita. But it has a way of being part of what "national conversation" in Canada exists in a way NPR has not yet managed.
Why should we care?
America likes a good scandal, and as someone tweeted yesterday, Canada seems to be on some kind of subconscious campaign to change how Americans view it. It'd be very kind of you to listen to us, we like that, Americans never do it, it's frustrating...
Also, Q was broadcast via Public Radio International in some American markets, for what it's worth.
Why is Canada so upset?
Well, we had a bad week last week with that shooting on Parliament Hill, for one thing. People were not in a great state of mind.
Two, lots of Canadians loved Jian Ghomeshi and Q. His show provided an easy digest of what was going on that made them feel up-to-date, urbane and intelligent. A similar function seems to be provided to Americans by, say, the New Yorker, but Canada's own attempts at bourgeois literary journalism have produced mixed results, so the public sticks to radio for this sort of quasi-education.
And three, look. Canada's trust of public figures has, over the course of the past ten years, been dramatically eroded. Some of that is Rob Ford, but few trusted him in the first place. A lot more of it is that there has been an unending flow of corruption scandals. For a long time it was possible, in Canada, to live in a slight state of innocence about how we were governed. I wouldn't say that Canadians were naïve — bitching about the personal qualities of our politicians has been a long and proud tradition since Brian Mulroney was in office — but there was once a hope that people in powerful positions were trying their best to do well by the country. That is gone, and people are, I think, sad to see that they now must extend the cynicism and bad feelings to cultural figures as well.
Why does anyone even begin to doubt this guy is a creep?
For the same reasons people doubt that Bill Cosby is a creep, in spite of the ample documentation of his creep behavior. Celebrity has a way of making people feel they know the person at its core, and then they say they "know" he wouldn't do creepy things even though they do not know the man.
This problem is compounded, in Canada, by a genetically-encoded reticence of the press to print anything about the personal failings of powerful people. As detailed in this pretty-good overview of the press politics of the Rob Ford affair, some of this has to do with the particular arrangement of Canadian defamation laws. But the legal thing is a kind of excuse; the Canadian press is timid about self-criticism.
Exhibit A: the standard joke among my 25-40-year-old Canadian friends is that we'll all now have to explain to our parents that there have long been rumors that Ghomeshi-the-person (rather than the celebrity) is not-so-nice. These rumors have been passed around in a certain Toronto-dwelling, media-adjacent demographic for longer than I care to remember. So much so that when the news of just the firing broke yesterday afternoon, I immediately suspected we were about to hear allegations of sexual misconduct. Which we promptly did.
If you'll allow me to rant for one second here: what is so infuriating about that closed-off press culture is that it puts the women who have accused Ghomeshi of misconduct in an awful position. There is tremendous pressure against them to "go public," because the Canadian media wants an airtight case before they go public. And the kind of sexual misconduct we're talking about here is messy, evidence-wise.
Meanwhile, someone with powerful access, like Ghomeshi, has lots of places to air his own side of the story. And as he does so, no one is imposing on him the absolutely impossible burden of proof they demand from his accusers. He gets to call these women liars and conspirators against him without their being able to respond in kind. The scales are weighted in his favor because he has the microphone and the power. It's pretty awful.
What are the reactions to his firing/CBC Lawsuit/Facebook post?
Friends, colleagues and relatives of mine "liked" the Facebook post, which is vaguely disturbing. I can't speak to the veracity of the facts reported in the post, of course, but for me it was a bit incoherent and also grandiose in a way that made me uncomfortable.
It seems like there is a strong public tide that believes Ghomeshi is telling the truth when he says he was fired for consensual kink. I speak only for myself, but that doesn't pass my personal smell test. The CBC is cautious, and if there was really nothing here to worry about, I think they would have stuck by Ghomeshi.
That said, there seems to be a small conspiracy theory growing that Ghomeshi was fired for being critical of the federal government, which is a possibility, I guess, and one I can't dismiss totally. But it's a remote one.
Why do Canadians trust a man who wears leather wrist cuffs?
Gosh, we believe in not judging books by their covers, okay?
[Image via Getty.]