Jian Ghomeshi: another reason why I don’t do professional writing

Sure, there are non-Ghomeshi reasons, too, including a desire to hold down farm jobs that leave me too tired to do much writing and professional writers being a bunch of stressed-out drunks and the fact that writing is le hard. I’m obviously playing a game of Pin the Tale on the Canadian Apex Predator. What else should one do with a prominent pervy-ass Canuck but throw pieces of shit at him and see what sticks? And why stop with battery and strangulation? Ghomeshi is too young to have killed JFK, but he is certainly not too young to have killed JR.

Jian Ghomeshi’s history in Dallas notwithstanding, his relationship with the CBC is a concrete example of mutual corruption substantiating a nagging, inchoate gut feeling that I’ve had about the poor ethical character of the literary, artistic, and journalistic industries. For most of my adult life, I’ve had a bad feeling that these are not industries for honest people. This was never because I believed the people plying these trades to be inevitably dishonest: since my early teens I have had no trouble identifying specific publications, if not also specific journalists, that I considered quite honest, scrupulous and decent. It was rather that I saw so much moral rot in the media, and so many sellouts, that I instinctively knew it to be a place where decent, aboveboard people, no matter how strong and enduring they perceived their own ethics to be, could easily be drawn into an inescapable morass of corruption. What I found not merely unfortunate about these circumstances but tragic was that they often seemed to befall people who went into creative fields like journalism precisely because they wanted to lead lives of exceptional ethical character and make a positive difference in the world. It seemed best not to get too deeply involved in such a business, and certainly not to stake one’s career on it.

Believe me, I don’t feel smug in the vindication of this bad feeling. I’ve been considering emigrating to Canada seriously enough to look into Canadian work and residency permitting regulations, so I take no pleasure in discovering that Canada has been harboring the pathological workplace culture that Jian Ghomeshi made of Q. I’m not referring here to the sexual harassment allegations per se; I’m referring to the broader pattern of diva-like behavior that Ghomeshi’s bosses tolerated and even encouraged, including the unethical (and, I suspect, unlawful) use of unpaid interns as menial assistants with duties that had nothing to do with their instruction or training in the broadcasting business.

This pattern of abuses might not be so disturbing in a nationalistic or geopolitical sense had it been orchestrated by some obviously fringe organization, maybe the Langley headquarters of some hard-right church-cum-multilevel marketing operation (CanWay?) or the business office for Nickelback. It actually happened at the CBC, a broadcaster that was generally believed to be quite reputable in non-clinically paranoid circles on both sides of the border. (There are bad things that can reasonably be said about Canada, but the bad things that Americans tell and are told about Canada are consistently batshit fucking insane and quite often provably false.) “Goddamn liberal elites” not being an articulable cause for suspicion, few people who weren’t stone nuts had reason to believe that the CBC would be reduced to the level of allowing a star radio personality to become a law unto himself. Yet that’s what seems to have happened.

In retrospect, the warning signs were there. Maybe. CBC’s own reporting on The Fifth Estate indicated that Jian Ghomeshi’s promotion as a one-man brand was unusual by CBC standards, that Q, or as it soon came to be known, Q with Jian Ghomeshi, was regarded less as an extension of the CBC’s brand and institutional values and more as an extension of Ghomeshi’s personal brand. This is a sadly appropriate way to look at it, especially in retrospect. It suggests that the rule of men was encouraged to usurp the rule of law, and that Jian Ghomeshi was the Man. The four-story poster of Ghomeshi’s likeness that was recently stripped from a wall at the CBC headquarters doesn’t sound very Canadian, at least not to Americans who assume that Canadians aren’t like that. Maybe the problem is that they weren’t always, and that Ghomeshi is what they have become.

Don’t say that Nickelback didn’t warn us. ‘Cause we all just wanna be–yes. That.

In retrospect these things come into focus. Jian Ghomeshi was catapulted from minor celebrity as a member of a D-list satirical band with an eccentric following into a much bigger, more mainstream realm of celebrity as a nationally syndicated television and radio host. He didn’t come up through the ranks at the CBC or at any other news outlet. Maybe he would have been fired for his misconduct earlier in his time at CBC had he been hired at a lower level. Or maybe his latent predatory nature wouldn’t have emerged until after he had insinuated himself too deeply into the organization for meaningful oversight or discipline. Of course, what was most obvious about him at the time was that he was a breakout star in a hitherto sclerotic institution with an aging and shrinking audience. Keeping him on seemed prudent. Given everything that has been exposed about him this fall, it looks like a pretty awful idea to have given Ghomeshi so much latitude to bend normal industry rules and conventions about things like staying in touch with other show staff when episodes are on deadline, but he was a hit with audiences and a cash cow for the CBC, and much of what he did could be reasonably, if tenuously, justified as a principal’s prerogative in an inherently stressful line of work where subordinate staff have to be ready to take shit from all directions at any time.

There is a similar running debate about the behavioral limits that should govern surgeons. Should they be allowed to yell obscenities at their residents or circulating nurses over mistakes? Over minor, non-critical mistakes? Should they be allowed to throw forceps or units of blood at other operating room staff in anger? Should they be allowed to threaten specific bodily harm of a surgical variety because they were briefly handed the wrong scalpel but really because they’re pissed off at the anesthesiologist for having an orderly play a Hall and Oates record on the stereo? The consensus in surgery in recent decades is that there should be less of this sort of official belligerence because it’s really just bullying in the guise of operating room discipline and mentorship, and that more egregious examples of it should be firing offenses. The CBC seems to have gone in the opposite direction in its oversight of Ghomeshi. It seems to have figured that it should let the brilliant diva do what he had to do to get things done.

Not surprisingly for a women’s studies minor, Ghomeshi never pursued a career in surgery. Despite reputedly being gay, at least in the eyes of those who wanted him to be their best gay friend in Toronto, he was interested enough in women to study them at the University of Waterloo. The MRA/PUA crowd is crude about these things, but in this case I think they’re right: Ghomeshi sounds like a man trying to use a white knight male feminist strategy to pick up girls and get laid. In his case, it probably worked. Some men haphazardly try such a strategy only as no-name university students, but Ghomeshi extended it into his careers at Moxy Fruvous and the CBC. It generally works better for men who are in positions of leadership or prominence.

So do honey badger political indifference and outright chauvinism. What attracts women to these prominent male feminists isn’t their professed ideology, which is also professed by various two-bit activist dorks that they haven’t the slightest desire to sex. What attracts them is the appearance of power, celebrity, and wealth. It doesn’t matter that Moxy Fruvous is fucking ridiculous; they had the balls to sing their annoying word and create their own social context, one in which they were quite the hip thing. Similarly, Hugo Schwyzer, a whiny, passive-aggressive piece of happy horseshit with an appointment to the faculty of a community college, was able to rather successfully present himself as a voice of feminism until a critical mass in his activist circles decided that the Cassandras were right about him, and that he really was disreputably rapey (and a cad; these two are not always properly distinguished in the movement). The Big Kahuna in this demi-pantheon, of course, is Nicholas D. Kristof. Jesus Kristof, savior of womankind, is a very rare example of an undersexed dork who, through some combination of luck and craven savvy, got sucked up a wormhole into a happy land of nubile female adoration. He’s the exception that proves the rule, a funny-looking guy, not naturally at ease around women, who openly enjoys seedy drugstore fiction about damsels in distress, and who, despite all this, magnetically attracts college girls to his side. It’s easy to understand why a misplaced loser like him wouldn’t want to stop living the dream, even if it’s also other people’s nightmare: he’s got his, and his name means “fuck you” in Arabic.

This probably helps explain Ghomeshi and Schwyzer, too. Schwyzer is easier to understand, if not to accept. He likes to screw young women. Many women are enraged by such men, although the current fashion is to profess to find them creepy. As a community college professor, he has a large pool of young women under his tutelage. To be clear, there are ways for a professor to obtain the sexual companionship of his students that are perhaps sleazy but more or less ethical and definitely not immoral. The real ethical impediments in these circumstances are academic, not sexual. With the exception of a few minors here and there, who are legally children regardless of their actual level of maturity and competence, a community college’s student body is made up of competent adults. There will always naturally be college students who are comfortable entering into sexual relationships, either amateur or professional, with their instructors. The real danger isn’t that these students will get hurt (they’re at risk of all kinds of hurt in relationships with other students, just like anyone else who dares to love also dares to lose) but that the integrity of the host academic institution will be compromised by quid pro quo. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Schwyzer damaged the academic integrity of Pasadena City College by giving special grading favors to his girlfriends, but this isn’t because he fucks younger women or even because he fucks his students; it’s because he’s sleazy enough to put on a smarmy male feminist persona and generally looks like an oleaginous schmuck.

Ghomeshi is inexplicable. His violent kink doesn’t seem to be fundamentally sexual in nature. Maybe it’s a metasexual phenomenon, but it’s hard to see how even a decade of involuntary celibacy could keep driving a man to violently lash out at women even after he starts getting laid. He’s probably had groupies since his mid-twenties. It’s hard to see how someone with such a knack for interviewing and the organizational skills to more or less hold a radio show together would be totally unable to identify and draw in sexually receptive women from his midst if that were his goal. He isn’t a johnny-come-lately unreformed dork with a fourth-rate newspaper column and a sudden surge of female attention in his middle age. He’s been a celebrity with a decent pool of viable wingmen for most of his adult life. On top of that, for much of that time he’s been wealthy enough to afford to hire prostitutes on a regular basis; his net worth has recently been estimated at $6 million. But for some reason, he’s apparently driven to abuse women in ways that no professional submissive would ever tolerate.

Maybe it’s a bizarre ego thing. That seems to be what drives Nick Kristof. Kristof can easily afford prostitutes (even in the days before his fame and fortune as a columnist he was paid well enough to regularly hire hookers), but the humility required to hire professionals and not feel like a hypocritical, rotten piece of shit for doing so would make his head explode. He’s too deep into neofeminism and too far along on his ego trip to do that. (Most hookers who are aware of his relationship with their Cambodian colleagues are probably relieved that he’s apparently sticking with the amateurs.) On the other hand, Kristof and Schwzyer can pretty much be explained as cutthroat shysters who’d rather abuse their power and throw other people under the bus to get laid than hire an honest woman for honest money. Ghomeshi sounds like he’s in the realm of outright personality disorders. He seems to live in a fantasy land that Eliot Spitzer, socks or no socks, has never explored.

It’s telling that one of the few women to publicly act like a well-adjusted adult around Schwyzer was the pornographic actress Christina Parreira. Otherwise, he was either a darling of the mob or its scapegoat. His career as a male feminist is an object lesson in demagoguery and mob rule, more blatant than Ghomeshi’s but not all that dissimilar.

All of this bodes ill for North American culture. The zeitgeist is one in which cults of celebrity spontaneously form around shysters to protect them from accountability for abusing their staff, choking new acquaintances without warning, and conspiring with police to abduct women into factory slavery. It’s a coquettishly whorish culture in which no one has the self-respecting honesty to listen to real whores and let competent, peaceable people attend to their own affairs without constant interference from moral busybodies. It’s a culture in which Nick Kristof’s mentally disordered, cryptopornographic garbage resonates with people who think that he’s describing what prostitution is, or maybe what it should be so that skanks are deterred from plying the trade. These are the readers of the second-highest-circulation daily in the United States. Enough of them believe that shit that the New York Times has yet to consign Kristof to the funny pages.

There’s work available for writers who don’t mind catering to these bizarre, disordered prejudices, and there’s work for writers who don’t mind catering to the opposite but equally untenable prejudices of nominally maverick “conservative” propaganda organs. What’s harder to find is work for outlets whose editors aren’t either immoral, stone out of their minds, or both. Few people with authority in the business, and fewer with the budget to pay writers, see any reason to try to refine the public discourse when they can instead coarsen it for short-term profit and audience development.

It only looks like I eschew paid writing gigs because the editors would strike my Doge and Condescending Wonka references. Plenty of them love to strike thought, too. Some of them even like to strike the help.


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