Editor’s note: Jian Ghomeshi, host of Q, an arts and culture program on CBC Radio One, was arrested on November 26, 2014, and charged with four counts of sexual assault. In the previous month, a total of 11 women and one man alleged that he sexually assaulted them.
Jian, We Barely Knew You
By One Joy Step
Canada is a country of vast regional differences. Wherever I have lived in Canada the radio stations of our national broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) have been a vital part of communicating our differences and a national identity. The CBC has suffered severe budget restrictions under the last two national governments. Many Canadian citizens have decried these cuts in genuine concern for the cultural identity of Canada.
Over the past decade CBC Radio One and CBC television have been reinvigorated by the current affairs and cultural talk shows of two Canadians: George Stroumboulopoulos and Jian Ghomeshi. Ghomeshi’s videoed radio talk show, “Q” gained an international profile, and with good reason.
Jian Ghomeshi’s interviewing style was intimate and intelligent; and he welcomed guests of political, musical and national and international cultural importance to his show. His point of view encompassed a feminist, anti-racist and queer positive perspective. His was a voice for the 21st century – a part of a huge generational shift at the CBC and for Canadians. His self-deprecating humour, the smooth timbre of his radio voice, and the cadence of his well-known opening monologues made him the darling of CBC radio listeners.
He was trusted.
And I bought his shtick. 100%.
And then, I didn’t.
In the last year I started to hear a tone of falsity in some of his interviews; he seemed less present to his interview subjects and more focused on asking them about artistic anxiety and the weight of fame. At first, I wrote his focus off as situational as some of his guests were well known for, and public about dealing with these issues. However, the incidents of this line of inquiry seeming inappropriate began to accumulate. During the same time period, Ghomeshi’s self-deprecating humour started to sound disingenuous – more a posture of humility. I tired of hearing him talk about himself being referred to as having the eyes of a ‘Persian Princess’, and his erstwhile shyness began to come off as coyness. The intimacy that he had so carefully crafted with his listeners began to seem slightly ‘off’.
I have talked to a lot of people about Jian since the end of October. What I have found surprising is that many men (who have never met him) ‘got’ that there was something off about Ghomeshi. They had tracked something ‘sleazy’ about him. I hadn’t; nor had most of the women I have talked with about him over the years. I was a serious Q and Jian Ghomeshi fan; I truly looked forward to going to bed and listening to Q before I fell asleep.
It’s been quite hard to absorb all that has come to light about Ghomeshi. I have grieved the loss of his ‘voice’ on the radio and in our culture. I started this article talking about the importance of the CBC for a reason; Ghomeshi is not one of many contemporary national icons, he is one of a few and now we have lost him. He was the really cool feminist, queer positive guy on the radio; and it hurts my heart that this doesn’t seem to be the truth of who he is.
I don’t live in Toronto or travel in ‘entertainment’ circles; I had never heard any rumours about Ghomeshi’s abuse of social power, his position, or how he ‘behaved’ with women. I hadn’t heard that he abused women in the name of BDSM, that he sexually harassed people he worked with, that he used his position to groom people to hit and punch and choke. . .
The allegations against Ghomeshi have erupted into a national conversation about the abuse of women, sexual harassment at work and gender inequity. I am hoping that they also lead to a very serious discussion about the systemic abuse of power and sexual harassment within the CBC; but we are not there yet.
Similarly, we haven’t started a national conversation about narcissism or psychopathy. It usually takes some time to integrate the knowledge that someone is a narcissist or a spath – if one even knows that these personality disorders are what is wrong with the person they are dealing with. I have heard the term narcissist used only a couple of times in reference to Ghomeshi; and I haven’t once heard the use of the term psychopath or sociopath. I don’t know that the country will arrive at that point as the story continues to unfold.
Newspaper reporters at the Toronto Star and one woman’s story (told anonymously to protect herself) drove Ghomeshi’s unmasking. Then, Lucy DeCoutere came forward and was willing to go public; and more anonymous allegations surfaced from within the CBC and outside of the CBC stretching back years. Finally, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair beseeched those who had allegations against Ghomeshi to come forward. And they have.
Today (November 26, 2014) he was released on bail following his court appearance in Toronto to face five criminal charges. He is accused of sexual assault and choking. He will plead not guilty
Jian Ghomeshi — Sexual assault stories put a chill on office party behaviour, from thestar.com.
Jian Ghomeshi: How he got away with it, from MacLeans.
The Fifth Estate tracks the rise and fall of Jian Ghomeshi, on blogto.com.