The Critical Mass

When progressive thinkers go bad

What does an accused sexual predator look like?

What does an accused sexual predator look like?

No sooner had I finished writing the Oct. 30 Critical Mass post on my experience interviewing Bill Cosby, and how that’s been cast in a new light, I read the news about Jian Ghomeshi. Who I have also interviewed. An interview that’s been cast in a new light as well.

Empirical evidence shows that Canadians aren’t as crazy as Americans, last week’s election being a major indicator: Iowa is sending to Washington a new senator who brags about carrying a gun to protect herself from the Federal government. But Canadians do have their moments. As the Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Crazy Train disappears over the horizon, Ghomeshi has filled the Great White North news vacuum. Multiple women stepping up to accuse one of Canada’s most-popular media personalities of sexual assault.

Most Americans don’t know Ghomeshi. He is – was – the host of a popular Canadian radio interview show called Q, a mix of lowbrow and highbrow culture. A smart guy, a smart show. His firing quickly become the biggest news story in Canada, resonating in the same way as it would with the NPR crowd here if it was revealed that Terri Gross hunts baby seals.

First one woman came forward. Eh, just a jealous ex-lover, Ghomeshi said while defending himself on that 21st-century media outlet, Facebook. Yes, Ghomeshi wrote, their consensual behavior could be seen as “strange, enticing, weird, normal, or outright offensive to others. We all have our secret life.”

But in the following days, the Ghomeshi revelations assumed a familiar pattern. It felt like the Cosby seediness, where one woman’s claim was followed by more women telling the same story. With Cosby, they alleged they’d been alone with the famous man, he charmed them, he put something in their drinks, he assaulted them. With Ghomeshi, after the first accusation, more women came forward. All telling the same story. Jian Ghomeshi charmed me, he beat me and no, it was not consensual. All that was missing was the date-rape cocktail.

My encounter with Ghomeshi came through his late ’90s rock band, Moxy Fruvous. I must have really liked the group, because in looking back I see that I interviewed band members three times over the course of a couple of years, pretty unusual for me. Conversations with three different and very smart guys in a very smart and talented band. Its lyrics were both unusually literate and pop-culture oriented. Songs attacking the American fascination with daytime TV talk and the syndicated radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh. And even though they were Canadian, the men of Moxy Fruvous closely followed United States politics: “Newt Gingrich, Pat Buchanan all have this very convincing, ’90s social statement,” Ghomeshi told me. “They’re saying that if you work hard enough and are smart enough, you’ll make it. Which is untrue. This is a structure that naturally breeds inequity. I think there has to be state intervention to smooth things out. It’s amazing that after Ronald Reagan and trickle-down economics, and as the gap grows between the rich and the poor, that people still buy into this.”

That was back in 1996. Today, economic disparity continues to destroy our country. Ghomeshi’s words still ring true.

As does this quote, in which he was speaking of the wave of rock bands we were enduring throughout in the ’90s, all bearing dark messages. “I’m not saying we should all be The Partridge Family,” Ghomeshi. “I’m not saying we should all be Pat Robertson. I’m just tired of the same message.”

He stood against the status quo, he said. A band’s message didn’t have to be delivered from the darkness, even as it ridiculed something evil, like Rush Limbaugh. Let’s see how it holds up in the light, that was Moxy Fruvous’ idea.

So Ghomeshi was holding up Pat Robertson as a man of God, as a positive role model. Maybe if he thought about that for a moment, he would have realized that Robertson wasn’t a wise choice. The man’s views frequently sound like 17th-century Puritanism: “The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” That’s one of many crazy things Robertson has said.

The messenger sometimes sends mixed messages.

The intelligent ideas posed by Moxy Fruvous songs, and the 21st-century perspective that Ghomeshi offered on his radio show, paint a portrait of an enlightened man who actually didn’t exist. Ghomeshi’s smarts ran contrary to the alleged misbehavior of his personal life. He was fired on Oct. 26 after executives at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation were presented with, the company said, “graphic evidence that Jian had caused physical injury to a woman.” Who presented them with that evidence? It apparently was Ghomeshi himself who showed them a video, taken on his cell phone, of a badly bruised woman whose ribs he had broken. I’m guessing it was his belief that the video was proof of consensual behavior in his bondage-dominance-sadism-masochism lifestyle. Why else would she allow that video to be taken, if she didn’t approve of what had transpired?

A lot of people gave Cosby a pass. And now a lot of people are stepping forward to say that yeah, it was pretty much known around the music industry, and among the women who dated Ghomeshi after he began hosting Q, that he was an abuser. They whispered about what was going on, but gave him a pass as well. One women employee at CBC complained of abuse to one of her supervisors, but nothing was done. So you keep quiet, keep your job, remain humiliated. Most people don’t have the resources to speak truth to power.

People know that a trailer-trash drunk throwing his girlfriend around on one of those TV reality shows deserves to be slammed face first onto the hood of a cop car. But when a guy in an expensive suit who talks like he’s been to college says or does something that calls for censure, the condemnation doesn’t come as easily.

Have I been fooling myself into thinking that progressive thinkers like Ghomeshi and Cosby aren’t capable of despicable actions?

Consensual behavior has its limits. There’s something wrong with a man who will break a woman’s ribs as a sex act.

Nine women and one man have told Canadian media outlets that they were choked, hit or sexually harassed by Ghomeshi. He filed a $55 million suit against his former employers for defamation and hired a crisis-management group whose web site boasts, “We take proven campaign tactics and apply them to issues where success is critical and you can’t afford to lose.” And then Ghomeshi disappeared. The Toronto police have opened an investigation based on the complaints of three women who are willing to go public about their relationships with Ghomeshi. Better late than never, I guess.

But will there be a time, anytime soon, when society isn’t enabling bad behavior simply because we don’t speak up


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