A lurid sex scandal has gripped the Canadian media, encompassing BDSM sex, allegations of abuse and harassment, and a trusted and adored popular broadcaster.
After being fired amid charges of sexual abuse, Jian Ghomeshi, the most beloved radio personality in the country, put out his own immaculately-detailed defense that he was only a modern-day Marquis de Sade, up for some “Fifty Shades of Grey” capers.
The resulting shock registered in octaves approximating—in American terms—to when Pee-Wee Herman got into some very grown-up trouble way back when.
Ghomeshi—who long carted the north-of-the-border bonhomie of a Jimmy Fallon, and the dude-gravitas of a Jon Stewart—got this particular opera going when he announced, last Friday, that he was taking a “personal leave” from his culture affairs show, Q.
This lasted all of two days, before the CBC—where he was the sacred son — tah-dah'ed in a terse statement that the two had actually parted ways for good.
It was only about an hour later when Ghomeshi—all lawyer'ed and PR'ed up—announced that he was going to sue his employer for a sturdy 50 million dollars, followed, shortly, with his now-notorious, best defence-is-a-good-offence 1590-word Facebook post, in which he detailed his BDSM preferences and wrote that this was all happening “as a result of a campaign of false allegations pursued by a jilted ex-girlfriend and a freelance writer.”
This, alas, was the point when Fifty Shades of Grey had somehow storyline-mashed with Gone Girl. The Toronto Star reported that three different women (all unnamed) alleged all manner of harassment and intimidation.
Pandora, meet box.
Had it only been two weeks prior when the media personality ably posed with Ryan Reynolds when the Hollywood hunk was in Toronto to receive his star at the Canadian Walk of Fame, during which Ghomeshi had been plucked to do the official remarks honoring Mr. Blake Lively? Just a few weeks after he sat down with Lena Dunham in a packed Toronto theatre for an on-stage conversation, and after which Dunham fan-girled on Twitter about him?
Much of the nation has been caught up in a tempest that resembled one of the dinner-table scenes in August: Osage County. There have been four articles alone devoted to “Jian-Gate” this past Tuesday in the country’s establishment paper, The Globe and Mail—“Consent,” “The “limits of kink,” and “Online McCarthyism” just some of the bullet-points peeled, probed, and pitch-forked.
Many, meanwhile, continue to defend Ghomeshi, promising to never listen to the CBC again, and yet others, who never had much time for the publicly-financed broadcaster, seem to be poor-babying Ghomeshi to defame the network.
There’s another shadow to all this, whatever the veracity of the allegations: this piñata of a scandal lays bare the conflicting Canadian psyche. On one hand, we pride ourselves on being oh-so Que Sera, Sera, and willing to let it all hang out (there’s no traction with social conservatives up here, we were way ahead with gay marriage, etc), but at the same time we’re also a deeply cautious and easy-to-blush kind of place (that caution best exemplified by our low-risk banking system, which has been touted as the soundest in the world, and masked Canada from the U.S.-style subprime mortgage crisis, circa 2008). Something else, too: the personal manner in which some were taking this was due not just to the particular intimacy of radio, but also the extent to which, I believe, Canadians are wedded to their self-generated dogma of “niceness.”
“Here?” the chorus seemed to rise up. And, yet, “Jian-Gate” was unfolding courtesy of the very celebrity-media apparatus tartly updated by a Canadian—Bonnie Fuller, the former game-changing editor of US Weekly and Star—and it was coming at us via the same internet streams that brings us Ashley Madison, the Toronto-based infidelity-enabling dating service. And, of course, there is Justin Bieber, the uber-Canadian whose resume of late has included assault charges, spats with the paparazzi, spitting on fans, and egging a neighbour’s house. And remember the antics of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford?
Pious, us? I’ve always felt we were generally more outwardly polite than pious—and to paraphrase Twain rumours of our “niceness” have been greatly exaggerated.
As with most instances of fourth-estate incestuousness in any country, the Ghomeshi scandal has unnerved plenty of journalists in Toronto, the country’s media capital. Everyone in this gang has, at some point, been on Ghomeshi’s show, and/or have their projects promoted on Q.
This was the undercurrent of two twin op-eds that appeared by two leading columnists on the same day, Margaret Wente and Jonathan Kay. Notably, Ghomeshi’s upcoming gig as the host of the Giller Prize—the Canadian answer to the Booker—was also yanked.
Meanwhile, one person who hasn’t been heard from at all is the guy who vied with Ghomeshi for years as the crown prince of the CBC—George Stroumboulopoulos.
A motorcycle-driving, black-clad rebel who hosted his own prime-show on the CBC for years, Stroumboulopoulos left the network for a rival one, earlier this year, to pivot into a new role as host of Hockey Night in Canada. Cordial, yet competitive, Ghomeshi and Stroumboulopoulos were like the punkier Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters of Canada, and Ghomeshi, at long last, was enjoying his new last-son-standing status at the CBC.
“He thought he’d won,” an insider confided to me earlier this week. And then this.