Earlier this week, here on Pajiba, the question was posed: “Does it matter if celebrities are good people?” It’s true, a lot of people have no problem viewing a person and their work as completely separate entities. Others of us take issues with some celebrities, but not others. (Why do even my favorite Woody Allen movies now skeeze me out, but I can’t give up Rosemary’s Baby? Hell if I know.) The particularly delusional among us are incapable of separating a person from their work, and conflate both into a beloved, familiar figure— almost a friend— whose behavior needs to be defended at all costs. And this is where we get into trouble.
There’s a major event unfolding in Canada right now that hasn’t been getting much coverage in the U.S. (or, I assume, many of the other places you all hail from). Jian Ghomeshi, who seems to be like the Canadian lovechild of Regis Philbin and Ryan Seacrest (Canadians, please tell me how far off I am with that assessment), has been accused by multiple (eight by the last count) women of harassment, assault, and rape, in instances that go back more than a decade. Of course the first question that always comes up in these cases is “Well why didn’t they go to the police? Why did they wait this long?” The so-obvious-I-want-to-smack-you-in-the-head answer to that question is to look to the women who have now finally come out against Ghomeshi. Look at what happens to a woman who attacks a beloved male public figure. When writer Carla Ciccone wrote a blind item last year, detailing a super-creepy night with a man that generally every person passably familiar with Canadian entertainment assumed to be Ghomeshi (without even actually mentioning his name), she was bombarded with death threats. Add to that the fact that Ghomeshi tended to go after women who were aspiring to work in his field, there is not only fear of personal retribution, but professional. One woman recounted (in this Star article which I encourage everyone to read in full) being coerced/forced into giving Ghomeshi oral sex (after being thrown against a wall and groped “forcibly,” it seemed like the only way to get out of his hotel room without a bigger fight), only to find him present at a job interview she was brought in for shortly thereafter.
Then we have to take into consideration the shame any woman feels (or is forced upon her) when a situation she enters into willingly—even eagerly—turns dangerous. Many (not all) of these women did want to date or even sleep with Ghomeshi, until he began to choke and beat them. But when women all over the world are still asked what they did to provoke their own rape, when consenting to sex is seen as consenting to abuse if that’s what the guy wants to do, it’s no wonder why women are afraid to report these events. Then consider the added attention brought by filing these charges against a popular celebrity, who wields the power of public opinion. And that is what all of this ultimately comes down to: power.
The reason why celebrities need to be held to higher standards (or, hey, lets just start with basic human standards as a first step) is because fame is power. Especially for celebrities whose work we respect. As Brian stated earlier this week “Selective memory rears its head pretty quickly when indignities become attached to someone who can still entertain. Or to those we like.” And that’s the case with anyone who has something we want. We are willing to overlook a lot if the payoff is big enough. And for many of us, the comfort and entertainment of watching old Bill Cosby stand-up, or a mediocre new Woody Allen movie is more than enough. There is also the problem of feeling like our actions don’t matter in these cases. Is withholding my $12 going to put Woody Allen out of a job? Of course not. Will my personal stance convince studios to stop distributing his movies? No, no more than my refusing to shop at Walmart influences the degree to which they exploit their employees. So why don’t I shop at Walmart? The most selfish reason of all: because it makes me feel better. While it may not make a difference in the larger picture, I at least don’t have to feel like I’m contributing to the veneration of horrible people and practices.
To the credit of CBC, they have fired Ghomeshi from their network. Ghomeshi, in turn, wrote a long statement on Facebook, claiming he was being sex-shamed for his penchant for rough sex. He claims that all the encounters were consensual BDSM funtimes, and CBC is firing him for liking a little kink. And what’s absolutely over-the-top crazy here is that tons of people actually believe him. In fact, many believe and support him to the point of making Gamergate-style death and rape threats against these women. They believe that these women are part of a conspiracy started by a “jilted ex girlfriend,” and that they are not only lying, but deserve to be tortured, raped, and murdered as a result. Why? Because they like Ghomeshi. They like what he gives them. As reader Cristina, who brought this story to our attention, put it,
what has a woman EVER gained from accusing a celebrity, an icon or even just an everyday man of sexual assault? Nothing. The man is given the benefit of the doubt and that women are treated to death threats and damage to their reputation and careers.Celebrities don’t have to be moral role models, but they do have to refrain from abusing the power their fame affords them. Remember, with great power comes the responsibility not to be a complete piece of monstrous human garbage. You want to make shitty movies? Fine. You want to engage in some mildly taboo sexual practices? Who doesn’t? But you feel you can act out your personal torture fantasies on any woman you see? That’s an abuse of power, and good for CBC for firing your demented ass. There is absolutely nothing wrong with requiring our celebrities to live up to the very lowest possible standards of humanity.