The difference between Jian Ghomeshi, Bill Cosby and Woody Allen

On Thursday, January 8th, a woman waited on a cold Toronto street for former CBC host, Jian Ghomeshi, to emerge from a court room and, amid people making catcalls, she shouted “castrate him,” according to the Globe and Mail.

On Wednesday, two “Muslim extremists” barged into an editorial meeting of the French satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo killing 12 people because they thought the way the magazine portrayed their religion was sacrilegious.

The call to castrate Ghomeshi was nowhere near the scale of the shootings in Paris of course. Yet the world feels like a very ugly place right now, both at home and abroad.

Stateside, in stories reminiscent of apartheid South Africa, American law officers appear to shoot black men and children at will, are turning their backs to the people under whose command they serve in New York City and are seemingly unanswerable for their behaviour.

And maybe it’s because I’ve been razed by the flu all week, but one does feel a sense of powerlessness to intercept the gusto with which so many are personally taking up the job of judgment and retribution.

In the “Best of …” lists of 2014—having developed a complete paralysis of thought on the subject, I couldn’t actually manage a “best of” this year—some news outlets and bloggers felt that a shining moment, amid a very tough year, was that the public discourse around violence against women had been elevated.

Their optimism was based on the idea that progress has been made on “challenging the stigma” of reporting sexual assault, progress that has, apparently, resulted in a social media driven cascade of women making decades-old accusations against Bill Cosby, one world-famous black man and Jian Ghomeshi, a Canadian-famous brown one whose family is Muslim.

And on one a whole continent made up of a majority of white people, theirs are the faces on the  “Wanted For Sex Crimes” posters.   Unlike, for example, Woody Allen who, at the very least, married his step-daughter but was accused of much worse by his other children. Instead of being shunned, he was nominated for an Academy Award and a parade of people came forward in support. Big Hollywood names from Diane Keaton to Cate Blanchett to Scarlett Johannson lined up to say how great he was for women actors.

Johannson summed up the a general feeling of tolerance when she told Variety in March 2014, “It’s not like this is somebody that’s been prosecuted and found guilty of something … I mean, it’s all guesswork.”

Ditto Roman Polanski, who found support among many people in Hollywood when, in 2009, he was arrested in Switzerland for extradition to the U.S. on a decades old charge of child rape for which he had served some jail time.  Petitions were drawn up and signed.  In both cases, attempts were made to drawn a line between “the artist” and “the person” and potential problems in his legal case.

At the time, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said: “I think that he is a very respected person and I am a big admirer of his work. But, nevertheless, I think he should be treated like everyone else. It doesn’t matter if you are a big-time movie actor or a big-time movie director or producer … And one should look into all of the allegations, not only his allegations, but the allegations about his case. Was there something done wrong? You know, was injustice done in the case?”

As far as I know both Cosby and Ghomeshi could be as guilty as sin. Heavens knows, I’ve heard—and seen—enough of that sort of behavior (some much worse) from men I knew and some who were one-time boyfriends of my friends. The world is rife with men who press their advantage, sexually and otherwise and, like many others, I believe it’s time they get their comeuppance.  But if these developments are what passes for justice, we have a long way to go. Click here for “Why the attacks on Jian Ghomeshi don’t help abused women” for a refresher.

Because even if the claims against Cosby and Ghomeshi are true and these men are found guilty, we know Bill Cosby wouldn’t be the only man in Hollywood that pulls sexual power trips? Or that Jian Ghomeshi is the only cultural bright light in Canada that is weird with women?

Bill Cosby or Jian Ghomeshi didn’t invent sexual assault or misogyny in its many and varied forms. But the rush to judgment and the unwillingness to entertain an alternate narrative to the accusations shows how, culturally, we are much more ready to believe accusations of violence, sexual or otherwise, when they are made against a man of colour or a man whose religion is associated with murderous extremists.

It’s the same value that’s at play when U.S. police officers assume the thing sticking out of a 12-year-old black kid’s pocket is a gun or what’s sticking out of a 12-year-old white kid’s pocket is  a ping pong racket. With the black kid, the presumption of innocence is readily discarded. With the white kid, an alternate narrative is considered.  It means the cop is considering that the person can be more than one thing–a threat.

And with the Cosby/Ghomeshi debacle, the interpretation of their nuanced humanity is so limited, it feels a crime in, and of, itself.

Cosby, career in ruins, was born in 1937, son of a maid and a Navy cook and the first black man ever to appear in a network series, I Spy, in 1965. He is making a hobbled last stand through southwestern Ontario while protesters wait in the freezing cold to shout epithets at him and the people attending his show.  Meanwhile attempts by Phylicia Rashad, his on-screen wife on the highly rated Cosby Show, to reflect publicly on his legacy to black culture over the last few days have been met with recriminations about her own motives.

Ghomeshi, a once fawned-over fixture among Toronto’s cultural elite, appeared subdued in court on Thursday with his lawyer and his mother and will have to answer to three more assault charges. He has no career left, been abandoned by former friends and colleagues and ordered to live with his mom until the charges are dealt with, which could be up to two years.

Meanwhile—also in today’s news—in Manitoba Canada, RCMP Const. Kevin Theriault left Aboriginal leaders grasping for adjectives when he “took an intoxicated woman he had arrested out of a cell and drove her to his northern Manitoba home to pursue a personal relationship.” According to CBC News, “the constable admitted to the allegations, got a reprimand and lost pay for seven days.”

This public discourse is something, all right, but I wouldn’t call it even close to being elevated.


Author Photo 01 Sandy Tam Photography Gail Picco is a strategist who has worked in the nonprofit sector for 25 years. She is the author of What the Enemy Thinks, a recent novel set in the nonprofit sector, and is Chair of the Board of the Regent Park Film Festival. She also writes about baseball and F1 racing.

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  1. Karin Desrochers says:

    I’m relieved to see that I’m not the only person who noticed that religion ( ethnicity) and race are the reason Ghomeshi has been vilified by apparently everyone. Same thing for Cosby. There is no way this outpouring of public abuse would be happening if they were white. Is it possible that we are all so blinded to our own racism that we don’t even see it in ourselves? Ghomeshi was fired by cbc because of race, a white employee would not have been. Can you see them letting Mansbridge go that way? Not likely!
    As far as the allegations against Ghomeshi… There’s not a woman I know who has not found herself in a sticky situation like these women did. In most cases (stress most) an assertive refusal took care of it . It appears that some of these women were willing to trade their participation for a perceived benefit from their associating with him. His mistake was In not realizing a trade off was expected.

    Im sorry to say that after witnessing the Ghomeshi and Cosby issues, I despair for the presumption of innocence. We are all the poorer for its loss.

    Sent from my iPhone

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