Saturday, November 1, 2014
On not Inviting Jian Ghomeshi to Visit
Since it broke, I've been following the disturbing news about Jian Ghomeshi, the once-celebrated Canadian founder and host of the radio program Q, whose fall from grace has been swift and, from what I have read, deserved.
I teach journalism, and, for the last few years, when we learn about interviewing, I show my students the video of Ghomeshi's live interview with Billy Bob Thornton and his band The Boxcars, during which Billy Bob is alternately silent, sulky, petulant, and indignant, all because Ghomeshi contextualized him as an actor and screenwriter instead of a musician, unmodified.
I really liked how the Canadian kid (whose youthful looks disguised the fact that the 40-something host wasn't a kid at all) handled Billy Bob in a calm manner, talking him down from his anger and eventually getting the interview back on track. I liked his style so much that last November I emailed his agent to see whether Ghomeshi would care to cross the border to address my students on journalism.
On November 18 his agent responded, wondering what fee we might offer and what other public figures had spoken in the same venue. I was about to pull out my impeccable (really) Canadian literary credentials, including links to the Giller Prize; an important book imprint; friendships with celebrated publishing figures, both authors and editors. But I didn't, and, after reading this week's news, I am very glad that I didn't bring Ghomeshi here.
I think of the women who had been temporarily charmed by the radio host's celebrity. Their stories sound familiar. When I was in graduate school, I went to hear an alumnus, who was a well-connected journalist for a hip American magazine. I misread him during his talk, having thought him gay, so when I saw him downtown the next day, I pulled my bike over and introduced myself. (I wasn't in the habit of introducing myself to men because they would more often than not misread me and think I was flirting.) Anyway, the famous journalist invited me to a party, I went, we had a witty, intellectual chat, and, to my dismay, I soon found myself declining his advances. I was successful in extricating myself without any harm done, but I did have a "why did he have to go and spoil our fledgling friendship?" reaction. That and a bit of "Ewww."
So why am I writing this? Because I understand the young women who were impressed by Ghomeshi's celebrity and who weren't expecting or desiring his subsequent violence. And because I am so relieved that he did not meet my students, my friends, or me. I'll be finding another example of a "bad interview" to show in class.