Jian Ghomeshi’s fickle fans

By on November 27, 2014

It’s a big word, and loaded with meaning. Roughly translated from its German origin, it means taking pleasure in the misfortune of others.

These days, you see a lot of schadenfreude in public discourse. When our heroes disappoint us, we knock them down. Often they deserve it, and we revel in their misery.

CBC personality Jian Ghomeshi is feeling the full force of public schadenfreude these days. It’s an extraordinary turn of events for someone who was one of the hottest rising stars in the employ of our public broadcaster. Five short years ago, he seemed to prove his mettle when he stood up to sulking Hollywood has-been Billy Bob Thornton who tried to derail a live on-air interview. We’ve loved him ever since.

Rise of social media mob mentality

For a time, it seemed that Jian Ghomeshi could do no wrong. Until now, when a series of accusations from women who claim he forced them into non-consensual sex acts put his reputation under a very dark cloud.

Even more intriguing than the salacious story, however, was the rapid rise of the mob mentality in social media. The initial “ain’t-nobody’s-business” defenders of the radio host were silenced as details of the accusations were revealed. Then came a steady stream of abuse. Someone posted a mocking recording of Stuart Maclean reading Ghomeshi’s Facebook statement on the accusations. Someone called him a “douche”. Someone else asked, “Poor persecuted pervert?”

The full story has yet to be told, but I am struck by one powerful impression. Hero-worship, as least for media stars, runs a mile wide but about an inch deep. Our fickle infatuation with these figures of fame can turn around on a moment’s notice. Which makes me wonder whether we ever really liked them in the first place.

“There was a powerful sense of self-promotion in Ghomeshi’s style”

Some of his fans considered Ghomeshi to be the Generation X heir to the journalistic crown held by the great Peter Gzowski. I was never in that club. I liked some things about Ghomeshi’s show, but also considered him overrated as a journalist. His introductory monologues, for example, seemed to have more style than substance, and his questioning was competent but hardly probing on the scale of Gzowski’s.

In effect, there was a powerful sense of self-promotion in Ghomeshi’s style, and that might help to explain why the public reaction to the sex scandal was so rapid and vitriolic. We were already getting a little tired of his runaway ego, and that meant we were prepared to believe the accusations, even before the facts are established. Schadenfreude at work.

There are, however, some Canadian heroes who have an authenticity that will endure. Unlike their media peers, these heroes don’t crave attention but rather encounter it almost accidentally. Kevin Vickers, Parliament’s Sergeant-at-Arms, shows just such humility. When he received a standing ovation in Parliament a day after shooting dead a gunman who had invaded the Centre Block, Vickers was the picture of modesty, barely nodding his head to acknowledge the adulation.

Jian Ghomeshi a victim of Schadenfreude

More importantly, he clearly is not looking to cash in; indeed, seems even uncomfortable with the attention. No book deal has been announced. No appearances on Jimmy Kimmel. Something tells me Vickers’ reputation will stand the test of time.

The spectacle of watching one hero rise while the light of another star is extinguished tells us something about the longing we all hold for authentic figures to look up to. Jian Ghomeshi became famous five years ago when he appeared to show grace and calm under pressure, the same qualities demonstrated in a much more dramatic fashion by Vickers. When Ghomeshi’s image of a man of integrity was thrown into doubt, the fan base collapsed like a house of cards.

Hell hath no fury like a public scorned. Schadenfreude rules the day. -TROYMEDIA

Doug Firby is Editor-in-Chief and National Affairs columnist for Troy Media.

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