Reflections from a Hashtag

The following article, which has provoked much criticism, should have included acknowledgment of the serious nature and number of allegations that had been made against the writer, Jian Ghomeshi. In October 2014, Ghomeshi—about whom multiple women had filed harassment complaints—was fired from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation after executives saw evidence that he had caused physical harm to a woman. Shortly after, more than twenty women accused him of sexual abuse and harassment, which included hitting, biting, choking, and verbal abuse during sex. Many of these allegations were made in respected publications, including The Toronto Star. That November, Ghomeshi was charged with the sexual assault of three women. (Sexual assault, under Canada’s Criminal Code, can include threats and nonconsensual physical contact. There is no specific legal provision for rape as it is defined in US law.) In January 2015, additional counts of sexual assault were brought against him by three more women. He was acquitted of all charges, and settled a further charge of sexual assault, of a coworker at the CBC, out of court with a peace bond and public apology. Substantial space will be devoted to letters responding to this article in the next issue of The New York Review, dated October 25, 2018.

Cleveland Museum of Art
Edvard Munch: Evening, Melancholy I, 1896

Not so long ago, I spoke to hundreds of thousands of listeners across North America every day on a public radio show. These days, the closest I come to public performance is at a neighborhood karaoke bar in New York. Even that can have its perils. One night last year, I was waiting my turn to sing when a woman spotted my name on the list. “Jian!” she said to me. “Your name is Jian? Ha! Hey, you know who ruined that name for you?” “No. Who?” I said, bracing myself. For the first time, she looked straight at me—and stopped smiling.

For her, it was like one of those excruciating moments when you accidentally include the butt of a joke in a reply-all e-mail. For me, it was just another day in the life of the notorious Jian. She apologized and said all the right things. And I said all the right things back. (“How could you have known?”) Mostly I felt bad because she felt bad. But then we rallied and sang a duet together. And then we became friends and are regularly in touch. Chalk up one more human being who no longer thinks I’m a creep.

Here’s the thing about being an erstwhile “celebrity” who is now an outcast: You’re not just feeling sorry for yourself. You’re also feeling sorry for everyone around you—sometimes even the strangers. You can see the anxiety in their faces as they stammer out banalities, studiously avoiding the subject of career (or lack thereof), making vague gestures of encouragement that trail off into silence.

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