Jian Ghomeshi memoir describes obsession with David Bowie and a youth punctured by racism

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      The Jian Ghomeshi story continues to enthrall Canadians a week after the broadcaster posted a lengthy Facebook essay outlining his interest in BDSM, rough sex, and his side of the story in his legal fight with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

      I used the term "posted" rather than "wrote" because we don't know if it was crafted by Ghomeshi himself or in concert with his public-relations advisers, who have since severed relations with him.

      It's not unheard-of for clients to be fired, so we shouldn't make too much of this part of the story. It's clear that Ghomeshi has relied on ghost writers in the past.

      The Globe and Mail has already quoted a former Q producer and director, Matt Tunnacliffe, saying that he wrote most of Ghomeshi's opening essays to start his radio show. Other essays were reportedly written by former producer Sean Foley.

      What are far more disturbing are allegations by a growing list of women that the former CBC broadcaster either choked them or smacked them in the head.

      Here's what we've learned so far:

      * Nine women have made allegations that what Ghomeshi did was nonconsensual, despite his claim to the contrary on Facebook. Seven of his accusers have not publicly revealed their identities.

      * Ghomeshi has launched a $55-million suit against CBC, claiming it violated his privacy by sharing personal information.

      * In addition to the CBC, Ghomeshi has named the public broadcaster's executive director of radio and audio, Chris Boyce, and the head of public affairs, Chuck Thompson, as defendants.

      * Toronto police have launched a criminal investigation.

      Memoir reveals Ghomeshi's insecurities

      I spent part of this morning reading sections of Ghomeshi's autobiographical 1982, which was published in 2012 by Viking. Ghomeshi called it a "creative non-fiction" account of his life in Grade 9 growing up in Thornhill, Ontario.

      That was the year that he joined the Thornhill Community Band as a drummer, setting the stage for his future musical career with the band Moxy Früvous.

      Ghomeshi's family had immigrated to Canada from Iran via England, and as a secondary-school student, he was full of complexes about his skin colour.

      "The problem is that many Iranians are brown," he wrote. "It's a nice shade of olive brown for the most part. Some are browner than others. But few are very white. They want to be. At least, they did back in the 1980s."

      Ghomeshi claimed that he was called a "stupid Paki" by the captain of his hockey team. That was the year he stopped participating in the sport.

      He also noted that many Iranians at that time called themselves "Persian" because they wanted to distance themselves from the Khomeini regime that was terrorizing Iran.

      In that era, some Canadians would mistake "Persian" for "Parisian", which didn't bother Ghomeshi at all.

      "I hoped they would think I was French," Ghomeshi wrote. "My first name already sounded French-ish. And it was better to be thought of to have come from France than from Iran. And technically, they'd decided that without me having to lie. My desire for denial ran deep."

      He also admitted in 1982 that he was friends with a Muslim from North Africa, but dropped him when someone asked if they had the same religious background.

      "He had darker skin and sometimes got teased," Ghomeshi wrote. "I would abandon him to protect my own interests. It was shameful. But I lived with the hope that no one would find out I was Iranian."

      Musical tastes leaned toward androgynous stars

      I tried reading 1982 when it was first published because I was hoping to gain insights into post-revolutionary Iran and the Iranian diaspora in Canada. But Ghomeshi's autobiographical tale was too self-centred and annoying to complete. I simply didn't care about an overly hip CBC broadcaster who blathered on endlessly about his musical tastes as a teenager.

      In light of recent events, however, I revisited the book looking for clues into why Ghomeshi may have turned out the way he did.

      In particular, I was curious to know whether there were any indications of misogyny.

      Back in 1982, Ghomeshi was enamoured with David Bowie and Queen's Freddie Mercury, a Zanzibar-born Parsi who traced his roots back to Iran.

      "My adoration of Bowie was related to the fact that I felt like an outsider," Ghomeshi declared in 1982. "Bowie was the champion of the outcasts."

      Ghomeshi wrote that he later adopted David Byrne of the Talking Heads as a role model, pointing out that like Bowie, Byrne "was also genderless in many ways".

      The future broadcaster was also deeply affected by New Wave musicians, including Boy George, whose biggest hit that year was "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me".

      "The singer had luscious lips and a girlish pout and danced through the video in a slow and seductive way," Ghomeshi wrote. "The whole subtext of this music video was that the singer was on trial for looking and being different."

      It was a time when society was against homosexuality, Ghomeshi noted, but being gay or lesbian was "almost coveted" in the New Romantic milieu.

      "I had a good sense that I was ultimately oriented towards a sexual attraction to women," he wrote. "And I certainly only fantasized about girls. But there was something liberating about sexual orientation not being a big deal."

      Q essays more meaty than 1982

      As I read about his interests in the book, I was struck by how petty they seemed. Granted, he was a teenager at the time, but there was still a contradiction between the themes he explored in 1982 and the often clever essays on important issues that opened his show.

      I should have figured out that this was because Ghomeshi didn't write most of those monologues. But like many Q listeners, I never dreamed that a broadcaster of his stature would rely on producers to craft what sounded like his take on the world.

      The Globe even reported that Q's guest hosts in the summer were banned from delivering opening essays, which weren't even written by Ghomeshi in the first place. If true, it demonstrates astonishing hubris on the part of the host of the show.

      Ghomeshi's 1982, like his recent Facebook post, sometimes read like an extended blog, riddled with the use of the first person. The word "I" appears so often in 1982 that it became a distraction to me.

      I'm not a clinician and I've never met Ghomeshi, so I'm in no position to diagnose him as having a narcissistic personality.

      But if Ghomeshi is highly narcissistic, he's likely to continue lashing out at his accusers and not take any responsibility for what's gone wrong in his life this year.

      This should be of interest to any other women who might be considering going public with any allegations.

      That's because narcissists can't see any flaws within themselves and sometimes express contempt for those whom they deem to be inferior. Those who challenge the narcissist's self-image must be thoroughly discredited to maintain this flawless sheen.

      They're often hard-driving and exceptionally successful even as they bruise their colleagues' feelings on their rise to the top.

      It's a condition spawned by great insecurity, which is covered up with a thick layer of self-assurance.

      Narcissism isn't uncommon in broadcasting world

      I wrote about this in a 2012 blog post called "Narcissism and the Media". Here's a snippet of the article:

      "Those in the media who fit this profile also have a deep-seated need to denigrate other people. I believe it's done in order to lift themselves up, which helps them maintain their fragile self-esteem. This is not acted out consciously—and they would be the last ones to recognize this within themselves. They often appear to be the most confident people in any room."

      But when criticized, narcissistic media personalities are notoriously prone to lash out at others as a defence mechanism. It's one reason why those in the media are sometimes described as having thin skins. 

      It's easy for many Canadians to dislike Ghomeshi in light of the allegations that have come forward over the past week. Many feel disgusted when hearing interviews with women who allege that he hit or choked them without their consent.

      But it's much more of a challenge to try to understand why Ghomeshi may have behaved in the way he did. That calls upon us to summon our curiosity.

      It's important to stress the word "may" because Ghomeshi hasn't been convicted in any courtroom and none of the allegations have been upheld in a court of law. He has professed his innocence.

      It's also worth examining why CBC managers cleared the way for his astonishing rise within the public broadcaster. He was obviously giving his bosses what they wanted until things went terribly wrong in their relationship.

      Is the public broadcaster employing sufficient checks and balances in its hiring procedures or did the pursuit of ratings leave management blind to other considerations? Ghomeshi's career was given a huge boost by a former CBC head of English-language services, Richard Stursberg, who was fired in 2010.

      Has CBC president and CEO Hubert Lacroix or the board of directors conducted a thorough review of how Stursberg's focus on commercial success might have contributed to the public-relations disaster that the Crown-owned broadcaster is coping with this week?

      There are lessons in this story that go well beyond the guilt or innocence of Ghomeshi.

      Where to go from here

      If I were dealing with a lighter topic, I might have ended this essay with a pithy comment closing with a word that rhymes with the letter Q. But out of deference to the women who've stepped forward with their stories of abuse, I'll resist any temptation to be glib (like Ghomeshi) and simply ask them to recognize that the vast majority of Canadians will not judge them for what may have happened.

      Similarly to Ghomeshi, I'll say this: you had a tough childhood, you experienced racism, and you worked exceptionally hard to rise above this. That's obvious to anyone who's read 1982. I will also say that it's extremely difficult to admit errors when you've become an admired public figure who's hobnobbed with the most famous entertainers in the world. But if a person like this honestly acknowledges mistakes, he or she might start to feel a little lighter as a result.

      It's going to be a rocky few years ahead for Ghomeshi. But with his intellect and communications skills, he still has an opportunity to enhance public understanding about a complex issue that's beyond the comprehension of most of us. This is his opportunity.

      Conversely, he can instruct lawyers to try to destroy the credibility of several women who've gone public with their concerns. Ultimately, it's his choice.




      Nov 1, 2014 at 12:38pm

      Empathy? For a good-looking, successful, presumably healthy, able-bodied, functional man who was adored by people, lusted after by women, and enabled by his bosses in numerous ways (including writing his essays) in a high-powered job who is accused of beating up women? NOPE. My empathy is reserved for people who've suffered true injustices in life and/or achieved far less success despite perseverance, talent and hey, what a concept, treating other people with respect. Team Women.

      Gail Johnson

      Nov 1, 2014 at 1:46pm

      I've been wondering whether Jian could be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder too.

      "Narcissists tend to make great first impressions; they can be charming and gregarious. But spend time in a relationship or share office space with someone who has NPD and they’ll prove to be self-centred, manipulative, demanding, cocky, and ruthless when it comes to getting what they want."

      That's from an in-depth article on the subject I did for the Straight in 2012:



      Nov 1, 2014 at 2:39pm

      Why doesn't Matt Tunnacliffe host the show if the's the one behind the insightful essays?


      Nov 1, 2014 at 4:50pm

      I'm so tired of how everyone has to be a "victim", even the most blatantly brutal perpetrators. Give the arm chair head shrinking a rest for crying out loud.

      Charlie Smith

      Nov 1, 2014 at 6:19pm

      Dear Kidding,
      Thanks for your comment. I looked up the word empathy in the dictionary and upon reflection, decided to strike it from this article.

      Charlie Smith


      Nov 1, 2014 at 6:49pm

      The one and only show I heard uncovered Billy-Bob Thornton's true colours. They are both equally likeable characters.


      Nov 1, 2014 at 6:53pm

      "Summon our curiosity"?! You should pull this article, your editor should have flagged this, there is so much wrong that I don't even know where to begin. Pull the article, you have no insights and it is clumsy, the worst arm-chair psycho-analysis, and insulting to the women. "Smacked"? Sounds cartoonish. They were allegedly assaulted. "With his intellect..."?! Yes, he could really turn this into a learning experience. So much wrong with this article.

      Colin B

      Nov 1, 2014 at 7:03pm

      Of course, we also have to keep in mind the unfortunate possibility that _1982_ was simply part of Ghomeshi's image-crafting strategy and much of its contents would have to be taken with a grain of salt.


      Nov 1, 2014 at 9:20pm

      "But with his intellect and communications skills, he still has an opportunity to enhance public understanding about a complex issue that's beyond the comprehension of most of us. This is his opportunity."

      Thank you. Someone said it.