Media Morality Play

MORE THOUGHTS ON JIAN GHOMESHI AND IAN BURUMA

theater

LOOK into media controversies like the one involving Junot Diaz– or last week’s scandal featuring Jian Ghomeshi and Ian Buruma– and you begin to see patterns. You notice the theater smoke and stage scenery, and realize what you’re watching is a form of elaborately produced play. Cast ready; scripts on hand; producer or director lurking somewhere backstage pulling the strings.

The truth? The core truth of these matters is buried beneath layers of hysteria and noise.

As in many theatrical plays, today’s media productions involve stock characters.

A.)  Villain.

B.)  Innocent victim(s).

C.)  Hapless buffoon.

Who plays the hero?

In media morality plays, the hero is ourselves. We the Audience, observing the venality of others while congratulating ourselves for our sense of pristine justice, our virtue.

Justice is the key component of the plot. By the end of the play the villain is walked off stage in handcuffs, reputation shredded, name blackened, career over.

As We the Audience applaud.

OSCAR WILDE

Oscar_Wilde_sitting_portrait

ONE of the more famous early show trials involved Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde. In 1895 Wilde, a homosexual, was put on trial for Gross Indecency. The case provoked a storm of press publicity– public outrage over private behavior.

I’ll discuss the Oscar Wilde trials and their parallels to the Jian Ghomeshi matter in a separate post.

ERROL FLYNN

ANOTHER early example of the personal scandal style of media show was the 1943 Errol Flynn rape trial. The famed Hollywood actor and well-known sexual wolf was charged with statutory rape for having relations with two under-aged women. One of them, 17 year-old Peggy Satterlee, worked as a nightclub dancer. For the trial, the producers of the morality play dressed up Miss Satterlee to look as young and as innocent as possible.

satterlee2

The staging didn’t quite come off. Flynn, a man of good looks and outstanding charisma, was miscast in the role of Bad Guy– a part usually played in his movies by Basil Rathbone.

VILLAINS

robin-hood(Rathbone and Flynn.)

TO PROPERLY stage a media morality play, you must discover the proper villain.

Since we’re fallen creatures, there’s no shortage of corruption and evil to be found. Venality and worse are everywhere. In all of us. When we assure ourselves of our own virtuousness we’re lying. The Villain stands not in contrast to our actual selves, but to the image we hold of ourselves.

RICHARD NIXON

richard-nixon_1973-09-20

From the beginning of his political career, Richard Nixon seemed cast for a villainous part. Scheming, dark-browed and jowly, oozing the air of dishonesty. A Richard III essence.

richard III
(Laurence Olivier as Richard III.)

Nixon was eventually brought low by Woodward and Bernstein, with much drama and mysteriously-scripted characters like Deep Throat.

A DIRECTOR?

jesse brown

Jesse Brown, director of the Jian Ghomeshi drama, is hyper-ambitious. His career, beginning with a series of media hoaxes, has been marked by absence of restraint. Combine this with self-righteousness and you create a dynamic force.

In this period of MeToo, potential and actual villains are everywhere, and it’s easy to become self-righteous.

IF Jesse Brown had been searching for a possible villain, CBC co-worker and rising media star Jian Ghomeshi, in looks and lifestyle, well fit the part.

Ghomeshi

Jian Ghomeshi had a taste for rough sex, and frequented bondage clubs. Not a nice guy. Ghomeshi also turned out to be notably inept, unwittingly himself providing the evidence which allowed Brown’s budding expose to find print.

CLUES as to how Jian Ghomeshi was taken down are provided by a nerdy-but-earnest filmmaker named Diana Davison. Here’s one of the videos she made about Jesse Brown and holes in the plot.

Yes, victims and witnesses were enlisted– one of them, Kathryn Borel, a good friend of Jesse Brown’s. The accusers rehearsed their lines– too well, it turned out. When matters went to trial in 2016, the testimonies of three of the witnesses fell apart. (Here‘s a different look at the trial from an unlikely source.)

Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted on the charges. Another charge, the one involving Kathryn Borel, was dropped. Ghomeshi made a token apology. Jesse Brown celebrated this as victory.

Despite the missteps, it was. Jian Ghomeshi’s reputation was in permanent tatters, and more importantly, Jesse Brown’s reputation was greatly enhanced.

WHO WOULD’VE GUESSED that two years later a bigger target would be brought down by the same production– Ian Buruma, Editor at New York Review of Books.

an buruma
Villainous? Not really. But Buruma did fit the role of bumbling supporting character. Ian Buruma and his publication still carried the mores and mindset of a long-past genteel literary scene. Slow and refined. Patriarchal. Believing in old-fashioned liberal values of alternate viewpoints. Completely unprepared for a fast-moving new world of podcasts and twitter attacks. Of morality play productions with ongoing flurries of outrage and outrageousness, melodrama and dramatics.
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MORE Can’t-Miss stuff to come. Stay tuned!

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

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