Plato’s Media World

As is normal, Socrates, some men in the media will be wretched if they can’t simply take what they want and prey on the women around them. For example, such men will touch women without asking and make unwanted, sexual remarks. A few, given the chance will even violently assault the women they wish to fuck.

Book II, 396a – 374a (abridged).

Giovanni di Paolo - The Creation and the Expulsion from the Paradise

Jian Ghomeshi, the once popular host of Q, a flagship Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio program widely syndicated in the US, has disappeared in disgrace. Since the CBC fired him over a week ago, nine women have accused him of sexual harassment and assault (both while working at the CBC and on dates), and three have filed complaints with the police. Reports of assault in his home include choking, slapping, punching, and penetrating women without their
consent. The crisis management firm Ghomeshi retained to fight the allegations has dropped him.

The CBC, which failed to respond to a sexual harassment complaint against him in 2007, now appears to have been complicit in protecting Ghomeshi’s reputation. In a different way, so has the entire community in enabling Ghomeshi’s violence. Gossip about his behavior has been circulating in Toronto media circles for years, yet musicians, artists and writers aware of these stories continued to appear on his show. When Carla Ciccone published an account in June 2013 of sexual harassment at the hands of an unnamed media personality, many rightly guessed that Ghomeshi was the culprit. Ciccone was quickly denounced and defamed on the internet, leaving other woman abused by Ghomeshi to fear a similar response if they come forward with allegations. It is no wonder that it has taken so long for details of his abuse to become public.

What sort of honest dialogue would one have to imagine in order to explain a world in which such abuse remains strategically under wraps for so long? The following dialogue, modeled on a section of Plato’s Republic, begins with first principles to try to figure it out.

Socrates Let’s create the Toronto media community in speech. Perhaps then we can observe how justice comes into it?

Adeimantus Indeed.

Socrates So it is resolved that we should do this? It won’t be easy, so think it over.

Adeimantus We’ve considered it, let’s do it.

Socrates Well then, the Toronto media community, I believe, comes into being because no one person can effectively tell and share all of the city’s stories all by him- or herself. Do you think there is another basis for the founding of this community?

Adeimantus Not a single one.

Socrates And since many things are needed to tell these stories, different people are involved in different roles?

Adeimantus Certainly.

Socrates And these roles include people to operate platforms like print, radio, television, and the Internet; run different organizations that use them; and the need to be producers, editors, reporters, researchers, designers, and audio/visual and computer technicians, etc.?

Adeimantus Yes, that is so.

Socrates Hold on! Who does what? Is it better for everyone to try to do all these different kinds of jobs all the time, or rather should people spend some time specializing and so learn to be excellent at just a few of them?

Adeimantus The latter seems better than the former.

Socrates And yet, to provide income for all these people doing different things, there should be buying and selling of media content and the use of advertising?

Adeimantus Yes, this too seems necessary.

Socrates And so our community must be bigger, with media buyers, account managers, salespeople and creative directors?

Adeimantus Indeed, yes.

Socrates So now our community is complete?

Adeimantus Maybe it is.

Socrates Where in this community, then, lies justice?

Adeimantus I haven’t a clue, Socrates, unless it has to do with the fundamental interdependence of every member of the community in the practice of telling and sharing the best stories in the city.

Socrates Perhaps that’s it! Let’s consider the form of life these Toronto media people have. They make stories to read, watch and hear, and sell them or give them away with advertising or for free. Being exposed to ideas all day, they make nice lives for themselves using these ideas and the wages they earn. Some enjoy public notoriety and converse with the public, whose lives they affect through their stories. After work, they may eat and drink together sometimes and, when they want, have sweet intercourse with one another.

Thrasymachus (interrupting) Seems like you are pretending that these media people will have wonderful lives without the wanton sex they’ll want and need.

Socrates That’s true. I forgot that in this community there will also be flirtation, titillation, sexual conquests, serenades, work place affairs and consensual fun of all kinds on desks and in studio broom closets and the bathrooms of secret after-hours bars that media types always seem to know about.

Thrasymachus No, that’s nothing! If you are describing a community with elite, storytelling men, you must allow the sex to become violent and aggressive according to their desires.

Socrates Well then, you tell me how things should be, Thrasymachus.

Thrasymachus As is normal, Socrates, some men in the media will be wretched if they can’t simply take what they want and prey on the women around them. For example, such men will touch women without asking and make unwanted, sexual remarks. A few, given the chance will even violently assault the women they wish to fuck.

Socrates I see… So it seems like now we are considering not just a media community but a feverish, scandal-plagued one. And perhaps we should consider such a community, so to better see how justice or injustice might come to exist in it. The true media community is the healthy one I described before, but if you want to consider this feverish one then, sure, let’s do it. For it sounds like some of the men won’t be satisfied unless there is wanton sexual violence against women in the community. Is that so?

Thrasymachus Yes, that’s it.

Socrates Then the Toronto media community must be made more complicated again. Now we need to establish systemic inequality within the community, and make sure that some people (especially these men you mention) have far more power and money than the women they abuse. Systemic inequality is necessary for these men to hit and sexually assault women in their own community and get away with it.

Thrasymachus Of course.

Socrates And it will help if those men cultivate images of themselves to preserve their power, for example, by promoting a cult of celebrity so that they are good and always unimpeachable in the eyes of the public.

Thrasymachus Just so.

Socrates And the women who are targets of violent, sexual predation by these men must always be plagued by a lack of job security, so that to keep their jobs each must cultivate a reputation for saying yes to male aggression and not causing problems at work when the elite men prey on them.

Thrasymachus Certainly.

Socrates Well, to protect this massive power imbalance in the community that exposes younger women to the sexual predation of older, more powerful men, then we are going to need reputation fighters, to fight for the abusers by harming the reputations of the abused women when they speak about the abuse, disparaging them and questioning their motives and judgment and scaring them into silence and hiding.

Thrasymachus Sounds about right.

Socrates Thrasymachus, the media community must get bigger again to account for the things we now describe.

Thrasymachus Why? Isn’t the community adequate by itself?

Socrates Not if we still agree that it is impossible for one person in the media community to do many jobs well.

Thrasymachus We still agree.

Socrates And isn’t attacking the character and motives of sexually assaulted woman, this blaming the victim, a special job that requires its own special art?

Thrasymachus It is true, what you say.

Socrates So then we will need in our community armies of those who do specialize in such attacks. We must add to our community legions of lawyers, public relations executives, and their minions.

Thrasymachus Indeed, yes.

Socrates And the cost of these legions of lawyers and PR executives must be too great for anyone but the wealthiest and most empowered members of the community to wield, otherwise the women who are assaulted will employ them to their own ends.

Thrasymachus This is of necessity.

Socrates We must also consider the natures of these legions, to ensure they work only for the most money. For it could be that they take on the cases of the assaulted women pro-bono, and then the men would have problems.

Thrasymachus Yes, this is true.

Socrates So it seems that the legions must be of a special nature, like noble dogs, who are gentle to the powerful men in the media and who attack the women these men non-consensually hurt and hate-fuck.

Thrasymachus Absolutely.

Socrates But now the argument itself is fucked.

Thrasymachus Why is that, Socrates?

Socrates It is fucked because now the Toronto media community is divided against itself. It incorporates one part that uses a second part to attack a third part, all of which parts, we said, are necessary to the community. There can only be the opposite of justice in these conditions. Members of this third part are continually being attacked in myriad ways, first by the men who sexually abuse them, then by the legions of lawyers and PR executives who demonize them if they speak out about the abuse. And they are also attacked by a public that accepts this vilification, leading to nasty emails and threatening voicemails.

Thrasymachus Yes, so some of the women leave, but there are always more and younger women to fill their roles!

Socrates Thrasymachus, that may be, but a community perennially attacking itself like this will implode, and eventually some of your abusive, non-consensual hate-fucking men will be held to account.

If you like this article, please subscribe to n+1.

Related Articles

Issue 4 Reconstruction

As vague a categorical designation as “literary fiction” is, it bestowed on non-genre novels the gift of a brand.

Issue 6 Mainstream

To free ourselves, we need to change the very operation of our desires, which the office has duped us into accepting.

Issue 19 Real Estate

What is a slum anyway? He has a concise answer: “House owned by people, land owned by government.”

September 27, 2011

Someone asked what the action was, what we were going to do, and another responded that this was the action.