With Passover looming, it is a fine time to meditate on the idea of exile. As we know from the Haggadah, we were exiled in the land of Egypt, enslaved by the Pharaoh, and eventually liberated and returned to our native land in Israel. We remind ourselves of the story year after year, of the bitterness and affliction, but the Haggadah (my version at least) does not really contain any kind of profound exploration of what exile really means, of how exile is experienced and conceived.
Perhaps it was this void that Jian Ghomeshi sought to fill with the first episode of his new podcast, “the Ideation Project.” Ghomeshi, more famous to a Canadian audience than an American one, was a popular, and popularly disgraced, former CBC radio host. In 2014, he was accused of multiple counts of sexual assault and fired from his job. Though he was acquitted on all charges in a 2016 verdict, many critics asserted that the judge relied upon misogynistic assumptions about women’s behavior and blamed the alleged victims for the alleged harassment and assaults. As you can imagine, the court of public opinion has not been kind to Ghomeshi.
“The Ideation Project” is Ghomeshi’s attempt at a comeback, and, oh boy, is it terrible. Even before we get to the first episode, “Exile,” the description informs us that we are in for an exercise in extreme vapidity:
“In a 140-character environment, nuance is often a casualty. The Ideation Project is a creative adventure with the aim of taking a bigger picture view on newsworthy issues and culture, with the goal of asking questions and starting conversations.
The Ideation Project is a new media creative project that features all original words, music, recording and production. The content covers a variety of topics from politics to philosophy to pop culture and the human condition.”
Yes, nuance is often a casualty of the “140-character environment,” but if on Twitter the lack of nuance is a direct result of the restraints of the format, the mangled defiled corpse of nuance we see in “The Ideation Project” is the direct result of Ghomeshi’s empty mind.
In the first episode, “Exile,” Ghomeshi reads a text over his self-composed Muzak, all revolving around the question – “What if we’re becoming an entire world of exiles?” “It’s counterintuitive,” he says, but, of course, it’s not. The discussion of the question at the center of the episode ends up recycling the same expected platitudes – “global unity,” “do all lives still matter? – which is to say, the discussion amounts to nothing.
Throughout the episode, Ghomeshi seems to delight in what is likely the lowest form of forced profundity, frequently using the formula — “people think we are x, but really we are word-that-sounds-very-much-like-x.” He also, like an open-mic horror, indulges in deploying inane and inconsistent rhymes, offering us lines like “does compassion descend into maybes if it’s somebody else’s babies?” And If the rhyming wasn’t bad enough, the text of the episode sounds as if it is being read by a robot, with weird intonations and volume shifts.
This kind of garbage is endemic to the Ted Talk / Podcast world that believes philosophy to be self-help, “big ideas” to be recycled clichés, and “conversation” to be nothing more than a jumping off point for the disgusting mental masturbation of a withered, flaccid mind.
I would be remiss if I left you with a sour taste here, so in the interest of salvaging my own (and hopefully your) sanity, let’s just read, briefly, a couple excerpts from Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz’s (who was awarded the “Righteous Among the Nations” medal by Yad Vashem,) “Notes on Exile” from photographer Josef Koudelka’s photobook “Exiles.”
In that essay, Milosz examines the state of exile from a personal and poetic perspective. Fundamental to his experience is the idea of loneliness. He writes,
“Exile is a test of internal freedom and that freedom is terrifying. Everything depends upon our own resources, of which we are mostly unaware and yet we make decisions assuming our strength will be sufficient. The risk is total, not assuaged by the warmth of a collectivity where the second rate is usually tolerated, regarded as useful and even honored. Now to win or to lose appears in a crude light, for we are alone and loneliness is a permanent affliction of exile…A brief formula may encapsulate the outcome of that struggle with our own weakness: exile destroys, but it fails to destroy you, it makes you stronger.”
He ends the essay with an anecdote meant to drive home his idea that exile is a state of existence inseparable from the human condition – “An old anecdote about a refugee in a travel agency has not lost its bite: a refugee from war-torn Europe, undecided as to what continent and what state would be far off enough and safe enough, for a while was pensively turning a globe with his finger, then asked, ‘Don’t you have something else?’”
To sum up, don’t listen to Ghomeshi’s trash, do read Milosz, and Chag Sameach.
Jake Romm is a Contributing Editor for The Forward. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jian Ghomeshi’s Comeback Is The Worst Passover Podcast