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Monday 24 November 2014

Objectification: Using people as objects. A lesson from the antics of Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi

by Stephen B.Chadwick, MA Counselling Psychology.

Bill Cosby
What with what has happened in the last few days and weeks in the media with first of all Jian Ghomeshi and then later with Bill Cosby, I thought I would talk a bit about objectification and abuses of power. Now, it must be stated that these things are not as simple as they seem from the outside observer. Anything that is risqué or scandalous sells in the general media. This we know.

But quite apart from wanting to follow the dirt on any particular celebrity, there are indeed a couple of interpersonal dynamics that are happening here with the Jian Ghomeshi incident (here in Canada) and then the Bill Cosby case in the United States.

And when it involves powerful people, especially in the media, sometimes it is more about the media scandal than it is about the people (both victim and perpetrator) in the scandal who were hurt.

Absolute power corrupts ... Absolutely!

So for my cyber friends out in the internet world who don't know who Jian Ghomeshi is, Mr. Jian Ghomeshi (was) a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) radio host, who was very popular.
Jian Ghomeshi
About a fortnight ago, Mr. Ghomeshi was accused by a number of women of having had very rough, non-consensual sex. It should also be noted that Ghomeshi had also allegedly sexually assaulted/harassed a former male intern who was working at one point with Ghomeshi. Because of the media uproar caused by the women who have brought forth accusations against Ghomeshi, CBC promptly fired him from his post. In turn Ghomeshi has brought a 55 milllion dollar law suit against CBC.

Of course, I would assume that the rest of the English-speaking world, namely the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia and other English-speaking regions of the world are probably quite familiar with the antics of Bill Cosby. However, if you are not, the story is the same. Famous man, in media. Good-looking. Attactive. Charming. Wealthy. Powerful. And abusing his power and influence by using other people as his own personal objects for their own personal desire/lust.

So one has to wonder what is behind all this. Why do they do it? Are they just pigs because they objectify women?
Lord John Dalberg-Acton.
The short answer is no. The short answer is: it more likely has to do with power, especially absolute power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. This quote comes from another old white man. However, this old white man said something rather astute, John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron, and an English Catholic historian and he, Lord Acton, wrote:

           "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad."

So, absolute power corrupts absolutely? Given what we see with Cosby, a media mogul, and then Ghomeshi -- another media personality with again, a large ego. It's not that hard to understand another individual who had been lately in the media, namely Oscar Pistorius. He too, rose to fame as the "bladerunner" and then felt himself (seemingly) invincible and above the law. One wonders if, just perhaps, these men get into power and then become narcissists?

And then of course, speaking of absolute power which corrupts absolutely, it's not hard from them to think of people as mere objects for your sole gratification. And then from there, not just single individuals, but indeed whole countries. Does this remind you of anyone? Remember that song, "Georgia on my mind"? (or for that matter, Ukraine)
But, then I am totally digressing and using psychological models to explain politics.

Let's get back to Cosby and Ghomeshi.

So the question is: Is it alright to objectify people, especially women (and men).
The answer is: Yes! ... and No.

Objectification becomes a problem when the person is ONLY viewed as an object and nothing else.

So, once again I can "hear the blank stares". The thing is objectification is okay. To a point. Why you might ask? A long time ago, I remember reading a quite well-known Czech author. He was interviewed and there was a criticism that all of his male characters seemed to have an almost quasi-obsession with women. In other words, whenever the male characters in his novels were thinking or talking about women, their interior dialogue (what they said to themselves) would also contain random sexualized thoughts about these women.

Now, is this bad? No. On the contrary he argued, it was natural, unless the male character was homosexual. I pondered this for awhile and then realized the sense in what he said.

Everyone has fleeting sexual thoughts about other people over the course of the day. So in that sense, everyone is making everyone else into a sexual object (in their minds) for a moment.

And then think again, quite apart from the overwhelming preponderance of objectification of women in the media. Women, given half the chance, would do the same thing to men. And in fact, in the sanctioned, permitted space of a night club, where there are male strippers, they do the same as men.


It becomes another matter completely when the person who is the objectified object, whether female or male, become ONLY an object. Look at it this way. Over the course of a day, most people, if they should have a functioning libido, will look at a nice female curve or bosom or a nice set of biceps or pectoral muscles, and that's okay. It becomes a problem when the person is reduced only to a set of pectoral muscles or a bosom. Then that's not okay, because it completely negates and erases the autonomy and personhood of the so-called object. It's like King Kong picking up Fay Wray and climbing the empire state building. One is just a toy in the other person's hands.

Fay Wray in King Kong

Narcissists have very little empathy for others, simply because they cannot see beyond their own needs. Everyone they see is a means to an end.

The problem with Mr. Ghomeshi and likely Mr. Cosby is that by having so much power in their hands, quite literally, like the image above, they somewhat become like King Kong. Super-duper Narcissists and/or despots.

Is it that there is some underlying misogyny? Likely, but one has to wonder if they would have grown as big a beast if there had maybe been some push back, the first time they tried to get away with an abuse of power.
From a political point of view, on a grander scale, one only need look at certain nations of the world who go in and simply annex other countries. Had there been push back, maybe they would not have grown to gargantuan, King Kong size. However, I digress.

The odd thing is, for people or persons who are so inclined to take other people as objects (and this can be either male or female), such narcissists do not see other people as whole persons. Instead they see any other person as simply an extension of themselves or an extension of their own needs. At profound depth, narcissists have very little empathy for others, simply because they cannot see beyond their own needs. Everyone they see is a means to an end.

Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac

Henry Kissinger
However, I have to say one more thing before I finish which is this. Often people who work in media and in powerful positions (but not all) are themselves social climbers. Such people will literally and figuratively "climb into bed" with anyone or thing in order to promote themselves or their career and perhaps sell their souls in the process. Ambitious men or women are attracted to ambitious partners (of any gender). Again, one has to think about Monica Lewinsky. What exactly, I wonder,were her motives for wanting to have Bill Clinton? Surely she knew he was married.

But then as another old white guy (Henry Kissinger) once said: "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac."

Franz Wedekind, a German playwright, once wrote a famous series of plays called the "Lulu" series. Eventually these plays were made into a movie with the famous Louise Brooks -- the original "It" Girl.
Franz Wedekind

Louise Brooks as "Lulu"
"Lulu" is eternally beautiful, but constantly objectified and misunderstood by other men around her. And unfortunately she eventually comes to a sorry end. However, in the process, it is noted by the playwright that she climbs the social ladder and seems to go from one man to another, constantly and continually improving her social and monetary status all the while.

Perhaps, just perhaps, these individuals were abused. And that is indeed a terrible thing.But think again that perhaps and just perhaps, they themselves were also looking to get something out of the exchange. Hook up with a famous man/woman and you have it made. Or do you?

Take Care,


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