Friday 26 January 2007

Big Brother not 'Big Daddy'


Already Big Brother is suffering from the insane media generated by Jade Goody's bullying antics. Twice BB has stepped in in the most ridiculous manner possible in order to help grown adults sort out their minor disagreements. When Dirk Benedict felt annoyed at Cleo for harassing him with one of her 'zany' alter-egos, despite him telling her repeatedly that he wasn't interested, BB was obliged to offer to talk to Cleo for him... What the hell is going on? Is Big Brother now a father figure that house members can go running to for minor concerns?

"Big Daddy, Cleo wouldn't get off me when I told her to! Make her stop!" *wah!*

"Now, now, you two. Play nice!"

It's not BB's fault that the people in the house this year are completely spineless and unable to
confront each other in any way.

Saturday 20 January 2007

Celebrity Big Brother: The aftermath

Against all my hopes, I've become addicted to Big Brother again, this time Celebrity BB. Of course, just like everyone else, I've got my 2cents on the whole racism/bullying affair with Shilpa Shetty.

I don't want to go into this too much it's something I find incredibly draining to think about. It's such a huge subject, and there more you think about it, the deeper it goes.

Should Big Brother/Channel 4 intervene in the future?

The whole show has sparked a national debate about what is racism and what isn't, and for that it's done an amazing job. I'm someone who has never considered themselves racist and on the contrary, I've always felt, rightly or wrongly, that I have a very good understanding of racism. It's hard to 'prove' that you're not racist, but I can say that I've always considered myself to be pretty socially aware.

Celebrity Big Brother, however, has made me realise that there are other forms of racism that I wasn't really aware of. 'Benevolent racism', as I've since heard it called, where people make, not deliberately hateful, but never-the-less, ignorant and offensive remarks, is something I will now be much more aware of. I think I've probably been aware that such comments were wrong, but seeing them displayed on Big Brother has shown me, and I'm sure many other people, how truly ugly and completely unacceptable it is.

Yet, despite this positive reaction to what's been going on (and I'm sure I'm not alone in experiencing them), and despite this issue being presented in a true and honest matter, people have been up in arms. Ken Livingstone, for example, accused Big Brother of 'pandering to racists' and claimed that Channel 4 should have their broadcasting license revoked. This is perhaps the strongest reaction to the series' events I've heard.

Now, I'm sure than Mr. Livingstone is glued to his TV set 24 hours a day watching the live feeds of CBB, and has in no way based his remarks on the inflammatory news reporting of the tabloid press, and I'm also absolutely certain that being suspended last year for making racist remarks has in no way made him hyper-sensitive to offending anyone, but I'm baffled how anyone could be angry with Channel 4 or Big Brother.

What happened in the BB house is truly representative of the state of the United Kingdom in 2007, and showed an ugly reality that many people have to suffer every day. Taking it off our TV sets does not change that reality and, if anything, it helps people forget that it even exists. It's almost like trying to sweep it under the carpet; "if we don't see it, it isn't there".

Channel 4 and Big Brother were right, in my opinion, not to interfere, especially when there was no evidence that the bullying of Shilpa Shetty was racially motivated, and, indeed, plenty of evidence it was just three women being bitchy and insecure. By doing this I believe that Big Brother has helped raise awareness of the problems of bullying and forced people to debate and re-think, perhaps for the first time, what they truly consider to be racism.

There seems to be some sort of bizarre way of thinking that makes people believe that what they see on TV is somehow more important than what's going on in real-life. If something undesirable is shown on TV, no matter how truthful, it must be removed in order to make the world a better place. It's almost as if people think TV is a window in their house, rather than a medium designed to entertain and sell products by any means possible.

It seems to me that the people who feel that Big Brother should punish or edit those who make comments which 'could be taken as being racist' (in Big Brother's words) are only helping increase ignorance of the problem in the first place.

Danish born Director Lars von Trier makes a very reasonable argument against the excessive political correctness of television:
"What makes me a little bit sad is that there's an American TV show in which the president of the US is black. People say, 'Oh look, that's OK, there's a black president on TV.' That's completely humiliating because that's not how it is. There's no black president. Political correctness kills discussion."
If people don't like what they see on a reality TV show, then it's time that people realised that things need to change in reality.

Jade now a scapegoat?

People who haven't watched the show properly, and from the beginning, still might feel that Shilpa's bullying by Jade and her cronies was in some way racially motivated, but in my opinion there is no evidence to support this belief. The tabloid press, as Jade has correctly pointed out, have tremendous power over people, and they're the one's who have created the image that the bullying was racially motivated, because, let's face it, it's a lot more sensational.

The truth is that if anyone had gone into that house, had an air of superiority, and behaved in exactly the same way as Shilpa Shetty, then Jade would have felt just as insecure, inferior and threatened by them. What's interesting is how it was clear to see just how the bullies were truly threatened by the person they bullied; When Shilpa refused to discuss when she lost her virginity, or when she refused to drink, or when she refused to join in when others burped and farted, that was seen as a "I'm not stooping to your level" by the bullies, when really it was just her upbringing.

To my mind it reveals something fundamentally insecure about the British personality in general. I certainly know that if I don't laugh at certain jokes in my workplace that I'll get singled out for making people insecure. British people in general, in my experience, are very insecure people.

The racism, for the most part, came from Jo O'Meara (from S-Club 7) and Danielle Lloyd (footballer's girlfriend and disgraced Miss Great Britain 2006). The pair of them, while obviously not liking Shilpa, crossed the line by bringing ignorant and offensive remarks about Shilpa's nationality into play while bitching about her. These comments were made behind Shilpa's and Jade's back.

Danielle Lloyd's comments about Shilpa Shetty include: "She wants to be white", "She's a dog", "I think she should just fuck off home" and "They eat with their hands in India, don't they - or is that China? You don't know where her hands have been."

Jo O'Meara added to Danielle's last comment: "They don't cook their food properly in India, that's why they're all so skinny [because they're sick from eating it]", referring to an incident where Shilpa had allegedly undercooked a chicken for the house.

These include some true and terrible examples of racism and ignorance, but some of the comments open up debate. For example, Danielle Lloyd's comment, "she's a dog", is a common put down and not necessarily said in relation to, or because of Shilpa's race. Even Lloyd's controversial, "I think she should just fuck off home", is open to much debate, as she could very easily been referring to Shilpa leaving the Big Brother house.

Racist or not, it does in no way excuse the rampant, childish and downright evil bullying that was occurring.

However, apart from a single momentary lapse in good taste, for which she deserves to be chastised, Jade Goody never made any comments about Shilpa's nationality to anyone, and certainly didn't bring it into a conversation when discussing reasons why she didn't like her.

Unfortunately, now Jade has been evicted, it seems as though the entire focus of racism in the Big Brother house has fallen upon her shoulders, while the real culprits, Danielle and Jo have been left, so far, unscathed and unpunished. Why? Because Jade is an easier, more recognisable target.

Jade, undoubtedly, was an ugly, evil-minded bully. But that's not racism.

I remarked that I felt ashamed to be British when I watched Jade spewing her vitriol at Shilpa at the heat of their argument, but that wasn't because she was being racist, it was because Jade's rudeness and childish aggression were all too apparent against Shilpa's calm, mature and reasonable persona.

Jade singled out Shilpa as a scapegoat for anything that went wrong, and Jo and Danielle happily went along, but when Jade was confronted about one comment she made, she sincerely seemed taken aback by what had happened (although it took a while and some prompting from BB), and actively decided to sort her problems out with Shilpa (none of which were racial, it must be said).

Afterwards she, mercifully, appeared to have truly learnt something about differences of culture. Of course, she made one single comment, and although it was wrong, and although I desperately wanted her evicted for how she had behaved, it's not fair to put all the racism down to her.

Danielle Lloyd, on the other hand, who appeared shocked after her own comments ("I wish she'd just fuck off home") were repeated back to her in an earlier episode, made practically no attempt to patch things up with Shilpa, despite her insistence that she would.

Even after it must have become clear to her how much of a stir Jade's single comment had caused with the British public, a tip-off that she didn't deserve, all she could muster was a pathetically transparent and drunken ramble about Shilpa cooking curry and using her fingers to pull out her onions for her. It was absolutely horrible.

Jo O'Meara has yet to even acknowledge she's said anything wrong.

Of course, Jade was given a big tip-off by Big Brother too, thanks to mounting pressure from the public to 'punish' her for her actions, but at least it revealed that her issues with Shilpa, the ones that she spent 30 minutes talking to her about, and which explained (but not excused) her previous actions as a bully, were not racist.

Jade may be ignorant, a bully and have been guilty of benevolent racism, and the tabloid press did nothing but fan the flames, but she should not become a scapegoat for the racist and ignorant comments made by Jo O'Meara and Danielle Lloyd.

Sunday 14 January 2007

Microsoft vs Apple: The Illusionary War

I have a friend who is such a Mac-Faithful that someone could do a case study on him. I decided to show him my new Zune. They're not available in this country yet, and him being such a huge Apple fan, I imagined he'd be interested in seeing what has been touted as an "iPod Killer" from the company he hates the most: Microsoft.

Oddly, he literally refused to look at it. I may as well have been trying to hold dog shit under his nose: Wherever my hand went, his head would move in the other direction. It was as if he thought it was some sort of voodoo, not just a hard-drive in a plastic case designed to play music. People's reactions to the Zune in general are worth a post in themselves (it's amazing to see so many professional journalists from major publications lose objectivity so quickly), but what interests me is the idea that Microsoft and Apple are at war.

For the first time ever, Apple and Microsoft have gone head to head with a piece of consumer technology with the iPod and Zune, respectively, but judging by my Mac-Faithful friend's attitude and reaction, you'd think they'd been at war for years. Indeed on many "Cult of Mac" style websites the attitude is clear: If you like Apple, by extension it is right, nay, it is your duty, to hate Microsoft for being the stuffy, evil, mega global corporation that they are.

In reality, it serves both company's interests to keep the pretence that they are at war.

For Microsoft, the "evil" software giant, it serves two purposes. For starters, it credits them with doing more than they actually do. Apple, a computer manufacturer, develops the hardware and software for their PCs (for yes, Apple Macs are Personal Computers, too you know!), and sells them in one bundle. Microsoft, however, have nothing to do with the sale of "PCs" except for the writing of Operating System software.

Yet, it serves Microsoft's interests to perpetuate the myth that PCs and Windows go hand in hand. Sure, there's this weird thing called Linux out there, but that's not a "real" PC, no. In order to have a PC you must have Windows. The two are completely inseparable. You simply could not have one without the other. Or at least that's what Microsoft would like you to believe.

In reality, the operating system of any PC, whether it's an Apple or a Dell, is just one of many components that make up the whole. It's hard to argue that it's more important than any other component; for without a graphics card or chip, there would be no visuals; without a harddrive or some memory, instructions and files could not be saved; without a processor you couldn't, well, do anything! Even something a simplistic as removing the keyboard and mouse or monitor would render a computer completely unusable. The operating system may get all the attention, but it wouldn't be anything without something do the work "under the hood", so to speak.

But it sure makes Microsoft look good if people think that they can't have a PC without Windows. In reality, the operating system is as interchangeable as any other component, as long as it does the job you need it to do.

The second reason that the fabricated war with Apple is useful for Microsoft is this: It sure comes in handy when people accuse you of having a monopoly of something. "Of course we don't have a monopoly, just look at our vibrant competitor, Apple", says a nervous Microsoft executive to the Department of Justice (probably). "Everyone knows how we're constantly battling each other! My wife is always commenting on how lovely the computers look in Alley McBeal, for example. It's a constant worry, I tell you."

In reality, Microsoft have such a huge monopoly that most people cannot grasp the idea of having a PC with a choice of operating systems. "Sure, there's Linux, but that's just for tech-heads to play with in their spare time, like a hobby car or model railway, it's not a 'real' option", says a user (probably), but that user wouldn't be far wrong. The average person just wants to be able to go to PC World, pick up some software and run it.

For a quick example of how much of a monopoly Microsoft have, and how successfully people's perceptions of what makes a PC have been altered, just look at computer games. They're available for the PlayStation, the XBox, the Nintendo Wii and PC-CD. It used to be "DOS" or "Windows Compatible PCs", but now, there's no need to specify: A PC-CD simply means Windows. Everyone knows that PC = Windows.

Good for Microsoft, bad for healthy competition!

For Apple, their part in the imaginary war helps with their marketing. The pretend war with Microsoft makes them look like the plucky young contender trying to take on the established, but evil, champion. Like pygmies taking down a giant, monstrous elephant in the jungle, with nothing but blow-darts and pointy sticks. What could be better for any company than to pretend to go head-to-head with probably the most hated company in the world, and actually succeed in tricking people that you're putting up a good fight.

For Apple, it adds to their identity. Everyone loves the underdog, after all, especially when they're competing against a team that everyone hates. Microsoft, however, are not who they are fighting.

To be fair, Apple are at war with so-called "PCs", but that's not Microsoft. Microsoft are not different than Intel, AMD, nVidia, ATI, Corsair, Crucial, Creative, MSI, Asus, Abit, Gigabyte, Netgear, D-Link and thousands of other third-party computer component manufacturers. (Manufacturers that make parts that Apple uses to build their Macs, no less!)

If Apple have one main competitor, one truly rival computer company, it would probably be Dell or CompUSA. They both sell complete computer solutions to consumers, just like Apple.

Apple may have done a brilliant job infecting the public consciousness with the complete lie that if you're doing something creative, anything creative at all, then only a Mac will do, (in reality Photoshop works just as well on a PC as it does on a Mac), but that doesn't have anything to do with Microsoft. It's just Apple fighting for a share of the home computing market from people like Dell, PC World and CompUSA.

Although Microsoft have gotten much better over the years, and have apparently started stepping up to the plate in terms of offering something their users actually need/want, they're still incredibly bureaucratic and make stupid mistakes. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that they past ten years were a mistake. Microsoft should never have been put in their position of power, the computer manufacturers like Dell, HP, IBM, etc, should have never just licensed Windows. They should have bought it or something else and developed it themselves, each offering their own competing OS. It would have created a healthy, vibrant, competitive marketplace for consumers and would have altered how we see PC computing today.

Of course, in this day and age we demand a lot more from our operating system than we did ten years ago, and it's likely that even if Microsoft hadn't gotten their initial break that changed everything, that another company would have emerged and started targeting an operating system directly to consumers as a replacement to the one that came with their computer. I actually imagine that, in some other reality, this probably happened a few years ago and was met with headlines in computing magazines such as "New Wave of Independent OSs Pave Way for a Consumer Driven Future".

Well, maybe.

It's very hard to imagine a world in which Microsoft didn't dominate, especially since they dominated so thoroughly during computing's important formative years (when everyone was told for the first time that they needed a computer in their home).

Of course, even if this parallel world idea puts Microsoft as being ahead of their time, offering the user a powerful, all encompassing OS from the outset, it doesn't mean that there shouldn't be another option available to consumers, too.

Microsoft might not be deserving of all the attention and criticism they receive, but they do need a real competitor, not an illusionary one, like Apple.


Welcome to my first ever Blog post. I'm hoping to get all my grumpy annoyances and didactic urges out into the world with this light, cheery blog. Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Let's see, shall we?