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.

1 comment:

Storm said...

"..British people in general, in my experience, are very insecure people."

I'm sorry, but that may be the funniest thing you've ever written, if not the most true. I just laughed so loud, I woke up my dog. I love you people like fat kids love cake, got lots of Brit friends online, and I'm very proud of being Celtic American (got bloodlines from all four countries), but WOW, do you lot HATE confrontation, or what? Sometimes getting the sincere truth is like pulling teeth (no "British teeth joke" intended), so great is the need not to upset anyone or come off as a jerk. No wonder you're so good at farce; there is apparently nothing that a British person hates more than seeming confrontational or problematic (unless they're "low class", in which case, all bets are off and you're gonna get a headbutt), so it's easier/better to fib a little, which then gets out of control as you manage to trap yourself in a crappy situation that could've been avoided by just saying "No. I'd rather not. Please go away".

Though I generally hate ALL kinds of "Candid Camera/Practical Joke" shows with a passion (I HATE any "humour" that comes from making people look or feel like an idiot when they aren't), the one I LOVE is "Trigger Happy TV", just because it's British. If Dom walked up to an American dressed all crazy and saying crazy things, we'd say "What are you, crazy? Get the hell away from me, you freak!"; British people smile feebly and say "Well, good luck to you, then." and walk away. Or see him doing something weird and instead of asking WTF, they ask "Nice day for it?" Cracks me UP.

Oh wait, this post was about racism, wasn't it? Racism is lame. There, I'm on topic.