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Racism and Diplomatic Disputes: The Reality of Reality TV

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So now we all know what should have been abundantly clear from the start. Jade Goody really is as ugly on the inside as she is on the outside.

Goody was the winner of the first British Big Brother series in 2000. After being accused of racist bullying of an Indian housemate during the newest series, in which she returned to the reality show, Goody faces a public backlash and her "career" is in jeopardy. Public-relations guru Max Clifford summed it up neatly: "Ironically, the programme that made her could be the programme that breaks her."

"I'm not racist, but I can see why it has had the impact it's had," Goody said in her weak defense. "I look like one of those people I don't like." Actually, Jade, funny you should say that, because you look like one of those people I don't like either. It literally hurts to look at you. Please save your crocodile tears.

Quite apart from the utter ridiculousness of marketing a perfume named after her — Goody is not exactly the symbol of haute coiture, is she? — and her own workout video, which was a total cheat, the larger question that deserves to be asked is why did she become a celebrity in the first place?

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, it must be that reality TV — Big Brother in particular — is the curse of the moronic class. Then again, to a population who live on fried chicken, McDonald's, and kebabs every night after drinking twenty pints, and think sentences shuld b speld like ths, a television program in which a bunch of nobodies with nothing profound to contribute to society and with nothing useful to say was bound to be a hit.

Hardly a surprise that the partly state-funded Channel 4, on which Big Brother airs and which appeals to young people with a permanent expression of "duh" on their eczema-encrusted faces, would assert that there was no racism in the latest series of BB, despite a record 21,000 complaints and the testimony of the bullied contestant Shilpa Shetty. Indeed, Channel 4 has been perfectly happy to cash in on the whole ugly spectacle.

Shetty is a Bollywood actress and is popular in her native India. Three white female contestants — Jade Goody, Danielle Lloyd and Jo O'Meara — have called Shetty names, including the inaccurate slur "Paki," mocked her accent and, in Lloyds' case, refused to eat a chicken that Shetty fixed for dinner because she "didn't know where her fingers had been."

It wasn't exactly the best time for a high-profile British ambassador in the form of Chancellor Gordon Brown to make a state visit to India, where street protests erupted with effigies of Big Brother contestants set alight. Police have investigated these claims of racist behavior. Brown and Prime Minister Tony Blair have both condemned the program, but what does it say about the cultural rot that allowed this racist bullying to fester? India, meanwhile, is taking this matter very seriously and could raise the matter with the UK. Nick Robinson, the BBC political editor, has stated, "Diplomats here in India say the row is damaging Britain's reputation."

The dynamics are simple enough — it is a jealousy-ridden catfight. Jade Goody cannot be blamed because she is a primate that has no place in a civilized society anyway; she honestly doesn't know any better. Lloyd is a blond glamour model. That alone tells you about the emptiness defining the space between her ears. She is clearly threatened by Shetty's beauty and would be better off snorting cocaine with Kate Moss or assaulting housemaids in the manner of Naomi Campbell. And O'Meara was a singer in the teeny-bop pop-rubbish group S Club 7. A singer in the group who, you ask? Exactly.


Jade Goody—a perfect specimen of Idiotus britannicus

Maybe the latest series of Big Brother was a blessing in disguise as it points out what has gone wrong in British society, something I once tried to analyze. And now, with Goody having been evicted with 82 percent of the viewing public vote, Shetty is considered the favorite to win, which would increase her standing and respect among Britain's proud Big Brother-worshipping public. Perhaps Channel 4's motives weren't so odious.

Yet we cannot dodge the relevant question: What entices people to dedicate their evening, their precious free time, to watching reality TV. Television was designed to help people escape reality, and now all we ever see is the starkness of life marketed to us from all corners. Racism in Britain is a reality like so many other things including bad weather and the glottal stop, but why do we want that in our homes during the evening hours which belong to us?

Can we blame a public that no longer has any sense of decorum or tact? I think the answer is an unequivocal "yes."

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  • Literaltruth

    This article is littered with factual inaccuracies.

    Firstly, Jade Goody was in the third season Big Brother, not the first. Even in that series she didn’t win (she came 4th). At the time she was pretty much universally disliked by the public.

    Although a public broadcaster, Channel 4 is funded entirely by its commercial activities and has never been state funded (partly or otherwise).

    In the show, Shilpa Shetty wondered aloud briefly if there might be a racial motivation to the bullying she was enduring. However, the next day – and in the only statement she has given on the subject that could be regarded as a “testimony” – she categorically denied that she seriously thought that there was racist sentiment behind Jade’s behaviour. She was also adamant that this statement should be presented to the public as her definitive view on the issue. Before Jade left, she and Shilpa had made up and she stated numerous times that in her view Jade was not a racist.

    In the interest of balance, though, it should be noted that Shilpa’s views may be influenced by the fact that many of the racist comments were made when she was out of the room. However she was fully aware of the extent of Jade’s non-PC comments (which consist solely of referring to her as “Shilpa Popadom” when she couldn’t think of her surname). Most of what could be considered racist was not uttered by Jade – but rather Jo (who was the one who made the comment that Indians were all thin because they got sick from eating with their hands) and Danielle (who was the one who said that Shilpa should “Fuck off back home”).

    Additionally, it was Jack, Jade’s boyfriend who is also in the house, not any of the three females that you mention that was claimed to have called Jade a “Paki”. However, this claim seems to have been purely wild internet speculation and entirely based on the fact that his comment was bleeped while other swear-words were not. Channel 4 have stated that what he actually called her was “a cunt”, and this would be consistent since this word is routinely bleeped on the show.

    The fact that Danielle refused to eat the chicken that you mention was not because “she didn’t know where Shilpa’s fingers had been” as you state, but rather that the chicken was undercooked and bloody when carved. The entire house refused to eat the chicken for fear of food poisoning (as it turned out, Shilpa had cooked the whole roast chicken with the oven set to “grill”, meaning that the bottom was left uncooked).

    Other more minor points are: Jade Goody’s perfume was not named after her – it was called “Shh…”; the effigies that were shown being burned in India were Big Brother producers (not contestants); categorising Jade as a primate is hardly an insult since all humans are primates.

    Finally, I would question where you came up with you characterisation of the viewership of Big Brother. Is it based on anything other than your own supposition? I myself have been an avid viewer since the first season – feeling it is a great bit of soap at worst and a fascinating social experiment (whether the producers know it or not) at best. In exposing the subtle nature that racism can take I would argue that this current series has perhaps been the most successful at that aspect. I myself am university educated, over 25 and an English teacher to boot (and I most certainly don’t think that sentences should be “splt lke ths”, although I do think that you need to use considerably fewer commas). Remember that this year will mark the 8th year of BB and a lot of fans have watched since the start, these fans are quite likely to be in their 20s or above and I believe that BB has quite a broad spectrum of age groups and backgrounds for viewers. Remember that such a significant number of viewers were savvy and literate enough to complain to the broadcast regulator when they perceived racism in the house.

    Also, quite why you seem to be using facial eczema as a impingement on the character of those who watch I can’t imagine.

  • winter

    I enjoyed reading this article and the above comment. Though, I don’t know if that is just how British people write, but, Literaltruth, run-on sentences are not corrent grammar either. You’d need more commas. Perhaps more full-stops would be better though.

  • Paul

    Dear Literal Truth

    Thank you for your comments, good response to a heavily loaded and typically tabloid article.

  • Cat

    You’re aware of course that Ms. Goody is of West Indian descent? You must also be aware since journalists are naturally omniscient that in the British Colonial hierarchy West Indians were not regarded very favourably. Why? Because many of their ancestors were taken there by the bountiful British as slaves. Sick, huh?