Archive for January 18th, 2007

Racism For The Prize

For the second night running, Celebrity Big Brother won out over the stack of unstarted books I’ve accumulated over the last few weeks.

I know I really ought to talk about how awful the show is and how one would have to be a total moron to watch it, and how the whole process of voting is an alibi for the absence of proper democracy, and how viewers would be far better off doing something else- like storming the buildings of the state broadcaster- instead of indulging their scopophilia watching people of no importance doing nothing of any importance. But. I find it quite a larf. Apart from the racism. That isn’t very funny at all.

It is a perverse pleasure to watch images of Face from the A-Team just sitting there smoking a cigar. And I listen to Jermaine Jackson talking and I think that he talks a lot of sense. Of course, this may be ‘sense’ only in terms of Big Brother. If he was telling you this in the pub, you might think he was raving.

Then there is the whole English girls vs. Shilpa thing. Last night Cleo tried to explain to Shilpa that Jade telling her that, among other things, her head was so far up her arse that she could smell her own shit, was not because Jade was a racist, since the entire situation was contrived. To a certain extent, this is true. Under normal circumstances, neither Jade nor the others would say such a thing to Shilpa, as they would not feel the need to do so. It’s only under the specific circumstances of the Big Brother house, where they are in competition within the house and without, that the racist motivation arises.

Yet this is how racism manifests itself in most situations. Racism arises where there is some degree of contact with the other, even if that contact is as minimal as looking at a printed image.
Twenty years ago, there was very little racially motivated nastiness towards Romanians in Ireland, primarily because there were very few Romanians around. Now, when people have to share their streets and workplaces with them, and as a consequence they perceive some sort of threat to the terms of their own existence, there is a lot more. To conclude from this that people were less racist back then means nothing. Similarly, for Cleo to get hung up about not classifying Jade as a racist means little in light of Jade’s actual behaviour towards Shilpa.

But does the fact that Shilpa has been subjected to racism in the house actually mean anything in any wider context? If the producers of Big Brother, funded by their advertisers, have contrived the circumstances in which these racist incidents have occurred, are they not also responsible? Sure, Jade and the others have behaved terribly, and they entered the house because they wanted to, but one would have to be a credulous twit to think that the producers were unaware of the potential for the racist behaviour in the first place, and for the endless publicity and discussion (of which this post is a part) it would spark as a result.

Because of the degree of control exerted upon the contestants by the producers, there is little spontaneity in the house, and there is even less in the edited images broadcast every night. All the general outrage over the past few days has served to obscure (apart from all the other far more important things going on) the fact that the Big Brother house is a pseudo-scientific form of social experimentation in which the viewer becomes complicit. Drawing conclusions from Big Brother about racism in British society seems to me to legitimise the form of experimentation used, and by extension the results, as though this were a perfectly acceptable thing to do.

Still, sure I might tune in tonight again, what?


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