Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Non Story of the Year Boosts C4 Ratings

I never thought I'd ever post anything on Big Brother. If that sounds that I'm something of a cultural snob then I put my hands up in this case. But I've just watched Channel Four News and this 'racism' story was the second item, commanding several minutes featuring Tony Blair, Gordon Brown (actually in India) as well as Shilpa's Mum, Jade Goody, Jade's boyfriend and Jade's mum - who inexplicably spells her name 'Jackiey'.

The story is allegedly about racism featuring in the programme but I can't actually find any evidence of it from what I've variously read in the press. It seems Jade's boyfriend used to 'c' word to describe her(saying more about him than her), and one of the other women called her a 'dog'- patently absurd as she is clearly beautiful; more than can be said for any of her female critics. I haven't watched the programme for more than 15 minutes(honest I haven't) but Bollywood actress, Shilpa(pictured) seemed to me to be composed, serene and charming. Maybe that's why Ms Goody et al disliked her so.

Actually I don't think this story is really about race- it's more about education and class. Shilpa is an educated, talented woman from a race which used to be subservient. Jade and co. reflect the prejudices of envy and resentment more often found among the graceless and the uneducated. But the obvious thing is that Channel 4 will be delighted at this furore as ratings for this series were well down....until yesterday. Moreover, they have a good story to tell; it's allegedly about race but isn't, at least explicitly, so they can protest the innocence of their 'housemates'. It's in reality more about bad behaviour and transparent envy- both acceptable on the telly and compelling magnets for more regular future viewers. But you can be sure I won't be one of them-well, apart from the occasional peek that is.

I hate Big Brother. It is vulgar and moronic. But the furore - and Germaine Greer's article in yesterday's Guardian - prompted me to watch about half-and-hour of it last night (first time ever and believe me, the last time). I thought the funniest part was when the foul-mouthed leader of the gang of reactionary lumpen-proletarians (someone called Jane Goody) said that the Indian actresss (Shilpa) "thinks she's better than we are". Er,um...I should bloody well hope so. I agree that it is as much about education and class as race, but race is mixed into the brew too.
Yes, race is just below the surface and will break forth whenever tempers are roused. People often say racist things they don't really mean when angry; it doesn't really exonerate them but, if true, it does mitigate the crime a little. With the 'lumpen' cabal you identify, however, I don't think even this defence stands up.
I don't think anyone's suggested that this scenario was deliberately manufactured by Channel 4. But it's probable. Several steps too far in the name of entertainment, methinks.
I'm not a BB watcher but it's one of those stories that you can't ignore at the moment because it embraces so many dimensions. The media has certainly whipped up a frenzy here, it's staggering to think our politicians can be so easily swayed by this. Fascinating stuff.
Hilariously, there was one conversation between the the three witches in their semi-developed accents about the fact that they couldn't understand Shilpa and didn't need elocution lessons. The beautifully spoken Shilpa was way ahead of them again, so I think you are right skipper, that whilst race is mixed up in this cocktail of hatred, it is about resentment at someone else's grace and achievement.

Why do the ratings go up? Because we watch in morbid fascination at this reflection of a society which exists alongside, but not with us.

[But I don't. Obviously. I caught the afore-mentioned conversation on the radio news! Anyway, my students' test is ending so I'd better get ready to teach them something about nationalism. Hmmm]
Perhaps show them an episode of Big Brother.
Yes,perhaps with an accompanying assignment on 'The Wit, Wisdom and Personal Philosophy of Jade Goody'.
Definitely an idea for the '101 off the peg lessons' handbook - with a maximum word limit of 25 words!
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