Monday, January 22, 2007

Glimpse on reality (TV)

Prime Minister in-waiting makes a statement on whom people should evict from Big Brother. ”A vote for Shilpa is a vote for Britain”, Gordon Brown declares on his visit to a Bollywood studio in India. The Guardian writes five articles in one issue over the programme. Indian demonstrators burn pictures of one the participants of the British Celebrity Big Brother. Big Brother is discussed simultaneously on BBC1 and BBC2. Channel 4 loses a 3 million pound sponsorship. Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell gets questions on the show in House of Commons. ”Jade Goody has run the United Kingdom into an international crisis”, says Big Brother host Davina McCall.

Are you thinking the same as I am: has this country gone totally mad or don’t they just have any real problems?

The Big Brother drama escalated this week when three of the participants (Goody as the leader of the pack) were persistently bullying the Indian film star who was in the house. Most of the viewers were disgusted when Goody said that she does not want to eat the food Shilpa cooked because she doesn’t know where her hands have been. Goody’s mother renamed Shilpa Shetty Princess because she found her name too difficult to pronounce. The issue started getting more and more attention as it was seen as an alarming example of pure racism.

On first thought I found this a typical example of overdeveloped British political correctness. ”It was just one comment”, I ironically stated. But my opinion changed yesterday.

I met a British friend of mine for a drink in Soho. Her parents moved from Bangladesh to the UK before her birth. She is an award-winning playwright and has done several scripts on issues that could maybe be defined as multicultural. As we were sipping our white wine, she mentioned that her two children have been watching the show with full attention and been very upset. She was quite calm on the issue but sighed:”All of us have had those comments for instance of our names being two difficult to pronounce.”

Her comment made me ponder. As she pointed out, the people who have been in the media asking people to calm down have been with without exception Caucasian. In that sense it was not just one simple comment by a non-educated young woman. It was an example of something far bigger. The difficulty was also shown when white editors of quality newspapers put all the blame on Jade Goody’s working class background. ”Maybe she should have invested some of her 8 million pounds on education instead of a boob job”, The Guardian snobbishly stated of the woman who has made a fortune with a fragrance and a diet programme.

For me the Big Brother fuss showed how we still have a lot to do before cultural diversity actually comes a non-issue. We still have a lot to do when non-Europeans need to change their names so that they would be ”pronouncable” for Europeans or when stating one’s nationality is followed with a remark:”But I mean really, where do you COME FROM?”

P.S. Someone should have told Brown that on Big Brother you actually vote for the person you wish to evict. But then again, he is the same guy who said that he listens to Arctic Monkeys every morning but could not name one single song on a radio interview. Hip to be square.


TH said...

I don't watch the show for two main reasons, first, after living in the country for 4 years I don't know any of the so-called celebrities (although I remember seeing one of them before, the former Miss England who admitted on TV that she really thought Winston Churchill was the first black president of the USA, because where she lives there's a statue of him, and it's black) and because it's boring. Most people I know share these sentiments, and BB isn't usually something discussed by the main news.

But now, all of a sudden, CBB is all the jazz. While I think that the reaction got a bit out of hands (because Jade Goody as an idiot without village should be below anyone's radar), on the other hand I think it was a clear case of racism and prejudice, fueled by ignorance and anger, and by no means an isolated incident in Britain today.

She has started to defend herself, saying it was just that she didn't like her, not because she is a racist. She even responded to Guardian and said that she actually DID get an education after Big Brother, and trained as a beauty therapist, because she knows how important education is...

Well, clearly her idea of an education was a bit different from the one Guardian had in mind. And since she has been excellently managed (the only reason why she has made so much money out of BB-fame), what she says in public is a mind boggling combination of what she is supposed to say (as suggested by her agents) and what she really thinks.

I'd agree with you and go with what one of Shilpa's colleagues said on one of the many interviews: anyone who doubts that what went on in there was racist, is a fool. And indeed, there is no doubt, and just as the people in the house responsible for it should get the slap for it, so should Channel 4 and the producers of this show, as they are the ones who have failed to condemn racism, and admit that what happened in the house was, indeed, racist bullying.

Whether this is an issue that should be discussed on every news broadcast and in the Parliament and the cabinet, whether the leaders of the country should comment it on their state visits, I don't know. If they are seizing the opportunity to tell the target audience of CBB that racism is wrong and should be condemned, it's fine. If it's one of those "finger on the pulse of the society" -media stunts and "doing the right thing so that nobody can blame us for inaction" and in fact, if this is all they are going to do about the rampant racism in this country, then it makes me sad.

The real news in all this is that still, in this day and age, not everyone (of those who have seen the footage) agrees that what happened was racist. And that is the real shocker.

Anonymous said...

During the last month about a half of the population of Finland have been debating in the media (mostly through letters to the editor) whether a black girl's face with thick red lips on a liquorice wrap paper is racist or not. Numerous votes have been organized in newspapers and on Internet sites. The figure in question is an 80 years old brand of Fazer (a Finnish chocolate and bisquits company).

The figure is - hardly surprisingly - experienced as stereotypical and racist by many, as it directly resembles typical pictures of the "exotic" black from colonial times, and as the black skin connotates to the colour of the candy. The issue of condemning the wrap has been raised even in other countries as Fazer has exported the candy.

Really many people in Finland have defended the old figure. Most often with arguments as "we have had this brand for 80 years with no problems and now some immigrants come to tell us that it's wrong", "isn't it racist to say that there shouldn't be black people on candy wrappings" and "would it also be racist to have a white girl on the paper". Meanwhile, others have demanded a swap of the picture to a neutral one. Last week Fazer announced that it will replace the "liquorice girl" with a new brand in the end of the year.

The discussion reminds me a lot of another debate about a certain Christian song that is traditionally sung in Finnish schools as the summer holidays begin. Many Finns see it as an attack of "foreigners" on "our culture" if someone dares to point out that freedom of religion should mean that no religious elements are included in common celebrations in public schools. Personally I think this is a self-centered and unrealistic image of Finland. Our "culture" is not as homogeneous anymore as it maybe used to be. The basic rights belong to everyone who lives in our society irrespective of who "was here first". And not all Finns share the same religious views, values, or ideologies with each other either, so it's not only a question of "us" against the "foreigners".