Celebrity Big Brother 2007 is still dominating the newstands. Personally, I’m still recovering from the disbelief at Gordon Brown glibly telling us, during the Shilpa vs Jade eviction, that “a vote for Shilpa is a vote for Britain and British tolerance.” What was he trying to do? Combat racism by patriotically appealing to Britain’s superiority complex?
The tragic irony doesn’t end there. On Tuesday, The Express was actually claiming that Shilpa’s overall win and subsequent success not only proves that we are not a racist society but also that we “still value decency above all else”. Great. That’s assured me completely now. No need to worry about racism anymore!
The media is also still revelling in making pariahs of Shilpa’s bullies, Jade Goody, Danielle Lloyd and Jo O’Meara (not sure what happened to Jack Tweed in all this) in some superficial effort to show Britain doesn’t tolerate racism. For those of you who may have missed the whole hypocritical furore, here’s a sample of some of the recent headlines: we’ve had The Star‘s “India Bans Sick Jade” for an article that actually reveals Jade Goody has had a block put on her visa because of fears that the trauma of the flight to Mumbai will worsen her depression; Heat featuring a picture of a miserable-looking Jade, alongside the gleefully placed headline “I’ll stack shelves for a living” (perhaps a rather unrealistic finalé to her media-orchestrated downfall when you consider the fortune she’s made?) and a variety of other sources tantalisingly suggesting that Jade may even be suicidal (as if anyone being driven to feeling suicidal might actually be a good thing).
Doesn’t this sort of coverage, in its relentless vilification, actually encourage the sort of bullying mentality that often leads to racism in the first place? That aside, I’d still argue that no amount of booing and hissing at Jade Goody is going to prove we aren’t a racist nation. Indeed, I’d say that reducing such an important issue to a puerile contest between “good” and “bad” is actually nurturing a morally underdeveloped society, where racism is considered impolite and understood as basically “wrong” but no-one is ever encouraged to consider and understand why.
And then there’s the misogyny in the debate to consider. For example, on the cover of Tuesday’s Daily Express, there was a picture of Shilpa, alongside the headline “If Only More women Would Behave Like Me.” Strangely, the nearest thing I could find to Shilpa actually saying the above in the actual article was:
Hopefully viewers will see swearing, drinking, burping and farting is not cool – but being kind, dignified and making your parents proud is. If appearing in Big Brother has helped teach one person that, in any small way, then my job is done.
Where exactly did Shilpa say anything specifically about women? If she did, I certainly can’t find any record of it. I’d say this kind of representation of Shilpa is very cunning because not only does it prompt traditionalist readers to have another good old tut about the lowly morals of women today but it also has a nice little dig at women directly, goading some to react against Shilpa and say “who does she think she is?” I imagine this kind of reaction would be a real treat for the woman baiters as it would give them the opportunity to excitedly exclaim “women! So bitchy! So hateful!” or, if they really wanted to get into the spirit of it all, “so racist!”
If you think that sounds over the top, just consider some of the comments that were made in the media around the time that the bullying of Shilpa was broadcast. We had Andrew Neil on This Week asking if this was just a case of “two or three bitches ganging up against a rather elegant woman?” (as if who’s elegant and who’s not is somehow relevant to human rights issues) and also throwing out a rather vague and open statement about “the female yobbish element in society.” Surely, if he had only meant to criticise yobbishness in anyone, he would have simply referred to a more general “yobbish element in society”?
We also had psychologist Anjula Mutanda in The Metro, saying that the bullying of Shilpa showed “a difference in culture but also just how bitchy women can be” and channel 4 flippantly describing the incidents as examples of “girly rivalry.”
Yes, Britain apparently “won’t tolerate” racism and the offensive assumptions that it leads people to make but making sweeping generalisations about women as a group is absolutely bloody fine. Oh well. That’s British “decency” for you, I guess…
In addition to all this, Shilpa herself has stated she wants to leave the racist incidents on CBB behind her. She has also said that Jade Goody and the other bullies in the house have “suffered enough” and that the pressure on them should “stop.” However, I doubt if the papers will take what she’s said into account at all because, of course, their tawdry performance probably isn’t motivated by a real concern for human rights (Shilpa’s or, indeed, anyone else’s). Instead, it just seems to be about shallow moral posturing and making scapegoats of working class female celebrities who the public was just gagging to slag off anyway.
The scary thing is that these women’s comments, when placed on a grand scale of racism, don’t even come close to the more carefully considered bigotry that is currently out there, happily doing its racist thing and calling it politics. More to the point, that politics continues to garner support. But never mind that. As long as Britain isn’t seen to be racist, we’re all good. After all, we voted for Shilpa didn’t we? Hooray for tolerance! Hooray for Britain! King of the castle again!
Photo by Gene Hunt, shared under a Creative Commons Licence.