Thursday, January 18, 2007

Big Brother, Carphone Warehouse and does it question us all?

Put a diverse set of people together in work and some will hit it off, some will get on each other’s nerves, some will talk behind their backs, some will even become quite insulting to each other faces. And that’s in a professional “work” environment.

Put people in an enclosed space and make it difficult for them to have personal space, and you’ll amplify the disquiet that’s there in normal society.

Put celebrities in that enclosed space ... and you’d be forgiven for thinking that they should know better than let their guard drop in the pressure cooker of the Celebrity Big Brother house. But it strings out for so long that they let their guards down ...

This is the first series of BB/CBB that I haven’t seen any of. And yet again, it’s creating a stir in the not-so-tabloid press (the Berliner, compact and Daily Telegraph-sized “quality” papers) ...

Point 1. Not having seen the footage, I don’t feel qualified to offer a comment on whether there is actual racist behaviour or not. But there’s certainly clear reports of an unease in the house, and the minority group affected is the Indian actress and model, Shilpa Shetty.

Racism can be partially defined as:

  • Aggression or discriminatory behaviour towards members of a certain race or races.
  • Aggression or discriminatory behaviour based upon differences in ethnicity.
  • Ethnically or culturally discriminatory behaviour exhibited by members of the racial, ethnic, or cultural group dominant within a society.

On her way into the CBB house, she commented:

“I have zero expectations. The only thing I really hope to keep is my self-respect and my dignity”

I hope she manages to achieve that objective.

Point 2. The cynical part of me wonders if Charles Dunstone and the marketing department at Carphone Warehouse reckoned that a decision to suspend their sponsorship of CBB now would generate more favourable free publicity than paying out good money for the bumper ads they place around the CBB show each night.

Free publicity for being seen to set a moral standard. Sounds like the Corporate Social Responsibility policy kicking in with a commercial incentive. The BBC are carrying the story tonight, and CPW’s name and comments will be all over the papers tomorrow.

Point 3. Let’s hope that in the furore we don’t lose the silver cloud: exposing the fact that racism and discrimination is bigger than just being confined to a house on an Elstree film set in Leavesden.

Some of the people who have emailed into Ofcom and Channel 4 will have said the same things as the celebrity housemates. Some of the reporters writing up the story in newspapers will have made inciting comments in the past (including those at the Daily Star who so nearly ran a “Daily Fatwa” page describing “how your favourite paper would look under Muslim law” and including a “Page 3 burqa babes special”).

Closer to home, the sectarian issues in Northern Ireland may be diminishing, but polarisation of housing continues apace right across Belfast. The Chinese community around Ormeau are not the only ethnic minority group in Northern Ireland to get a hard time from the “locals” (or the dominant cultural group as the definition above would phrase it).

And in all our hearts, deep down, aren’t there cultural preferences and engrained reactions that we continue to have to deal with and suppress and alter each day?

“Everyone’s a little bit racist”

... to quote a song title from the puppet musical Avenue Q (read the review and go and see it if you’re near London’s West End - there’s even a Midnight Matinee on Mon 22 January).

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