The airwaves, the coffee bars and dinner tables of Britain have been agog over the antics on the Celebrity Big Brother show. At the heart of most of the furore (centering around the bullying of Shilpa Shetty, a Bollywood actress by Jade Goody, a previous winner of Big Brother) has been the question of whether or not there were racist undertones to the bullying. Various people have been wheeled out to spew their various positions. India is threatening a diplomatic incident which has ended up overshadowing Gordon Brown's tour of the country. Carphone Warehouse has pulled its sponsorship of the show and the Perfume Shop has pulled Jade Goody's perfume from its shelves. Everyone is working themselves into a lather and of course the Big Brother producers are laughing all the way to the bank as their viewing and text message figures soar.
I've always thought that whoever invented the reality show format deserves a Nobel Prize for business (if such a thing exists). You rake in money from sponsorship and adverts and then whip up controversy and make the public load your pockets even more through their telephone calls and text messages- a no brainer really. But I digress.
I've been meaning to post about Big Brother for a while- about how the British middle-classes and intelligentsia sneer publicly at its inanity but cannot restrain themselves from wittering on about it. Of course it's all dressed up as pseudo scholarly analysis but the end result is that people like me who do not watch the programme are nevertheless assailed with reports of the antics on the programme on television, radio and media even the supposedly highbrow ones.
Now my indifference to Big Brother has nothing to do with snobbery- I don't think I'm too good or too intelligent to watch it- I've watched/read and still watch/read loads of trash in my time- It's just that the few times I've tried to watch it, it's been literally like watching paint dry- dead boring. But to each his or her own
What has surprised me about this latest furore is the debate about whether or not it is racist to make fun of people's food and eating habits, suggest that their hygiene is dubious, and mock their skin colour. Various commentators have suggested that it is merely about class- Goody and her posse are ignorant working class gits who resent Shetty's beauty, erudition and sophistication hence their bullying. These analyses of course fail to take into account the power dynamics inherent in racism. If Shetty was an upper class white English person whose ways were as different to Goody as Shetty's would Jade and her posse for instance so readily mock her food and hygiene habits? I rather doubt it. It's the same reason that commentators who point out that Shetty and Jermaine Jackson had had a conversation in which they referred to Goody as "white trash" in order to try and equate the two get it wrong.
Racism is complex and difficult to untangle especially in modern day Britain where people are encouraged to put on a smile while their hearts seethe and where the dynamics are far more subtle than in the past, but at its heart remains the concept that you are better than someone else merely because your race is different. On this count, I'm afraid I'd find Goody et al guilty, but then I would wouldn't I?
That said most of the ranting (on both sides) is utter hypocrisy and showmanship. The sooner the whole spectacle ends and we can get on with our lives the better.
More cheeringly, I see that while I was away in Nigeria, Chimamanda Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun has been included in the Richard and Judy Book Club list for 2007. For those who don't know- Richard and Judy are a couple who run a chat show and have apparently become very powerful in the British book industry as many books they pick out for their Book Club see their sales soaring. I hope this happens for Chimamanda...For other books in the list see here http://snipurl.com/17umr For an article on Richard and Judy and their power in the book industry see here http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/generalfiction/story/0,6000,1156756,00.html
Meanwhile, Helon Habila's long awaited followup to his stunning Waiting for an Angel is due out in a few weeks. Measuring Time is the story of twin brothers growing up in a Nigerian village http://www2.wwnorton.com/catalog/fall06/005251.htm I wonder why the theme of twins recurs in so much recent Nigerian ( I use the term loosely) literature- think Olanna and Kainene in Half of a Yellow Sun, Georgia and Bessi in Diana Evans 26a, Jess and TillyTilly (not quite but close) in Helen Oyeyemi's Icarus Girl and now Mamo and La Mamo in Habila's Measuring Time- perhaps this is an idea for a paper from the more scholarly amongst us.....Perhaps it's to do with the contrasting feelings of love and exasperation that Nigeria stimulates in most of us....
I'm currently reading House of Stone-Christina Lamb's true account of a white Zimbabwean farming family and their erstwhile much loved nanny who led the takeover of their farm. Lamb traces the lives of the two main characters deftly and fairly even handedly so far...