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The Blogospheres on Big Brother, Shilpa Shetty, Bullying and Racism

shilpa_big_brother.jpgThe racism allegations surrounding a popular reality television show in the UK – Big Brother appears to occupy a lot of real estate in the blogosphere. Big Brother airs on Channel4, which is a public-service television station, broadcast in the United Kingdom Well, regardless of whether the remarks made in the Big Brother house were racist or not, they've got the Indian and the UK blogospheres talking about racism in all its contexts and people discussing their own experiences as Indians or Brits. The person seen as the victim is Shilpa Shetty, an Indian actor. A thriving discussion at Sepia Mutiny with all kinds of opinions being voiced about “Bigot Brother”. A very active discussion is on at Pickled Politics. From one of the comments

Fact is: there has been racism on television. The Asian community (for once) united to condemn it.
Give me hysteria over apathy any day.

Bloggers are discussing if it's racism or just plain bullying. While many bloggers had in half-seriousness asked why this actor was choosing to appear on this show in the first place, the discussions now are mostly about Channel 4's take on the issue, and the behaviour of the housemates towards Shilpa Shetty.

On the allegations of racism.While they’re definitely being ignorant, stupid and mean, the fact that the person on the receiving end of all this is brown adds a racial undertone to the entire thing. As someone on the news said today ‘If they were making fun of a French girl’s accent they wouldn’t call that racist would they?’

Bollywood Press on the amount of press Shilpa Shetty is getting. Classically Liberal remarks that the Indian Government appears to have no other important issues to take care of. Broadcastallense has some views on the show which has sparked protests from people who have never seen it.

At the end of the day, it's unlikely Channel Four will do much about the whole thing other than make a few cliched ‘statements’. They've got exactly what they wanted.

Bock the Robber has a take on the supposed class clash at the Big Brother house. Some others approach with a certain caution and even a little cynicism.

Being a victim of racism is turning out to be a win-win situation for Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty. No publicity is bad publicity. Who would have thought that a story on UK's Celebrity Big Brother would hog headlines even in international media.

Guy Fawkes’ Blog on Gordon Brown's response. Theadagetimes remarks on how Gordon Brown's visit to India has been shadowed by the controversy and how Channel4 seems to have benefited from the increased viewership.

In large sections of the media, Brown’s comments on Shetty were given more prominence than his speech on globalisation and economic issues in Bangalore on Wednesday.

Diretribe reminds us that one can only expect so much from reality television. remarks how people assume that racism can be excused as ignorance or stupidity.

People are trying to excuse these comments on the grounds that they display stupidity and a lack of education, rather than some form of actual racism. Oh well, that's alright then. Let's tolerate racist remarks on the basis that they're coming from idiots as opposed intelligent racists!

And while Channel4 definitely seems to have increased viewership, some bloggers are urging others not to encourage the show by switching the telly off.

I am no longer going to watch Celebrity Big Brother, or its spin-offs, or Channel 4, or its subsidiaries. I urge you not to watch the shows and not to vote for contestants of Celebrity Big Brother, because if you do you’re supporting a policy of tolerance for stupidity, bullying, and, at the least, inadvertent racism.

L'Amour et le crâne wonders why racism is being excused under the garb of silly-girl-bitching. Rationally Speaking on racism and violent anti-racism as witnessed by the protests in India.

A whopping 19,300 viewers have filed complains with the broadcaster, which means that way too many people have too much time on their hands, or simply have their priorities a bit off, considering everything else that is happening in the world (including in India itself, of course).

World of India! comments on how Indians are racist themselves. Sonia Faleiro does a piece on the celebs at the Big Brother.

And Thought Experiments sums it up thus

The Big Brother Racism story reveals another terrible truth about our world – it can no longer be satirised. The simple facts of the case are so wildly implausible, so deliriously stupid, that satirists can only stand back in awe and admiration. Some very coarse individuals on a TV game show that involves being imprisoned inside a house express, in terms of laughable ignorance, a degree of racial prejudice against another inmate. Professionally outraged people become professional outraged and Gordon Brown's visit to India is turned into a ludicrous pantomime in which people burn effigies of somebody or other connected with Big Brother, newspaper headlines crow about the racism of the British and Brown himself has to keep grinding out the platitudes about what a terrible thing racism is – yadda-yadda-yadda.
remarks that while the intent maybe to bully, its form takes a racist colour.

The issue isn't just that Shetty is being subjected to intimidation – that much is obvious. The issue at stake here is that for whatever reasons that might have caused the coven to develop a dislike for Shilpa, they are choosing to act on that by picking on things that are blatantly racist. To refuse to identify her by her name, to generalise about Indians as a whole on the basis of their interactions with her, to tell her to “f*****g go back home”, and to “go back to the slums” is nothing if not racist. The motivations behind making those statements may or may not be racist – that is not what I question at this point. However, the manner in which the feelings of the coven are verbalised is definitely racist, and as a consequence totally unacceptable.


  • lisa janet and co

    jade has always been loud mothed from the first big brother she was in,but i dont think she was being racis towards shilpa.maybe jade was a bit harsh and kept going on and on but shilpa keeps saying things then making out she said nothing.shilpas got more class but she contridicts herself quite minuite she feels its racisum then changes her mind the next.joe and danielle need to stop being jades sheep,christ what age are they! its like there back at school follow the leader kinda thing.
    the show has definatley caught peoples eyes!

  • Actually this is a class issue.

    Jade as we all know came to fame, such as it is, in the other version of BB, real people, not celebrities. And in that show, there was similar situation with a “posh” British girl, Sophie, whom Jade ridiculed with a vengance.

    Jade is not in conflict with Shilpa because Shilpa is a famous movie star. In Britain she is unknown, until now. Jade’s conflictual problems stem from Jade’s perception of posh people as being fake. In other words she has issues with that. In that she is not unlike many people in the UK, for whom class is a big issue. And there is an added issue, race. The question is which comes firts.

    History has repeated itself, unfortunately for Jade.

  • Bullying and gang warfare are wrong, whatever the reason – racism, jealosy, political gain, oil…There is no excuse for uncivilzed behaviour. Respect and courtesy have to become values that the British encourage and enforce in their daily lives if they are to recover any past glory. Shame that there is a whole generation that can empathise and utter the words, “Am I bovverrred?”. If you are not bothered, there is no redemption. And if you are, then speak up. Or is this cat to big to be belled?

  • Paul Tomasi wrote – “Class distinction is obvious. Shilpa squabbles with her housemates with dignity. Jade, who clearly comes from a less privileged class and with a narrower vocabulary expresses herself with less dignity reflecting her underclass status.”

    Dignity, because she is a “better class”. Hmmm….. aren’t we forgetting that when the rows developed, Shilpa said some very nasty and personal things in response. Dignity, I’d imagine would not have been to respond in kind. Shilpa’s personal insults can then be excused because “she was provoked”. Yes the old passive aggressive argument. I don’t want to talk to you because you are so beneath me, but if you provoke me I will let loose a torrent that puts your invective in the shadow. That’s not dignified, that’s manipulative.

    Dignity would have been not to respond in the manner in which one was attacked, I’d imagine. If it is dignity and class that win the argument then what happened to the truth of the matter.

    To point out that someone is better than someone else because of background is just utter snobbery.

  • Janic

    Whilst there have been comments from all of the four younger women on the show that could, if one wished to contort an argument, be described as racist. Racism has a pretty narrow and precise definition. It is when beliefs about a nation are applied to an individual and as a result that individual is not judged on his or her own merits.

    I think we are seeing some sort of power struggle with sexist overtones, gender confusion and male emasculation on the show. The four younger women think they can act with impunity because of their gender.

    The men on the show avoid the confrontations because they are seen by the women as an irrelevance and at the risk of sounding sexist they act in a manner many would find feminine and most would find feminine compared to the four younger women.

    Jade and Shilpa are arguing for dominance. Jade has her two nasty sidekicks and Shilpa has her own cowardly supporters.

    The effect this power struggle has had on all the housemates will be all the sadder because it is unlikely to reach a conclusion if we loose either Jade or Shilpa.

    We will be left with an ugly taste of racism and we will not know if racism had a part to play in the power struggle.

  • Sandy

    I don’t know why this is racist, I didn’t hear any racist comments, and me being an American, the Shilpa contestant looks white to me…
    You put a bunch of cats in a cage, you’re bound to get some claws out…

  • hahahaha i hope that all the aian african and latin american get a chance on a reality show like this…just to get awakened to the fact….there is racism in europe and it is also a big taboo u cant even bring up the topic…
    an indian or aian can never win a case like this because they have been
    enslaved and deserve this kind of treatment…shetty cant even hold on to her claims, imagine what a usual europian do if he or she were put in this indian girls place?

  • Petra

    Shilpa says that the comments against her are not racial. But how many of those comments has Shilpa actually heard? Many of the comments were made behind her back and are yet unknown to her. Can her statement made to Channel 4 about not having suffered in racial attacks be sufficient for Channel 4 to shirk all responsibility?

    Channel 4 is getting publicity out of the entire affair, but is that long term publicity or just a short term gimmick? The enire asian audience in UK is watching, but will they ever participate in this program again?

    The racism in the program is just a reflection of the outside world in so-called cosmopolitan Britain. Until we take care of the larger problem, the Big Brothers and Channel 4s will continue to reflect the attitude that is prevalent everywhere in modern Britain.

  • Janic, thank you for a clear-headed analysis of events.

  • Whoa! There’s quite a conversation here. The way I look at it – whites, browns, Indians, South Asians, Brits – none of them are homogenous crowds anyway – which is why there seems to be such multiplicity of opinions within each community.

    There obviously is the huge role of obvious class differences. But reflecting on my personal experience as a South Asian in London – there are a few ways I could rationalize my way through this noise in the media.

    – I want the housemates to be racist to Shilpa Shetty – I want people around me to know about the racism that an average Asian puts up with in the UK. Much as I feel sorry for Shilpa Shetty, I feel that her victimization in the BB house will be proof for my own alienation.

    – I don’t want people to think of it as racism. Because it’s humiliating for me to admit that as an Asian I am choosing to live in a country that discriminates against me. Thereby, validating what my friends back in India think about me – that I have somehow compromised on my dignity by choosing to be here.

    And a million other stories really. There is no template response really. Some Asians find that the being-bullying experience finds resonance, and others don’t. Some of us want to believe that it is an exception, and the others that it is a hidden rule. But a lot of it has to do with our perception of Asians as a community in Britain.

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