Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The race for ratings

At last a political excuse to post on Big Brother! I notice that Shilpa Shetty has been the victim of that harmless English past time of casual racism and bullying. Ellee does a good job of filling out the story here so I'll be brief on the detail.

Oh the irony - Shilpa in a PETA adThe papers have concentrated on the name calling. There is some dispute over what was said The Mirror says she may have been called a "fucking Paki" but the Guardian leaps to rescue and claims she was only called a "cunt" and gives space to Germaine Greer to call Shilpa a "cannibal", defend the housemates oh so hilarious mockery of Shilpa's accent and voice her inability to understand why the term "Paki" is offensive. Thanks a lot Guardian.

What there seems little dispute about is that Shilpa, one the most beautiful, refined and charming personages to ever grace the Big Brother set was described as a "dog", various references have been made about how crap Indians are at everything and a gang of firm friend bullies sit round telling each other how much they hate her.

Unsurprisingly there have been a barrage of complaints (more than 13,000 so far),
I hear a rumour that Carphone Warehouse are considering withdrawing their £3 million sponsorship - now that's a message Endemol (makers of Big Brother) would actually listen to. MP Keith Vaz is tabling a motion about it (!), it's been raised at PMQs and even Gordon Brown says he's been bombarded with questions about this during his trip to India. To all of which of Blair must immediately respond with his own press release.

The row has gone global with BBC reports that "Anand Sharma, India's junior minister for external affairs, said: "The government will take appropriate measures once it gets to know the full details. Racism has no place in civilised society.""

Some have expressed admiration about her willingness to stay in the show rather than walk out like three other contestants have so far, including arrogant tossbag Leo Sayer. However, the fee of £367,500 she is being paid would be forfeit if she did walk and I for one would stick far worse out for such gargantuan sums. It should also be noted that these would be bullies should play their cards rather more carefully as Shilpa is thought by some to have extensive mafia connections which may come in handy once she leaves the house. Licks lips.

But why is racism such a powerful phenomenon? Can it really just be reduced down to name calling and bullying? I think not, and I'd like to build on my earlier post (about Engels) to extend that framework to race.

I think it's difficult to understand racism without understanding it as a interlaced series of discriminations rather than one single current. Society has been permeated with myths, stories and lies which justify, reinforce and sometimes directly produce inequality. But whilst being called a "Paki" is no doubt unpleasant its social significance is only realised by its connection with systematic political and economic discrimination. If this wasn't the case every jibe about someone having red hair or coming from Birmingham would be evidence of new forms of racism rather than simple boorish bad manners.

They're just having a laugh aren't they?As an aside, if correct where would this leave Lindsey German's analysis of a hierarchy of racisms? Well, nowhere really. The important factor is the discrimination suffered by a socially defined ethnic group - the only significance that some groups may face worse / different kinds of discrimination than others is the power that fact has in playing us off against one another.

Apartheid's intermediate category of "coloured" between "black" and "white" was not simply some complication, it was important in building a working hierarchy in society where some people may not be white, but at least they are not black. As it were.

Whilst anyone arguing that the "main" problem with Apartheid was the treatment of the "coloureds" specifically would be an idiot, the category was part of the framework of oppression. The category mattered even though "coloureds" were granted "privileges" that blacks were not. The division made the whole structure harder to resist.

Just as football fans might chant "I'd rather be a Paki than a Turk" capital finds it very useful to have a range of oppressions to draw upon. It helps keep wages down, it helps keep the right people in political power, it helps that we keep finding new enemies that have nothing to do with why we are unhappy with our lot.

Racism against Jews may not effect the numbers that Islamophobia does, nor are its effects as apparent by a simple reading of the daily press, but the moment we start to regard some racisms as less objectionable is the moment we've stopped fighting racism and begun only to resist aspects of it. This is bad not just because it effects our ability to combat prejudice, build solidarity and all those other tasks the left agree are important but also because racism in what ever form is wrong.

Let's stamp it all out.

The Chinese Community, the Poles, the Latin Americans and all the other groups - they suffer the effects of racism in all three of its aspects (ideological, political, economic) are we genuinely to say that discrimination against any of these groups is tolerable? Will this shield them from the effects of long hours, poor pay, possible assault and all the rest? And what would we expect a Jewish co-worker to say to us if we tried to denounce some Islamophobic outrage if the day before we had tolerated anti-Semitic remarks as simply mistaken?

The main victim of racism shifts. In 1905 the Alien's Act was passed as a direct attempt to prevent Jewish Immigration from Tsarist Russia. By 1962 the CommonWealth Immigration Act was put in place as a fear of black people. Now it's clear as day that the press and the state have a penchant for anti-Muslim bias over and above other discriminations, all the better if they are asylum seekers though.

The way that racism operates on a number of qualitively separate fields is important. To counter Daily Mail rants against Eastern Europeans we don't deploy arguments about the Holocaust. To combat the effects of extreme poverty pay among immigrant rural workers we use different methods to when fascists leaflet our estate with anti-Muslim bile.

These different areas bleed into one another but are not identical by a long chalk. They are separate strands in the same rope and it's no coincidence that the fault lines of racial inequality follow those of capitalism.

The logical conclusion to all of this is that we need strong, autonomous campaigning organisations that work hard in their specialised field whilst maintaining a strong current on the left that attempts to politically generalise whilst performing a useful and specific function inside of these groups. Abstract anti-capitalism, even when it takes an apparently concrete form (a demo for instance) is worthless for this. It's those who get their hands dirty in the soil who get to plant the seeds of the future.


Ed said...

Of course I never watch CBB - never. But I have been really appalled by the treatment of Shilpa by Jade, Jo and whatsername. They really are a nasty bunch of sour faced bullies -and I think that the claims of racism against them are well founded.

I saw that the Daily Mail had put 'racism' in inverted commas on its front page - and i suspect that the message of their story (I didn't read it) is that it's all political correctness gone mad and that these accusations of racism are coming from the liberal left establishment or something.

I really want Jade whatsername and Jo voted out - it would be such a great thing for the CBB viewing public to send out an anti-racist (and anti-bullying) message.

Jim Jay said...

William hill have said that all the money they are taking now is on Shilpa to win.

The betting public think the others are fucked.


Jim Jay said...

oh and if you go here you can see a picture of an angry mob burning effigies of the BB producers... we should have done that in series one!

badmatthew said...

Germaine Greer didn't call Shilpa a cannibal, and was basically critiquing the whole lot of participants. And that critique includes arguing that Shilpa isn't the naive victim of racist bullying, but is complicit and provocative and acting. She's right, this is spectacle as the situationists would have seen and even amounts to a pseudo-event as Daniel Boorstin would have put it. And Endemol and good ol' Channel 4 are the winners as more and more people tune in. And if there's anything wrong with Germainne it's just her middle-class elitism.

The Sentinel said...

I have watched clips of the treatment of this gorgeous lady and it seems to amount to very rude and ignorant behaviour by very rude and ignorant people, who's careers (if you can call them that) are now down the pan. Goody was onto a good thing until she returned to that show.

I am not sure how reaction to a reality show can manifest itself into effigy burning and political exchanges though. That seems very surreal to me.

It seems to warp reality when India's junior minister for external affairs says "The government will take appropriate measures once it gets to know the full details. Racism has no place in civilised society" in response to a C4 voyeur show with less viewers then its prime time rivals.

What details are they waiting for? It is broadcast 24/7

Exactly what appropriate measure can be taken and against whom?

CBB is not a society but a show and is not representative of anyone other then extroverts and desperado's.

I think a lot of fuss is being made about the entirely predictable behaviour of a few working class people, brought up with poor education and narrow views and an even narrower vocabulary.

Yes, prejudice based on race exists, and this seems to be a case of it but people are not going to change that dramatically, and beyond conditioning there is not that can be done about it.

But it is not a one way flow, from whites to everyone else. Whites suffer from discrimination too.

mich said...

I don't know if this sounds a little out of the blue, but a feminist theologian, Rosemary Radford Reuther said something along the lines of your argument that racism is connected to the economic situation. Although many attempts have been made to tackle racism, feminism and economic exploitation as individual issues they are all founded on the same ideology, and muddled up. She suggests that we couldn't 'liberate' any of the oppressed groups individually. We often hear of racism as a distinct problem. I believe she suggested that by keeping (for example) faculties at univesity in Women's studies and Race relations seperated the current system is taking a 'divided they'll fall' approach. Somehow though specialised autonomous campaigning organisations can be effective - I'd be careful not to be too autonomous or specialised and try to topple the tower of Pisa by breaking the window... although I doubt that was what you were trying to say?

The institution (if you could call it that) of war is also intimately tied up with oppression and the prejudices that arise from it. It requires the alienation of the enemy.

Jim Jay said...

BM: "This explains the slightly cannibal air of self-satisfaction that never abandons Shilpa" is not of course saying that she is a cannibal - you're right - although I don't think anyone thinks I think Germaine thinks Shilpa eats human flesh.

But it is interesting she doesn't understand why calling someone Paki rather than saying they are from Pakistan (neither of which is true in this case anyway) is offensive.

And I thought her critique was well off beam. Shilpa brough the bullying on herself and knew what she was doing when she made them say racist things? Nah Germaine. I'm a big fan of yuors but not on this one. She'll be saying wearing a short skirt makes men pinch women's bums next.

Sentinel: It is very very strange the spill over into international politics. But Shilpa is a very big name there. If Mel Gibson getting pissed and making some unwholesome remarks can get world press and political commentary why not Shilpa? It only really seems strange because we're not familiar with her in this country I guess.

CBB is just a show - that's right. But what's new is that they can get away with broadcasting racist comments because it's a continual feed - where as any other show could edit that stuff out - or just not broadcast that section.

Who was that sprots commentator that made the racist remark? i get the feeling he got in trouble because it got broadcast (live) rather than him having those views.

Mich. Well, I think I'm trying to tease out this point. That they are indeed seperate phenomenons, and I think it makes sense to study them seperately - as long as we also study them together - as they are related at root and feed into one another.

I think it makes sense to have courses that study these ideas in depth - but I think we can only really tackle these problems if we understand how these different parts of society fit together - that they are of a piece with capitalism.

Does that make sense?

Jim Jay said...

Oh bum - I didn't finish what I was saaying about canibals. Yes BM your technically correct, but I'm not going to reword because I'm drawing the fact that in a very spurious article Greer chooses to compare the object of racist jibes to a canibal - but gives no reasoning behind how she might compare to one apart from she "stalks" around.

a very public sociologist said...

Hmmm, when does ignorance pass over into racism? I think the animus Jade displays toward Shilpa is motivated far more by class than race, though of course a lack of knowledge about Indian culture does come into it.

Though celebrities like Jade have elevated ignorance almost into an art form, is vicious condemnation the best way of tackling it?

Jim Jay said...

To be honest very public I don't think we should even try to excuse this behaviour - although we should keep it in proportion.

It's significance is that this is probably the only TV programme that will televise what alot of people say and think.

I don't think it's a class thing. My Mum is as working class as any of them but she treats people with dignity and respect.

Except my Dad maybe :)

When someone's told to fuck off home and there is banter being chucked back and forth about about that's why the Indians are so thin all the time they can't fucking cook and get sick it's racism.

Yes it's ignorance - and these contestants are about to undergo a very sharp educational experience.

Oh yeah.

What's the alternative to condemnation. In one way people are defining our cultures attitude to racism right now through this process. It's slightly unfair on this little gang of tossers as I'm sure far worse things are said and done outside of the eyeshot of the camera and I'm not arguing for a public hanging... but I don't think we can afford to tolerate racism where ever we find it.

ps Shilpa is a rich film star... what class does that make her - in the marxist sense?