Monday, January 22, 2007

The Goody, the Baddy, and the Fugly - the true face of latent racism

What a storm in Britain! All over a few chance remarks in the midst of one of these time-waster tv programmes - the kind that relies upon the prurient interest of the audience in how personalities interact in confined circumstances.

But, given the hooha that has blown the latest series into the limelight -
mebbe I will have to change my mind somewhat.

Regulars here will know that I have had a fairly unique life - including experiences that would be limited to very few. For example being one of only 12 pakeha in a school of 120 gave me an idea of "culture shock" long before Toffler (was it his?) came up with the idea. That does not give me the right to claim that I have no prejudices. The proof of that pudding is in the hands of everyone else. For that reason I am loath to judge individuals.

What this Goody hooha has shown in very cold and sharp light is that the attitude we might have toward others - prejudice, preconception, and acceptance - is far more deeply ingrained and insidious than many of us would be prepared to admit.

Who remembers old Alf Garnett? He of "curry muncher" fame? A very biting and cruel portrayal of the British character of the 60's and 70's. "Nah! I'm not like that!" came with the just slightly embarrassed laughter.

And it is the cringe that is coming through on the wires now that make no better of the situation. Not that Dan Sabbagh's thoughts are in any way inconsistent with the several op-eds I have read.
What has happened to Shilpa Shetty, a genuine megastar, in the past few days has been deeply uncomfortable — but also compelling — viewing. It will divide opinion, offend many, and it will also get people thinking. To believe that Britain in 2007 is a uniformly nice place is to display staggering naïvety; if it takes reality television to remind us of that, so be it.

There are limits, of course, but there is no need for intervention in the programme at the first whiff of controversy. Intervention should be required only when the law (in this case against inciting racial hatred) has clearly been broken. Channel 4 is just about right when it says that “no overt racism” has occurred, although that does not absolve the broadcaster of a duty to warn housemates if that does occur.

Sabbagh's statement that "...the programme will ("should" would be a much better word I suspect) get people thinking..." deserves to come true. I suspect that in fact the number who "think" will be relatively small. The 10,000 objectors/complainers might comprise 20% of that number. That is still a very small slice of the population.

I would suspect that the far more common reaction will follow the kind of "review" that followed each week's programme of Alf Garnett - "Did ya see... Wasn't it hilarious!!" followed by instant brain-death on the topic until the morning after the next programme.

The truth of that is supported by the synopsis from the Guardian revealing that Goody was not the only participant with similar views...
In one exchange, Goody was heard saying of Shetty: "She makes me feel sick. She makes my skin crawl", while her now evicted mother Jackiey continually referred to her as "the Indian". Later Lloyd claimed that the Bollywood star "wants to be white" and called her a "dog".

After Shetty cooked a roast chicken dinner, Lloyd had said: "They eat with their hands in India, don't they. Or is that China?" She added: "You don't know where those hands have been."

The complaints were further fuelled when Tweed was reported as calling Shetty a "Paki". Channel 4 insists that in fact the word he used, which was bleeped out, was "cunt".

So while the Goody might be the whipping-girl for the hooha that has developed, there is an even deeper current running within the microcosm of the programme.
In Bangalore, Gordon Brown faced journalists questioning him on the merits of a reality show he claimed not to have seen. "I understand that in the UK there have already been 10,000 complaints from viewers about remarks which people see rightly as offensive," he said. "I want Britain to be seen as a country of fairness and tolerance. Anything that detracts from that I condemn."

Later Tony Blair's spokesman added: "What clearly is to be regretted and countered is any perception abroad that in any way we tolerate racism in this country."

That would seem to point to a level of denial that has even wider implications.

Who remembers the introspection and intent navel gazing that took place in Britain after the 7/7 bombings. How could people from England contemplate doing such a thing - after all they are part of our society and we treat them as equals. They are nice people...

That they may well be. What about the rest of us...

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