Thursday, February 01, 2007

Shilpa Wins, and Life Beyond Big Brother

So Bollywood star, Shilpa Shetty, won Celebrity Big Brother with 63 percent of the public vote, after a turbulent time in the house when she was the victim of alleged racist bullying by three other housemates – reality show contestant Jade Goody, model Danielle Lloyd, and singer Jo O’Meara. Shilpa seemed like a nice person and deserving winner. But in the aftermath of the programme, several things have disturbed me.

Big Brother presenter, Davina MacCall, felt Shilpa had won due to her lack of desire for revenge. Shilpa had a generosity about her and had been quick to forgive those who had given her a hard time – this was true. What disturbs me is that the UK public don’t extend the same forgiveness. Since the three tormentors have left the house, they have been the target of anger and hate. Their careers have been wrecked. Jade Goody, reportedly, fainted due to stress-related anxiety a few days ago. So while we may pick up the phone and vote for the face of forgiveness, we don’t forgive. It’s as if we want someone to do the forgiving for us, so that we don’t have to.

It’s a kind of faux-theological narrative. Shilpa on the sacrificial altar of the Big Brother house, enduring the suffering of racist bullying, forgiving those who don’t know what they are doing. She forgives on behalf of all those who can’t or won’t.

The Sun newspaper had a headline, Shilpa Wins for All of Us. We are now cleansed. Each vote for Shilpa has pronounced us Not Guilty. As for the three evildoers, well, they can burn in Hell. And The Sun, fresh now from its campaign against the terrible racists, can get back to the business of telling us how those awful asylum seekers are using up our taxes, and how the UK will fast become an Islamic state if all good materialists don’t stand up to defend our 'traditions'. But don’t worry, we voted for Shilpa, with The Sun's fervent backing, and that now makes The Sun, and us, OK.

I'm not defending the behaviour of the three women, nor am I saying they shouldn't account for their actions, nor that their apologies weren't due. Indeed, I disliked all three of them. But let's not get carried away. Imagine how many people's lives would be in ruin if they were sacked from their jobs and hauled out for public humiliation because they had at one point in their lives made a racist comment. How many Sun journalists would hang onto their jobs?


Racheal said...

I couldn't agree more, you have just about summed it up for me.

It is time they left Jo, Jade and Danielle alone before something really serious happens to one of them.

Larry said...

On the other hand, so many of these reality "careers" are so inflated and inane that I find very little sympathy for those who lose at the game. They entered the gladiator arena and now they don't like it when the cheers turn to jeers. Boohoo for the good-looking millionaires who will have to work harder for public sympathy and money after behaving like asses.

Harry said...

"Boohoo for the good-looking millionaires"

Since the media never misses an opportunity to contrast 'pig-faced' Jade with beautiful fragrant Shilpa, and use the things she's done as a reason to be aggressively insulting about the way she looks, that seems an inapt comment.

Cailleach said...

Well said, Rob. That tendency to lynch people when gathered in a mob never dies off, even in these so-called enlightened days. I'm reminded of The Terror in France in those good ol Revolutionary days: nominate someone else to be villified, before you get villified yourself.

Rob said...

Yes, it's hard to feel sympathy for some people, Larry. And actions have consequences, just as crime has punishment. But while I do think it was right to call them for racism and bulling, ongoing public hatred isn't going to solve anything.

It was clear to me from the outset that the women were going to lose contracts, deals, associations etc because companies and advertisers don't want to associate their products with racism. I can understand that. But public villification is another matter. The women were nasty, but there are worse people around.

I might hope that such sobering events might cure obsession with celebrities, but I suspect sales of Hello! and all the other celeb mags will go on as ever.

Barbara, you said, "That tendency to lynch people when gathered in a mob never dies off, even in these so-called enlightened days".

It strikes me that the UK public got mad because three women gathered in a mob to destroy Shilpa, but now it seems to be OK for the media and the public to act in a similar way against the three women.

Racheal said...

Rob, I echo your comment:

It strikes me that the UK public got mad because three women gathered in a mob to destroy Shilpa, but now it seems to be OK for the media and the public to act in a similar way against the three women.

Racheal x

Larry said...

I'm not justifying a media lynch, I'm just saying that your sympathy is now misplaced. People who willingly seek their fame and $$ in tv-cuckoo-land should be prepared to be treated any which way the rating blows. It would make more sense to be concerned how the media treats real people and real issues rather than the fabricated celeb industry.

Rob said...

Larry, I understand your point and it's not a bad one. I don't like the celeb industry any more than you do, and think there is indeed much to be concerned about the way the media treat "real people and real issues".

But in a way, this is to do with "real people and real issues" - people who express their anger by voting against bullying, and then responding with a bullying mob mentality of their own, whipped up, of course, by the media.

Of course these celebs took advantage of the 'celeb industry', which made them famous, which has now turned on them and may have ruined them.

But the villification of the three women won't alter sales of Hello! magazine. It won't change public attitudes to celebrity (although it should do). "Real people" will continue to buy into it, and slaver over it, and occasionally help to destroy a few who can't cut it along the way.

I'm still trying to think this one out...

Harry said...

Can anyone explain to me — in what sense is Jade Goody not a 'real person'?

Am I missing something here?

Rob said...

Harry, I think Larry was using the phrase to denote "non-celebrities". Probably "real" isn't the correct word.

Rob said...

Just to add - Jo O'Meara was interviewed the other day. She was in a terrible state. It was really distressing to watch. I don't think anyone deserves what she is having to go through. Disapproval of her behaviour is one thing, jeering at her eviction is one thing, but death threats are quite another.

This is the interview (on YouTube) - but be warned, it is very upsetting. The psychologist afterwards does talk some sense.

Some quotes from Jo O'Meara since leaving the Big Brother house (she is currently living in a hotel room in a secret location):

"I felt like the rabbit in the headlights with nowhere to hide and no-one to talk to."

"I am totally shattered and after the death threats am scared to go home.”

"Am I the first person in the world to make a mistake or say regrettable things? I am devastated, sorry and honestly have no idea what to do next."

"I may have made some mistakes but I have apologised for them and, in the context of the three weeks of Big Brother, I honestly believe that I was not a horrible person every day throughout the series."

"I may have been shown on national TV saying and doing things that I sincerely regret and of course I am genuinely sorry. But does the Big Brother coverage sum up who I am and what really happened in the Big Brother house all day, every day?"

Larry said...

She reminds me of those people who run in front of the bull in that lunatic traditional event in Spain. I'm not exactly rooting for the bull, and I certainly don't enjoy her suffering, but she really shouldn't have been there in the first place either, should she have? Unless she runs really really well?