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The reality behind reality TV

January 21, 2007 ~ 1:45 p.m.

So now we all know what should have been abundantly clear from the start. Jade Goody really is as ugly on the inside as she is on the outside.

Goody was the winner of the first British Big Brother series in 2002. After being accused of racist bullying of an Indian housemate during the newest series, in which she returned to the reality show, Goody faces a public backlash and her "career" is in jeopardy. Public-relations guru Max Clifford summed it up neatly: "Ironically, the programme that made her could be the programme that breaks her."

"I'm not racist, but I can see why it has had the impact it's had," Goody said in her weak defense. "I look like one of those people I don't like." Actually, Jade, funny you should say that, because you look like one of those people I don't like either. It literally hurts to look at you. Please save your crocodile tears.

Quite apart from the utter ridiculousness of marketing a perfume named after her—Goody is not exactly the symbol of haute coiture, is she?—and her own workout video, which was a total cheat, the larger question that deserves to be asked is why did she become a celebrity in the first place?

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, it must be that reality TV—Big Brother in particular—is the curse of the moronic class. Then again, to a population who live on fried chicken, McDonald's and kebabs every night after drinking twenty pints and think sentences shuld b speld like ths, a television program in which a bunch of nobodies with nothing profound to contribute to society and with nothing useful to say was bound to be a hit.

Hardly a surprise that the partly state-funded Channel 4, on which Big Brother airs and which appeals to young people with a permanent expression of "duh" on their eczema-encrusted faces, would assert that there was no racism in the latest series of BB, despite a record 21,000 complaints and the testimony of the bullied contestant Shilpa Shetty. Indeed, Channel 4 has been perfectly happy to cash in on the whole ugly spectacle.

Shetty is a Bollywood actress and is popular in her native India. Three white female contestants—Jade Goody, Danielle Lloyd and Jo O'Meara—have called Shetty names, including the inaccurate slur "Paki," mocked her accent and, in Lloyds' case, refused to eat a chicken that Shetty fixed for dinner because she "didn't know where her fingers had been."

It wasn't exactly the best time for a high-profile British ambassador in the form of Chancellor Gordon Brown to make a state visit to India, where street protests erupted with effigies of Big Brother contestants set alight. Police have investigated these claims of racist behavior. Brown and Prime Minister Tony Blair have both condemned the program, but what does it say about the cultural rot that allowed this racist bullying to fester? India, meanwhile, is taking this matter very seriously and could raise the matter with the UK. Nick Robinson, the BBC political editor, has stated, "Diplomats here in India say the row is damaging Britain's reputation."

The dynamics are simple enough—it is a jealousy-ridden catfight. Jade Goody cannot be blamed because she is a primate that has no place in a civilized society anyway; she honestly doesn't know any better. Lloyd is a blond glamour model. That alone tells you about the emptiness defining the space between her ears. She is clearly threatened by Shetty's beauty and would be better off snorting cocaine with Kate Moss or assaulting housemaids in the manner of Naomi Campbell. And O'Meara was a singer in the teeny-bop pop-rubbish group S Club 7. A singer in the group who, you ask? Exactly.

Jade Goody—a perfect specimen of Idiotus britannicus.

Maybe the latest series of Big Brother was a blessing in disguise as it points out what has gone wrong in British society, something I once tried to analyze. And now, with Goody having been evicted with 82 percent of the viewing public vote, Shetty is considered the favorite to win, which would increase her standing and respect among Britain's proud Big Brother-worshipping public. Perhaps Channel 4's motives weren't so odious.

Yet we cannot dodge the relevant question. What entices people to dedicate their evening, their precious free time, to watching reality TV? Television was designed to help people escape reality, and now all we ever see is the starkness of life marketed to us from all corners. Racism in Britain is a reality, like so many other things including bad weather and the glottal stop, but why do we want that in our homes during the evening hours which belong to us?

Can we blame a public that no longer has any sense of decorum or tact? I think the answer is an unequivocal "yes."

– M.E.M.

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Copyright © 2001-2007 by M.E. Manning. All material is written by me, unless explicitly stated otherwise by use of footnotes or bylines. Do not copy or redistribute without my permission.

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