Thursday, January 18, 2007

'Reality' Shite....

For once in my life I am with the Graun and it's commentators entirely (see link). I will plead with my friends on the blogosphere who give this vile show credibility and treat it as harmless fun to stop and think again.

Shilpa may be famous and can probably handle it. That is not the case with everyone who enters the Big Brother house. Most of them are ordinary people who are very often vulnerable with mental health problems. Which makes them prime candidates for bullying.

The treatment of Shilpa on CBB appears to say more about the mentality of the contestants than it says about her. Which isn't funny either. Ignorance and bigotry are not fun to watch, neither are the people who display them. Neither is it fun to see one person singled out like that.

I was bullied at school so I recognise the mentality of many of the contestants and the audience. A 'freak' or somebody who is at least different (Shilpa is Indian, don't forget) is singled out to be a scapegoat and along with being filmed gets their face rubbed in the dirt of the British tabloids. You may say as much as you want that they go on the show voluntarily - indeed they do. But people do all kinds of stupid things voluntarily. Does that mean you must validate it by watching the spectacle?

Now don't get me wrong - I would oppose any kind of censorship. Ultimately if the contestants want to make idiots of themselves by taking part in what is a modern day freak show ( I believe Victorian circus freaks got paid as well, or they got some kind of a living at least) the decision must rest with them, and alas, the producers who have the idea of filming such a thing. Whatever the intelligence or mental health of the contestants I don't want to strip them of free will and look like a patronising middle class moraliser. But that does not mean I have to watch the show. Neither does anyone else.

To the left of the shows viewers I'll posit to them that most of the contestants they laugh at are members of the class they claim to champion - the working class. How can you claim to champion a group of people yet revel in their (partially self inflicted) humiliation at the same time? Most of the people on that show are working class because they are the ones poor and desperate enough to need the money. Toffs don't need it, neither do the 'educated' middle classes. Celeb BB may be slightly different - but hey, we have a new kind of celebrity, don't we?

What does the show say about the mentality of the audience? That you are following what is in essence a pack mentality. You should know better, and if you don't so far then please think about it a bit. Viewing that stuff is worse than viewing S&M porn - hell, there is not even any direct sexual release. It serves to satisfy a kind of sadism but one which is repressed in the British masses, one which has its outlets in the likes of this show. It serves the voyeur but there is nobody naked.

Just some poor idiot being ganged up on, for God's sake. Is it really what it's cracked up to be? True, some of the people who participate may well be exhibitionists. Good luck to them. But what about those who are not exhibitionists but are simply vulnerable for whatever reason? Why engage in what is essentially an act of voyeuristic sadism? If you inclined that way there must be other means. Join a fetish club or something.

As I've stated, the racist treatment of a wealthy actress by a few ignorant people may not in the long run be much to get worked up over. She may well be together enough to handle it by now, having been in the limelight for so long. Actors are used to this, they are exhibitionists by trade. But not everyone who goes on BB is a professional actor. Most are not, despite their hopes of becoming famous.

I forget who it was who said that acting was the most masochistic form of exhibitionism. But they were wrong. Reality TV has turned out to be, a media which is yet at the same time is not acting. It is midway between acting and 'reality'. It is not 'reality' yet it is not a film or play either as it is not scripted. Yet it would also be wrong to call this improvised acting. The 'actors' are playing themselves and they do not know when they may be filmed.


Political Umpire said...

Interesting comment as always, Liz, and I came to pretty much the same view as you when blogging about it this morning (incidentally am I right in thinking you are putting in some rather late hours in NZ? This post hadn't appeared when I surfed around earlier this morning, else I'd have linked to it when posting myself).

China Blue and Germaine Greer are both pretty robust about it, coming to a similar view that you do. I tend to agree as well. On the class thing it is interesting - Ken Russell walked out citing the atrocious behaviour of the Goody's as the reason. He pointed out that in his day working class people didn't behave like that at all. To be sure, they might not have behaved like aristocrats but then there's a difference between having some public standards and having none. My father, always missing the England of his youth (that is to say, his mental image of the England of his youth, which in all probability is not the same thing), likes to point out that in the 1950s the district nurse could go to the roughest parts of London (the East End, for example, where the Kray brothers held sway), without fear of molestation. Would that that be the same today, he says.

Back to Big Brother. I don't watch it, never have never will. Everyone, famous or otherwise, who goes into it knows what it's about, I would suggest. I think they all have an eye on their career, whether they're already successful (like the Bollywood actress), long since past being successful (like the 1970s stars), or entirely dependent on the beast that is 'reality television' for such fame and success they might have (like the Goodys). Sympathy is tempered accordingly. That said, it is no mitigation for the behaviour of the Goodys, which has been vile and reprehensible.

a very public sociologist said...

Interesting that a number of commentators have noted the show that made Jade Goody might well break her.

It is painful. Jade has made a career out of wearing her ignorance on her sleeve, but this time it is too much. Her incoherent outbursts combined with the egging on by at least 3 other contestants has punctured the image of a Britain respectful of difference.

Cue the liberal do-gooders lining up to condemn the programme.

What I'd like to know is why no one's having a go at Endemol. They're the ones that edit the show, the responsibility lies with them for broadcasting these scenes in the first place.

Gracchi said...

I'm with the Umpire on this one- I haven't watched the scenes but if what is said to have been said has happened it is disgraceful and there is no excuse and I agree it's bullying and that's vile and racism is vile as well.

China Blue said...

Interesting point in the last paragraph - the players in these shows are real, but the setups are usually far from it. It's strange that as well as forgetting the cameras are there, the 'performers' also play up to them.

This year's show has crossed the line from mindless entertainment/people-watching/lab rat experiment to reflecting the nastier side of human nature. It's in all of us, and that's why this has provoked such a strong reaction.

Liz said...

Public Sociologist is right - I think the prime responsibility lies with the broadcasters for showing it the first place. Ignorance is pitiful but it is not a crime in itself, what is a crime is to parade it like this. This does not absolve the contestants from their disgraceful behaviour, however. There is no excuse for racism and bullying, ignorance only absolves so much. The Goodys etc do appear to revel in their own ignorance.

That nastiness is in all of us to an extent, as CB points out. If it wasn't there would not be an audience for this kind of television. I think what this years show has done is to expose this kind of media further as being what it essentially is. The people watching/rat lab type of entertainment has always had the potential for this.

Political Umpire said...

Goody proved my point after being evicted. She was adamant that she was not racist, and that she hadn't meant those comments in a racist manner.

In that case, given what she said, she must be (i) ignorant (ii) stupid or (iii) both. Which comes back to what I said about her enjoying celebrity status all along.

james higham said...

This is why I have a banner: 'Reality TV free zone'.