Thursday, 18 January 2007

Big Brother - racism & the class struggle (yes really)

It's a crazy fucked-up world when a dumbed down reality TV show in the UK can provoke the burning of effigies in India in protest at racism from the contestants towards Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty.

There's debate whether the attitudes of some of the white contestants are racism or ignorance. Well actually they are both - here's a few random examples:

• Indians are thin because they are always ill from the food they eat.
• Worrying about eating food prepared by the Indian star because Indians eat with their hand and 'you don't know where their hands have been'.
• Telling Silpa to 'fuck off home'.
Mispronouncing her name, or referring to her as "the Indian' (or "Paki' at one point).
• Asking her if she had a house or a shack back in India.
• Constantly taking the piss out of her accent (ironic when Shilpa is far more eloquent than her deriders)

Not the worst sort of racism - I'm sure most British Asians could cite far more offensive things - but racism nonetheless.

But maybe something positive can come out of this.

One bye-product of these reality shows has been the elevation of 'ordinary' people like Jade Goody to the status of celebrities.In fact what lies behind this is a caricature of 'ordinariness' as ignorance, and then turning it into a charming virtue.

Which is why I think Julie Burchill is wrong to defend 'chav culture'. Yes there is some snobbery behind the ridicule of 'chavs', which is really just a euphemism for what in the states would be called white trash. But to defend chav-ism from the point of view of sticking up for ordinary people is to give a distorted and patronising view of what it is to be working class.

It may buck a convenient stereotype, but working class people also read books hold opinions, and are just as capable of abstract thought as middle class liberals. If,for all sorts of reasons the school system fails someone, a lack of education still shouldn't be be worn with pride. It may be a cliche but knowledge is power and that's why it has been, and still is, a battle to get a decent education. It's no accident that trade union banners have carried the slogan 'educate - agitate - organise' for over a hundred years.

Apparently the bookies are making Shilpa the favourite to win the show - I can't say I am a fan, she seems a spoilt celebrity-princess much like any other. But at least she has exposed that ignorance is not charming, it's ugly and should be challenged.

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