Days of our Lives!

January 20, 2007

Ground Realities – Get REAL

Filed under: My Cup of Socie-Tea — Santhosh @ 8:25 PM

The Issue
Channel 4 runs a “Reality Show” called “Big Brother” where a group of people are asked to live together in a house under live video coverage for 3 weeks. Viewers can then send in votes for whom they want to evict. The last person standing would be the winner. In this version, Shilpa Shetty was selected as a participant (for a reported return of 3 crore rupees) along with a few others. During the course of the show, a Brit TV star – Jade Goody, and a few others passed sarcastic comments on Shilpa (like “Shilpa poppadom”,”go back to live in slums”), which were later learnt to be premeditatedly racial.

The only aspect I can garner from the drama is that Reality TV institutionalises the exhibitionism-voyeurism syndrome that seems to be fast becoming the characteristic of our global consumer society.

On the Indian side, the response has been precisely what all our “personality” gurus try to preach our students not to be. The very fact that an Indian has been selected as part of the Big Bro show has kept a lot people drooling. Which clearly shows a marked character of low self-esteem. It’s almost as if since an Indian has also been selected is an indication that the West is finally taking notice of us, like we are telling ourselves “Yeah! We have arrived”. WHY do we have to keep judging ourselves by how the West judges us. Is this the self-respect or self-esteem or whatever term you can think of, that we hold on ourselves?

The response of the Indian Government to the Jade Goody issue also tells us where we stand in the eyes of the West as perceived by us, and also gives a pointer to the sort of people whom we elect to be in power. The Indian Tourism Ministry plastered the British press with front page adverts inviting Jade Goody to India on a “healing visit”. This is almost like telling the West that we Indians are soooo civilised and accommodating and forgiving and Gandhigirian. Like turning our face when confronted and showing our back with a placard saying “Please” or “Sorry” or whatever.
Some other politicos have taken the other route by slamming Jade and stating how we are such a proud race and how such lower than normal behaviour toward us will never be tolerated.
This attitude just tells us a lot about our own country’s attitude. Why weren’t these same people raising even a single word toward Britain when thousands of British Asians were persecuted in the name of the war on terror? Why wasn’t there a single sentence uttered about Britain’s support of the war on Iraq? Why are we yet to hear or see anything worthwhile about the current state of treatment meted out to all Muslims in Britain, be it about veils or curfews or arrests or detainments?
My biggest question is why couldn’t everybody have turned the other way and dismissed Jade as an obnoxious ignoramus? Why do we really need to create such a hue and cry that we aren’t racially below anybody? A simple “No comments about what ignorant, nescient dumbos speak” would have made a far better statement.

Especially when London believes more damage is done to its overseas image by a contestant on a TV show, than by its participation in the Iraq war, its collusion with human rights abuse in Guantanamo, its support for Israel’s onslaught on Lebanon, or the fact that its current Prime Minister is widely regarded at home and abroad as the puppet of a foreign regime and an unscrupulous liar.

On his visit to India, Gordon Brown (still the bookies’ favourite to succeed Blair) talked of how Jade did not speak for her fellow Brits. But then, as with Kipling’s Triumph and Disaster, shouldn’t this also be taken in the same vein as when Rooney represents the young Britain or as with how soldiers in Iraq represent all the courage and tenacity of their fellow Brits? Especially when there were 1,79,000 instances (without counting ‘benign’ forms of racial abuse like verbal assault such as Shilpa’s) of racially motivated crime reported by the British Crime Survey for 2005.

Most of Britain is still being brought up with the attitude that the great British Empire of the last few centuries is the single greatest achievement of mankind. Episodes like the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre, if at all mentioned in classrooms, are dismissed as mere aberrations. Only people in the big cities, on account of their close interaction with people of various backgrounds, seem to display the kind of understanding that Gordon Brown wants us to believe in. The rest of the United Kingdom still believe they are a superior race to others whom they formerly ruled. These people also hardly come into much personal contact with other races, and whatever knowledge they have of others are from cliches. Thus the loud-mouthed, ill-informed attack on Shilpa, suggesting India is a country of poverty, hunger, disease and non-sophistication.

Above all this, why, oh why, isn’t anyone able to realise that it’s all a farce? A parody being played out. So Jade utters a few stupid comments to Shilpa. So they are decidedly racial. But then started the real show. This time by Channel 4. In the first place, how can Jade, who’s in a Reality show (where a group of people are asked to live in public view though they themselves are supposedly totally cut off from the rest of the world), get to know of the fracas her comments have caused in the outside world. In a Reality show, shouldn’t she have been in a position to know of these only after the show had ended or after she’d been evicted? That Channel 4 talked to her is obvious. That Channel 4 forced her to go through the drama of self-realisation and remorseful guilt and tearful repentance is also obvious. That the reels of film showing Shilpa and Jade together, making up after the fight, and each trying to downplay the issue, are just that – reels of film. In the end, all this noise has just made the viewership of the programme, and consequently the channel, shoot up like our latest PSLV.

So who is Jade Goody? The Hindu tells me she shot to fame as the winner of Big Brother-2002, on back of which the “reality television star” went on to earn 8 million pounds through “fitness DVD’s, TV shows, magazine deals, a ghost-written autobiography and a perfume line”. She won in 2002 by becoming popular with her sarcastic, haughty approach. Which is what has now led to her perfume line being pulled off racks and her being evicted. Made by Big Brother, and dead by Big Brother. Now contrast this with Shilpa’s present state. Widely touted to win the contest, she’s turned from an almost unknown face in Britain into a household name now. This could well become her ticket to Hollywood. Well, that’s not much, is it? Shilpa’s after all “Bollywood’s number one box office star”. Duh! But Shilpa, weren’t you also the one who acted in a Kannada movie last year?

Shilpa wins the show. As expected.
Straight out of Bollywood. Comes out of the house to face a cheering crowd. Throws kisses and smiles a lot and whoops and shouts a lot of thanks.
The interview goes like this… As expected.
No, she’s not upset. No, she was never subjected to any racial abuse. Yes, she’s thrilled to have won. Of course, she’d love to come back to Britain any time. No, she’s not Jade Goody’s sworn enemy. Yes, she’s on hugging terms with Jade. Yes, she loved every minute of the last few weeks and each housemate is a gem. Yes, Channel 4 did a wonderful job. No, Channel 4 is not to blame at all. Yes, the issue was blown to huge proportions.
With bits like “Indian Curry rocks” and “huge opportunity to showcase Indian culture” thrown in.
And so on and so forth. As expected.


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