A Reality Show Grips a Nation: The “Big Brother” Race Row


If only CBS’ version of the show could get so much buzz: even Britain’s politicians have weighed in on the allegations of racism in the Celebrity Big Brother house. As we reported yesterday, Jade Goody, Goody’s mother Jackiey Budden, Jo O’Meara, and disgraced beauty queen, Danielle Lloyd, have been seen making fun of Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty‘s accent and culture. The Sun lists just a few of the offensive comments:

In one outburst, Lloyd asked Shetty: “Do you get stubble?”

In another, Budden, who constantly called her “the Indian,” asked: “Do you live in a house or a shack?”

The latest row between Shetty and reality TV star Goody erupted when the pair clashed over Oxo cubes.

Goody told the actress: “Go back to the slums.”

Lloyd also weighed in but out of earshot from the actress, saying: “I think she should f*** off home.”

Over 14,500 complaints have been logged about the houseguests’ behavior toward Shetty, according to the BBC, and the controversy has even spread to India, where protests have been held. Chancellor Gordon Brown, who is visiting India, spoke out about it all:

“I want Britain to be seen as a country of fairness and tolerance. Anything detracting from this I condemn.”

The bosses at Channel 4, the UK network that airs Celebrity Big Brother, have been in major spin control, much to the chagrin of the viewing public. Andy Duncan, C4′s head, made the following statement, quoted in The Guardian:

“What constitutes racism is a complex question. We have been monitoring extremely carefully events in the house and have reached the view that we cannot with certainty say that the comments directed at Shilpa have been racially motivated or whether they stem from broader cultural and social differences.

“We have already intervened with Danielle and, as viewers will see tonight, again with Jade where we felt their comments might be construed to have racist overtones. Producers also spoke to Shilpa today who said she did not feel that behaviour towards her was racist.”

Uh, what? Being called “the Indian” and being asked if “you live in a house or shack” isn’t racism? Shetty even contradicted Duncan’s statement on-air, making him look even more ridiculous:

During a conversation with another contestant, Cleo Rocos, screened last night but recorded on Tuesday, Shetty said: “I’m representing my country. Is that what today’s UK is? It’s scary. It’s quite a shame really.”

Rocos then denied that the behaviour of contestant Jade Goody was racist and Shetty replied, “I’m telling you it is”.

Stephen Brook over at the Guardian’s Organ Grinder calls Duncan out for his lily-livered reaction to the show:

Channel 4 boss Andy Duncan is much more like Jade Goody than I previously realized. When he was asked to justify Celebrity Big Brother the man gave a one fingered salute and ran away. How very chav.

He now looks like a man who runs a network that refuses to deal with overt bullying and racism.

The “one-fingered salute” line is a reference to a Mirror reporter’s claim that Duncan flipped the paper’s photographer the bird and ran off when confronted about the CBB controversy. Class-ay. Duncan says he has no plans to pull the series, even though a major sponsor has pulled out due to the ruckus.

Speaking of Jade Goody, she’s one of the world’s few reality stars to have transcended the genre; she’s become a star in her own right. How will this incident hurt her fortunes? The Mirror speaks to a PR guru who says Goody’s prospects look dire:

“She’s taken all the things that made her popular and successful and destroyed them.

“She was seen as the victim, as the bullied one, but now she’s the bully.

“I would never have let her go on that show. She had nothing to gain and absolutely everything to lose.

“Her whole multi-million pound career is in jeopardy.”

And what about Danielle Lloyd, who was fired from her role as Miss Great Britain and now plans a career in modeling? Her Miss Great Britain replacement, Preeti Desai (who is of Indian descent), denounces Lloyd’s actions harshly:

“Thank God Danielle doesn’t represent our country any more. She should be kicked out of the house right now with all the other members of her gang…”

Indeed. Throw the beeyotches outta there if they can’t behave themselves. Oh, reality TV. The producers contrive conflict and push things to their limits for ratings, and it comes back to bite them in the arse. If there’s one good thing to say about American TV, it’s that we’ve long gotten over our addiction to “reality programming.” OK, save for American Idol

Also: the BBC profiles Shilpa Shetty.

In other news:

  • Thought Posh ‘n’ Becks were going to be TomKat‘s latest recruits to the Sci-Fi House? Seems that Posh is too cheap to pay her “tithes.” The Sun‘s Victoria Newton has this from a “source”: “A source close to the Beckhams said: ‘Tom spoke to David for hours about Scientology. He feels it could help to lift him out of the blues over his football career. But Victoria is having none of it. She can’t see the point of joining something like that where you have to donate money.’”
  • Becks will be a character witness in the money laundering trial of “Jacob the Jeweller.”(Mirror)
  • Sacha Baron Cohen says Borat was the last we’ll see of the roving Kazahk reporter. “I think it will probably be impossible to do Borat again. There are a number of things that are in development. The next thing will probably be a scripted comedy.” (The Sun)
  • Boxing hottie Amir Khan says no (for now) to Bollywood stardom.(The Sun)
  • British tennis wünderkind, Andy Murray, has reached the third round in the Australian Open.(Guardian)
  • The Guardian‘s Vanessa Walters says what Armond White said so long ago about The Last King of Scotland: “it is a white story for white audiences.”
  • Third item: is Rachel Weisz taking over for Angelina Jolie in the Sin City sequel?(Guardian)
  • Peter O’Toole aims for Oscar – on his eighth try.(USA Today)
  • A salute to Helen Mirren.(Telegraph)
  • The ice queen is melting: Kristin Scott Thomas lets her hair down. Also: how My Family‘s ZoëWanamaker changed Kristin’s career. (Telegraph)
  • In a plotline worthy of The Young and the Restless, novelist Ian McEwan (Atonement) has learned that he had a long-lost brother that his mother had given away. From The Guardian: “The revelation emerged that Rose McEwan, the novelist’s mother, had given away Ian’s older brother, Dave, at a railway station. He was conceived by Ian’s father, David, and Rose while she was still married to her first husband.”
  • Naomi Campbell has been sentenced to five days of menial labor for assault. The Times reports: “The London-born model could find herself cleaning bedpans in a hospital or filing in a local government office after she pleaded guilty to a charge of reckless assault. The judge recommended that she serve her sentence indoors, so she is likely to avoid the humiliating punishment of Boy George, the former singer with Culture Club, who was forced to sweep the streets to settle drug charges in New York.” Lame. Girlfriend loves the spotlight: let her shovel horse dung in Central Park in her Manolos. Tyra Banks could do a special show about it.

Kevin Wicks

Kevin Wicks founded BBCAmerica.com's Anglophenia blog back in 2005 and has been translating British culture for an American audience ever since. While not British himself - he was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri - he once received inordinate hospitality in London for sharing the name of a dead but beloved EastEnders character. His Anglophilia stems from a high school love of Morrissey, whom he calls his "gateway drug" into British culture.

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