Barely a week into the new series of Big Brother, the show has shot into the headlines again (and pulled in an extra million viewers) thanks to Emily, one of the contestants using â€œthe N-Wordâ€? during a conversation with fellow contestants Charley and Nicky.
Thanks in no small part to the Shilpa Shetty controversy earlier in the year, although I suspect in part driven by the fact that at 3am Charley and Nicky were still discussing the incident – more concerned that Emily would be punished it seems – the producers took the decision to eject Emily and woke her up and removed her from the house in the early hours of Thursday morning.
There are a number of interesting observations about what has happened. Firstly Narinder, a housemate from Big Brother 2 is currently writing a book about the series interviewing former housemates about their experiences. She appeared this morning on BBC Breakfast to discuss this incident and said that every previous housemate from a racial minority, including herself, have had some sort of incident, but the majority have not been shown. She even highlighted that as part of the fight that occurred during Big Brother 5 that eventually required security guards to enter the house Emma used the same word as an insult towards Victor.
Her opinion was both that Channel 4 was both right to show the incident in full, and that they were right to eject Emily as a result, more-so having seen the incident on the highlights show. I think what is most shocking about what happens is that Emily really doesn’t understand quite how offensive the word is. When Nicky asks her where she is from (Bristol), Emily says that she and her friends use it all the time. Nicky, who was brought up in Watford says that the word would never be used where she came from. Emily also tries to justify it by stating that the word is used in many songs – which it is. Also worth considering is that Nicky is about ten years older than Emily. Whether it is something regional, or to do with the people Emily knows, or whether the use of the term in music has resulted in some groups not understanding the offence caused by the term I don’t know. Suffice to say that by not just editing it out this time, Channel 4 has certainly highlighted that the use of the word is offensive.
Having said that, whilst Emily has been ejected because her use of a word would be offensive to the viewing public, the Times BB Blog highlighted that people have expressed possibly offensive views without using offensive language. Certainly if they disciplined anyone who expressed an opinion that was either naive or offensive to one group in the same way as Emily was disciplined then there wouldn’t be many contestants left. However the question is what impression does that give to people watching about the relative importance of words as opposed to beliefs?