As of tonight, Celebrity Big Brother has produced 21,000 complaints – still a long way short of the number who complained about Jerry Springer – The Opera, but a significant number none the less. Having said that, alongside this the programme has made an impact in politics with Tony Blair asked about it in Prime Ministers Questions, and Gordon Brown perhaps regretting his choice of time to visit India, as street protests occur in the country following a newspaper front page on the story. People are even talking about how the programme may be damaging the reputation of the UK abroad.
Having watched the relevant episodes of the programme, there hasn’t been anything that I would say has been an out and out racist comment, what has been going on has been somewhat more subtle – of course this is only what has been shown. In terms of the scenes shown on the programmes, the witches coven of Jo, Danielle and Jade have been bitching about pretty well everything that Shilpa has done, for most of the series, particularly if she does something in a way that doesn’t conform with how they would have done things. One big area of contention has been over the cooking, of which Shilpa has been doing quite a bit, particularly a roast chicken that she made at the weekend. For example there have been complaints over too many onions in one meal she cooked. The most major disagreement so far, and the one in the programme which has provoked the complaints, was over how long the chicken should have been cooked for, with Shilpa suggesting a lot lower time than some of the others. What didn’t help was that all during the cooking, people kept opening the oven to look at the chicken and argue over it, hence even though the chicken was in the oven for longer than the amount of time the coven suggested – about two hours, it still wasn’t quite done. To be frank, a lot of it is down to cultural differences – unfortunately the way the coven are dealing with it is by bitching and bullying. Of course with the issues being cultural, a number of the comments could be construed as being racist, even if the coven haven’t directly made a comment on her race directly. Ironically, the attitudes seem to be being fuelled more by the suspicion that Shilpa is another Chantelle – the ‘fake’ celebrity who won the show last year, mainly based on the fact that none of them had heard of her. Ironically, in many ways she is probably a bigger star than them, she is just relatively unknown in the UK.
So if it’s not racism, then what is it? Carole Malone has suggested that it may be a class issue. Maybe – but I think it is as much to do with age and maturity. I’ve quite often remarked that I tend to prefer the celebrity version of the show, as the contestants are generally older, certainly the way Jo, Danielle and Jade are behaving is much more akin to what occurs on the regular version of the programme. If someone older goes into the house as part of the regular programme, they often find it hard, and have trouble fitting in with the other housemates, here we have something similar, except that nearly half the house is over thirty, so rather than one person being isolated there is a virtual divide between the under thirties, and the over thirties. Jo, Danielle and Jade are all under thirty, as is Jack, Jade’s boyfriend who is the youngest at nineteen. Everybody else is over thirty, and whilst being supportive to Shilpa, seem to be trying to avoid conflict over the issue. Interestingly, Carole Malone also suggested in her interview that if someone like Cleo or Jermaine said something about the situation to the coven it might get resolved, however at this point although Cleo seems to have tried to get Jade and Shilpa to resolve things, they do generally seem to be trying to keep their heads down.
As to what will happen from now, Channel 4 seem to be sticking with the show, and whilst giving assurances to the press haven’t said anything to the celebrities about what is going on. Currently all the contestants remain totally oblivious to what has been going on outside. Perhaps the biggest test will come with the next eviction on Friday, particularly if one of the coven is voted out – whether Channel 4 will manipulate the voting perhaps by banning selected housmates from voting to ensure that happens I don’t know – I guess we’ll have to keep watching to find out. Ironically, out of all of this Channel 4 has had one of the highest number of viewers for the series so far, so I’m sure it is a possibility…
Update: So the comment rumbles on. Ruth Gledhill has put up a posting on the subject, focusing on class issues again, and there is a good list of other comment pieces on this blog. One amusing discovery though as a result is the discovery the The Times has a Big Brother Blog, under the by-line ‘We Watch So You Don’t Have To’. I’ve so far only watched about a third of the show from last night, and it certainly seems that the relationship between Jade and Shilpa worsens. Having said that, there is also apparently a realisation from Danielle thanks to some intervention from Big Brother, and a conversation about cultural differences between Danielle and Jo. Having said that things have taken a slight turn for the worst for Channel 4, with the news that Carphone Warehouse have suspended their sponsorship of the show, and alongside this Danielle and Jade will find other deals terminated by companies who do not wish to be associated with their comments. Could it be that Jade will find her career having been created by Big Brother the show will destroy it to?