(Photo from Telegraph, 19 Jan 2007)
I can’t believe I am writing a post about Big Brother. >_< Indeed, I’m one of the 1.2 million people who joined the viewing after the recent controversy arose. Season 1 just started when I was doing my MA in Leicester in 99/00, so I saw one or two episodes in the kitchen with flatmates. That was all my experience with this reality TV show. I have never followed any series since I came back to the UK this time. Well, before yesterday. Despite the global popularity of this kind of programme, Korea has never had one on a national channel. I still remember how MBC contemplated launching a Korean equivalent to Celebrity Big Brother a few years ago and how they ended up facing such a furore before even doing anything. Although they tried to project a better image on it by announcing all the money made out of the show would go to charity organisations and all that, the public couldn’t even bear the thought of having such a horrendously immoral thing. 🙂
News about what has happened of late in the BB house is everywhere, so I don’t think I need to go into details. In a nutshell, those three girls (from left in the photo) didn’t like the Indian actress (far right) and ganged up on her. Immature enough, they refused to call her by name, referred to her as ‘Shilpa Poppadom’ instead, bitched about her accent, her food, and her skin colour. Tens of thousands of viewer complaints were sent to Channel 4, accusing particularly Jade (next to Shilpa) of racial bullying. Tony Blair spoke about it in the House of Commons, protesters in India burned an effigy of a BB producer, both mothers of the two girls in question were interviewed in news programmes, and Gordon Brown had to emphasise Britain is a country of tolerance and fairness while his recent trip to India. Whoa. Jade was finally evicted last night.
I started to read stuff as I was initially interested to find out if online users here react any differently from Korean Netizens would to an event like this, i.e. an event where there is an obvious public enemy. In Korea, a typical pattern is that (i) outraged comments flood in, almost like virtual stoning, (ii) a small number of users start to voice out and urge others to stop a witch-hunt. The latter’s argument is generally based on either humanistic sympathy (“That’s enough; leave them alone”) or the both-are-wrong attitude (兩非論. “Criticise them only if you have never sinned”?). Then, (iii) sanguinary discursive battles take place between two sides, and (iv) things cool down and are quickly discarded. This pattern has been identified through quite a few events, from the President’s impeachment/reinstatement to scandals around celebrities’ illegal exemptions from military service. So, according to this scenario, my guess was that sooner or later there would be a voice defending Jade, mainly underlining what Shilpa did wrong.
That said, I would never have imagined that would be me. Let me clarify: I have no intention to defend her. Some of the comments she and the two other girls made were fairly unacceptable. However, the more I read different articles and viewer opinions, the more I get to think about racism itself. I do have naive ideas about racism. A friend who studied in France with me together once said to me that was because I’d been lucky enough to have no nasty experiences myself. Quite right. However, this whole happening has made me wonder about a couple of points. First, if it had happened the other way around, would it have caused such a fuss? Is there any kind of categorisation of ‘always-victimiser’ races and ‘always-victim’ races in racism? Second, maybe out of class hatred or maybe out of female jealousy, Shilpa doesn’t strike me either as an absolutely likable type. Does this mean we still can’t dislike anyone of another race? Third, bitching towards an individual always involves verbal attacks on the person’s distinct points. Which is with no doubt bad, but does this mean we just can’t attack if the person happens to be from another race? Isn’t this the Poisoning the Well fallacy? Finally, is my beloved Red Dwarf, making fun of vindaloo curry and poppadom all the time, racist?
All in all, Stephen Coleman was sooooo right when he pointed out in a lecture on the OII Summer Doctoral Programme that BB voters were interested in simple moral values and decided who to be evicted almost solely based on those values – just like political voters.