Monday, January 22, 2007

Is Goody the Baddy?

We’ve all had our fun this week demonstrating just how fair and tolerant a nation we can be by publicly crucifying a woman so intellectually bereft that, were she to be charged with race hate crimes, she would most likely be deemed unfit to stand trial. We haven’t had so much fun since the Salem witch trials. But what do we do for amusement now that Jade Goody has made a full confession in our most fair and tolerant publication The News of the World? Demolishing a rain forest’s worth of Kleenex in the course of today’s interview, Goody admitted,

‘My race slurs were so wrong – I hate myself.’

OK, so we got what we wanted. We have destroyed the monster we created with the added bonus that we have the perfect ‘escape goat’ in Goody’s own words for that stubborn streak of prejudice that persists in the national psyche despite continual efforts to legislate it away. The lower orders just can’t seem to learn to keep their disgusting gobs shut. With the career Big Brother manufactured for her facing destruction by the same hand, Goody could be forgiven for wondering what the fuck happened. She thought we liked her being thick. What she hadn’t taken account of was ‘thick’ is a broad spectrum. Whereas it is perfectly charming to not know anything about your own culture and deride your own class by referring to yourself and your peers as ‘common’, it is wholly unacceptable to publicly display an ignorance of anyone else’s.

She’ll learn her lesson as her entire future rests on it, and if it means she never again indulges in workplace bullying or racism that will be a good thing. But will her public flogging do much to expand her world view? I doubt it. You can already drive a coach and horses through the holes in our righteous indignation. Goody is as much a victim of our double standards as she is of her own stupidity. Rather than delight in the downfall of someone who lacks the basic instincts to know that it is a very bad idea to verbalise insults based on a person’s nationality on television, we should take a long, hard look at the system that produced her, beginning with education. A lack of knowledge is the active ingredient in prejudice and most of the abuse directed at Shilpa Shetty was the result of anger that couldn’t be articulated sensibly. Shetty’s clear superiority in what is not even her first language incensed Goody.

It’s clear from the NOTW interview that Goody, as ring leader and catalyst for the bullying of Shetty is already getting the blame for things that were said by others. Why? Because the gravity of the situation requires us to collectivise it and find premeditation in it. In all likelihood, it will blow over now that Goody has left the Big Brother house but at least one other participant has a judgement day in her immediate future. Danielle Lloyd has been dumped by boyfriend Teddy Sheringham. By the time she gets out he’ll have replaced her with another bimbo so the world will obviously be a better place.

I’m still not entirely convinced that Goody’s behaviour or those of her ‘coven’ as the papers are now calling the ugly little coterie amounts to serious racism. I’m suspicious of the hysterical response and wonder if it’s all a bit of a copout and an excuse for sidestepping the more serious issues like violence inspired by race hatred and systematic inequalities in housing, public services and education which ghettoise black and ethnic minorities into the poorest parts of the country. Me thinks we might protest too much, perhaps to mask a much deeper flaw.

It’s also important to maintain a calm objectivity and I see an unpleasant pattern of demonising dumb women as the new face of racism in this country developing. The furore over ballet dancer Simone Clarke’s membership of the BNP is another case in point. If we are going to build a society where there is genuine tolerance and not just drive prejudice underground as even the dumbest people learn to keep their bigotry to themselves, it must start with some honesty about who needs to learn what. Goody, Lloyd and O’Meara were by no means the only house members displaying cultural ignorance.

Shilpa Shetty is entirely blameless and certainly handled herself with dignity in a difficult situation but that does not mean that she’s not a spoiled, self-centred pain in the arse. There has been quite a bit of class stereotyping going on in the Big Brother house, the most overt of which was Jermaine Jackson calling Jackiey Budden ‘white trash’ – rich coming from a man who named his child Jermajesty. At one point Shetty asked Jackson if his wife was black to which he replied somewhat indignantly ‘of course’. I’m not saying that was racist, or even offensive but neither does it suggest tolerance exactly. It’s not as if mixed marriages are unprecedented in the USA, or for that matter in his own family – both of brother Michael’s wives were white. It is always better to make sure that your own house is in order before turning up your nose at someone else’s housekeeping.

There are calls this week for schools to teach that ‘racism is wrong.’ Well, school children can learn by rote not to practise racism or they could get into trouble for it. Certainly what’s happened to Goody is as stark a demonstration of actions having consequences as it’s possible to have. But what about giving children an education that expands rather than collapses the world so that they develop an empathy with people from other cultures rather than strategies for not saying the wrong thing? Some history, geography, languages perhaps?

Picture from News of the World


Reading the Signs said...

A cartoon someone just sent me of two dogs sitting watching BB on telly, one saying to the other:
"they're bred for their stupidity and aggressive nature and then put into a confined space to fight."

Yes to proper education.

But when is the focus going to be turned on the nasty fat cats who are behind all this?

And is it right and decent to keep having this kind of "entertainment"? If we were fed regular slots of bear-baiting we might acquire a taste for that too.

Ms Baroque said...

TSP you are, as ever, so right. All week I've been throwing my hands up in the air over this. I've dropped shopping, I've whacked passersby, I've messed up the newspaper of the person sitting next to me... and I still don't get it!

Let's see. We, as a nation - not me personally, because I hate and abjure so-called "reality TV" so much that I'm even beginning to go off Queer Eye for the Straight Guy - but we, make this thing called Big Brother where we get the most dysfunctional people we can find, choose the ones most likely NOT to get along because we think it would be fun to watch them not get along, and put them all in a house for six weeks with no contact with the outside world or even a newspaper ot book to read.

Now let's see. Off the back of this junket we turn a thick, unpleasant dental assistant (is that right?) into a "celebrity" (given: we all think selebrtities are really cool, and that that's the most aspirational thing to be) and make her rich beyond her wildest imaginings. She's famous! Everyone around her says she's really great! And they mean it, because she;s "famous" - which means everybody knows who she is, don't ask me why that's so great - and that is what impresses them. She tells people what to do all day!

Then, once she thinks she's the best thing in the universe, we put her back in the house again, on purpose. And - what a surprise! When she starts acting spoiled, thick and unpleasant, we blame HER! And we think it's a national crisis!

But really it is just one clear-as-day example of where we have ALL got our priorities TOTALLY WRONG.

You're right, of course. Jade has been let down, badly, by people who should know a hell of a lot better. If I were a TV producer these days I wouldn't be able to sleep at night. And you are right, she was let down before that by the system that didn't give her a proper education.

In the same way, my own significantly better-brought-up kids and their friends are being let down by having to grow up in this stupid culture. Kids don't get irony. They take it seriously. My kids have friends who really do take celebrity seriously and it just depresses me every time I hear about it.

But if I think I'm depressed, I can thank my lucky stars I'm not poor Jade Goody.

Elizabeth Baines said...

'We haven’t had so much fun since the Salem witch trials'. This is very aptly said, though I'm not so sure about 'fun'. I have had several conversations with people who have made it clear that they think it's racist even to question whether Goody was truly being racist or Shilpa anything but truly blameless. It's very chilling when people are so afraid of being on the 'wrong' side that all thinking shuts down. We should remember where that can lead...

That's so pants said...

I think a lot of us are smelling a rat here. I didn't watch CBB until this all blew up and then did so because you need prima facie evidence if you're going to comment on actual events. I'm not enjoying the experience. We've all been had but there is a lot of stuff here we need to face, and the method of its raising may turn out to be immaterial. I just got home tonight and caught the last few minutes of CBB where Cleo, Danielle and Jo were pissed as a pandemonium of parrots and falling all over each other in the bedroom. Was Jade the Idi Amin of CBB? However brutal her regime, was it still an order of sorts? It ain't over.

SteveEast9 said...

Indeed, a lot of sense spoken there.

Unlike the garbage trotted out by the middle class armchair philosophers of the Guardian, or Newsnight Review and their pronouncements on the 'reflections of white working class British society' that Goody, Omeara and Lloyd supposedly represent, or the smug shit talked by Edwina Currie on Question Time last Thursday.

These people live a million miles away, culturally, economically and politically from the the lives of working class white, asian, west indian, african peoples in Britain and are the last to have the remotest real idea of how these people interact in daily lives. (Are they ignorant of, or too scared to comment on, the serious problem of anti-asian behaviour among West Indians, for example, and what it represents in present-day Britian, politically? Too close to the bone for them, it would really open up a can of political worms if they were to start really talking about the divide and rule tactics of capitalism.)

Goody and the others are just a gross charicature of what it means to live in a globalised economy, where secure jobs and careers - based on mutual support and solidarity - have all but disappeared.

For young working class people of all races, the media have managed to construct the 'fame' avenue as an 'attractive' way out of profoundly unstimulating low paid work, while the education system continues to fail millions.

Indeed much of the attack on Goody in particular, is fuelled by outright envy on the part of commentators who almost certainly haven't themselves made £8 million pounds ('what the fuck right has this Goody person got, in the space of barely a year or more, to make all this bloody money when we've been slaving in the media - after years (of free tuition) at University - for 5/10 ten times as long!!!' you can hear them thinking/saying privately)or just don't like the fact that someone from such a common background - even if she is only ever going to be one of a truly tiny number that do - can waltz in and make all that dosh!

Despite the millions made by Goody, and the 'fame' of modelling and a trophy boyfriend for Lloyd, these people still retain the basic feelings of inferiority so endemic among the low paid, now more than ever, in British capitalist society. So it should come as no surprise that they would feel threatened by someone like Shilpa Shetty. I can't comment on whether Shilpa Shetty was as nauseating a personality that Germaine Greer, for example, has suggested not having watched any but the news snippets but I have witnessed the very same 'anger derived from low self-worth/feelings of inferiority' directed towards well-spoken, educated middle class foreigners many times in daily life.

Without a doubt, 'white trash' is no different qualitatively than name mispronunciation as a cultural and xenophobic attack.

The hypocrisy of the commentators is far more nauseating than the banal crap that comes out of the mouths of the likes of Goody, male or female.

That's so pants said...

Hi Steve east9. You hit the mark with this comment about working class celebs,

'These people still retain the basic feelings of inferiority so endemic among the low paid, now more than ever, in British capitalist society'

You only need to look at the panic in Jade Goody's face at the thought of losing her 'position' to know how real that threat still is, even when you've already got enough money to retire at 25. Not even the beneficiaries of capitalism trust it.

Ms Baroque said...

Exactly. She knows she hasn't got anything else to fall back on.

We, as a society, still have ourselves to blame for egging all this bad behaviour on. We love it, I guess - we live vicariously through them, by which I mean through these artificial "celebrities" and people like Paris Hilton going out and getting - what was your phrase, TSP? Pissed as a pandemonium of parrots (I love that) - with no knickers on, but what would we think of our friend from work if she did all that? She'd be sacked, most like, with her pic in the papers, depending on the sector. It's pure fantasy. Jade et al are our collective fantasy. As such we feel personally cheated when they don't behave like the particular fantasy we had in mind.

Ms Baroque said...

Hot off the press: Jade and Davina have the same agent!!

MrZhisou said...

I didn't watch it, but really, does anyone take Jade seriously?

If she started 'aving a go at me, with whatever slur she chose, I would be amused (though slightly disgusted at being in the same room as Jade).

This Shilpa woman, has, I presume, no reason to be ashamed of her race, so who cares if some uneducated slapper, who's known as a bully, makes a few stupid comments. Doesn't anyone have a bit of bloody backbone anymore?

The lesson the world should take from this is that one shouldnn't do any form of Big Brother unless one is prepared to encounter the Jades of this world.

That's so pants said...

Jade and Davina with the same agent hey. That is interesting. Wouldn't it be funny if it was all a set-up?

Beth said...

I'd love to be able to leave an intelligent comment, but all I can think of is "Yes! What you all just said!!"

That's so pants said...

That will do nicely. Thank you Beth

nmj said...

All through the Jade/Shilpa drama, I kept thinking, it's little wonder Jade has turned out like this given the mother she has. And it is hardly Jade's fault she was catapulted to fame, even although she is so obviously ill equipped to deal with it. I don't think she is actively racist, she said some pretty ignorant things and was clearly enjoying the role of leader of the pack. And now she is being punished, as is right, although I think there has been undeniable hysteria, and I find headlines about her being placed on suicide watch pretty hard to stomach when yet another hundred people have been blown up in Baghdad. As I said elsewhere in a comments thread, I find the collective stupidity of the contestants more worrying than the actual racism. Education is free in this country and yet so many are slipping through the system uneducated. But, of course, being educated does not necessarily mean you will not be racist, all it means is you will be a bit more subtle about where and when you voice your prejudices.

That's so pants said...

Yes. The collective ignorance of the young and working class housemates is really shocking. I'm always going on about it but not even I was prepared for Danielle to ask Jade if Jack could read with neither of them indicating that it was in any way odd for a professional adult not to be able to read. He can apparently read - which is a relief. What I would hope is that education goes beyond coaching people what words to avoid in order not to cause offence - although that would obviously serve a purpose it would not lead to greater understanding. Only genuine enquiry can do that.