Saturday, January 20, 2007

On The Big Brother Controversy

If you have followed the news over the past few days, you may have heard of the big controversy of alleged racism on the British show Big Brother. For the uninitiated, Big Brother is a house where almost every room has a camera, and the house mates live there for three months, every moment of their lives in the house captured on camera, with highlights being shown every evening. Every so often, viewers get to vote and evict one member from the house.

Shilpa Shetty

To spice up the house mates for the current run, Big Brother persuaded Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty to participate in the game show, with the added bonus of having a South Asian audience tune in as well.

It didn't take long for the other members of the show to turn on Shetty, allegedly calling her a "dog", "Paki", asking her to "fu** off home", as well as making comments about the Indian race as a whole. The controversy blew up spectacularly when South Asian members of Britain's Parliament brought it up in parliament to discuss racism. It also became a diplomatic incident with members of Britain's government on a delegation to visit India being asked about it. More than 40,000 complaints were registered against the show and they lost a major sponsor. Effigies of the show were being burnt on the streets of Mumbai (some people have too much time on their hands).

As I read through all this, I can't help but think "any publicity is good publicity" when it comes to celebrities. Shetty's career wasn't going anywhere and this puts her in the public spotlight, that too in a sympathetic manner. She is now likely to win the game show. Big Brother becomes the most watched show on TV. Viewers vote the alleged racist off the show and all is good with the world again.

I am also surprised by the slew of commentators from India slamming Britain. "Oh I thought Britain was a tolerant country," said one (a government MP!). "Now I know what is really under the surface."

Oh please! As if India is such a tolerant country. Not just India. The whole subcontinent. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh. We discriminate daily based on caste, skin fairness, gender, religion (or inter-religion as in Sunni/Shia so on). Yet we are always the first ones to criticize. Ever looked into our own souls? You can make a whole Crash movie out of just the South Asian / Arab community.

Goody fights to save career

Shilpa fears racism

India seeks UK racism probe

Row not to impact India-UK ties

Let's vote for Shilpa: Brown


sonia said...

very good points Mezba.

having just come back from dhaka i've lost count of the numerous 'are..tumi eto kalo howegecho keno?' comments i heard during the trip! :-)

Farah said...

What now seems even funny is that Shilpa was actually fitted with a heart monitor and instructed to flirt with the other contestants. Ya, she flirted allright!

You are absolutely right. Bangladesh is lucky is that we are all mostly same (brown, sunni, bengali) but even then you see even regional discrimination,

Suroor said...

I didn't know about the incident. You are very right about the points you make!

Whenever I have discussed racism with "white" British or Americans they have always said, "we are sorry that it happened in our country by our people. As a(n) British/American I am very proud that we are NOT racist!" But that's not true.

You can always say that S Asia is third world, corrupt, undereducated, and lacks basic facilities which has made its people racist, but what's the excuse of the West? I have met highly educated Western men and women who are utterly racist and very repulsive, therefore. Even Arabs are racist. Look at all the Arab men who want "white" wives and treat all others as rubbish. We are all racist. I'm racist!

"East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet"

Anonymous said...

Did see the news on BBC.Wasn't even aware what was going on. And it is true, now Shilpa is bound to win and she is back with a "dhamaka!" (???)
It is true that everyone has one form or the other of being a racist but pple just give it different names. sf

mezba said...

Sonia, Farah: We don't get much explicit racism (except in 'dark' comments) in Bangladesh as we are mostly same. But there's other forms of racism - religion (ahmadis), region (anti-Sylheti/Noakhali/so on). India situation is even more dire as there is open discrimination against Muslims, lower class Hindus, minority Christians and on and on. Yet we criticize.

Suroor: I have added some news links to provide a bit of context to the issue.

mezba said...

sf: Just saw your comment. Added a few links for those who are not aware of the story.

What was bad in this scene was how the channel did not intervene in the row because after all it was boosting the ratings.

mousehunter said...

Good points, and so true. Anybody that thinks that their nation is not racist is in a dream world.

Americans/Britons saying they don't live in a racist nation. ARE THEY DELIRIOUS?

'liya said...

I read it in the paper and wasn't sure how I felt. I still don't know :S But I do agree with you that India isn't a very tolerant country itself when it comes to race..

mystic said...

Was not is suppose to be a reality show?

Just leave camera on 'desi stores. restaurants and homes' for 24 hours and see how discriminate and racist we are...

saala gora, kallu, chaptu, chinu, nigerian (in derogatory terms), somalian....further subdivisios....ABCD, FOB, Tatatata tamil, Gujju


mystic-soul said...

Was not is suppose to be a reality show?

Just leave camera on 'desi stores. restaurants and homes' for 24 hours and see how discriminate and racist we are...

saala gora, kallu, chaptu, chinu, nigerian (in derogatory terms), somalian....further subdivisios....ABCD, FOB, Tatatata tamil, Gujju

Farah said...

Just read through one of your links.
A spokesman for Shetty's family said: "This vote has shown that goodness always prevails, like in Bollywood films.

"This vote was not about just one contestant facing eviction," Dale Bhagwagar told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

"It was a straightforward contest between Shilpa and Jade, between good and bad."

I hope the spokesperson really does not believe what is being said!

sonia said...

of course everyone's experience - in different countries etc. and with different people - is going to be different.

a large no. of british asians seem to feel discriminated against on a daily basis. my observations seem to indicate ( in my humble opinion) that if you're conscious of being different, you'll attribute your experiences to that, behave accordingly, and it can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. this of course - doesn't apply to just Race - but everything in Life - again - in my humble opinion. If people have an inferiority complex about their origin or race, then they're more likely to think others share that view and consequentially if they have low self-esteem - voila! i think we can guess what sorts of reasons they'll come up with for different things happening to them. and since life can often be a pain in the ass..well..

the American club in Dhaka doesn't let ayahs go near the pool area. personally i think that's racist. But then who's going to bother much about that since ordinary people are perfectly happy to treat their ayahs in other shitty ways.

mystic's got a good point! :-) reality indeed.

Salacious Samosa said...

Who is this Shetty?

Dude, I should be on Big Brother... I was interested in the news reports, not so much the show. Who cares about that show. My friend used to watch the arab version incessantly. People who become addicted to these things lack action jackson... I am action jackson, send me there!!

On racism. I grew up amongst the brick-laying class of england in Dubai. They are as racist as nazis. So all that crap about tolerance won't buy me. All those kids I grew up with are adults now. And that slag on the show, who made the racist remarks is a brilliant example of how many brits feel about South Asians still.

Am I in a shit mood? Yes...


arafat said...

"As I read through all this, I can't help but think 'any publicity is good publicity' when it comes to celebrities"

Dude, you are smart. I've been following this whole thing in the news, but I didn't think about it that way. But that's just so true!!

And yes, I had the same reaction when I saw a photo on the frontpage of the Financial Times, showing Indians burning an effigy. I was like, yeah as if you guys are so not racist!

Aisha said...

Great Points Mezba and now you have inspired me to write a post. Will be doing it one of these days. Grr.. not enough hours these days! :)

Anonymous said...

Ms. Shetty was treated unfairly, I agree, but she was not aware of racism? Come on, I am African-American, and the last thing I would do is cry infront of "racist white men/wome." That is their objective. Do they care? Check your history Ms. Shetty, to whites you are Indian first and a popular Bollywood actress, second!!

isheeta said...

Im sorry for Shilpa, at the same time... it is pretty ironic. She was shown putting bleaching creams on her face, you know so she can look more fairer. A lot of desi girls do this. At the same time, the show is probably a slap-in-the-face experience for her...she may realize that no matter how much bleaching cream you can put in your face to be like someone (who you're not), it doesnt change the fact that people will still perceive her as someone that she is first... an Indian.

I have to hand it to her, she handled everything with class. DIgnity, self-respect, nicely done.
As much as I hate to say this, this may be a wakeup call to Bollwyood stars, starlets and the rest of the South Asian world who are obsessed with looking white and tend to overlook the fact that color/tanned IS indeed beautiful and beauty is only skin deep. I have always wondered why is it that these people spend so much time trying to be someone they are not, when in fact they can be using that energy to accentuate someone that they can be - beautiful colored tanned people!

mezba said...

Mousehunter: The recent poll of Canadians was an eye-opener. There is always racism, sometimes it just takes another form and we don't recognize it for what it is.

Liya: India (and to many extent other South Asian nations) have a lot of issues with racism, we just call it something else. India for example wouldn't even discuss the oppression of the so-called Untouchables at a UN conference on racism. Movies like Water raise the plight of Untouchables and widows spectacularly.

Mystic and Mystic-soul: Good idea! I am sure someone will think of that next.

Coming soon to a grocery store near you ...

mezba said...

Farah: ha ha.. I think the spokesperson is being super serious.

Sonia: I think countries with history of monolethic culture and no practice of immigration will be racist, and that includes Britain. So when these countries try to tell Iraqis to live and let live on one hand, while denying the Iraqi-British jobs that would go to an Anglo-British, they are being hypocritical.

In Bangladesh, racism is mostly class based. Are the "poor" a race? I don't know, but I cannot subscribe to the mentality of me fellow Bangladeshis when I go visit - the poor, elderly and disabled are treated like sh**, whereas here, a non-Muslim country, we have social programs that used to be the signature of the Muslims, and we have facilities and laws to support the elderly and the disabled.

Samosa: You were on Big Brother! We saw a preview in your video post! lol.

Shetty is Shilpa Shetty, an A-list actor, though not with the pull of a top tier actress like Rani or Preity, can still add star value to a film.

I agree Goody was just someone who let what they think come out on the surface. On that aspect, she was at least honest.

Then again, the show did get over 40,000 complaints, and given that most desis I know will be too lazy to even bother to respond to a racist comment, that shows that this show struck some nerve.

Shit mood club, can I join? Refer to today's post.

Arafat: word. Exactly what I thought. Everyone in this story is so hypocritical. The show decries the racism while using it to promote the show. The Indians unite against foreign racism while ignoring their own. The only one to come out of this with some class and dignity was Shilpa Shetty, as Isheeta notes below.

mezba said...

Aisha: I await your post. You also said you will post on a reply to my post on why Guys Go Back To Marry... still awaiting that too :-D

Anon: well what can I say. Sadly, it is true.

Isheeta: She did handle everything with class. I don't think she was there to win, she just wanted to raise her profile, and like many of us, probably had a good opinion of white British people as a whole. It is ironic that while it is the white Western film world that is now finding brown skin exotic, the Indian actors/actresses are obsessed with looking pale.