There is a sublimely ludicrous flap going on about a television show, currently being broadcast in England. It has become a feature story on CNN, BBC and several Indian news channels. It even merited a question in the British Parliament; and has almost started a race war.
No, it has nothing to do with Iraq, or Christianity vs. Islam, or any of the usual suspects. It’s a show called Big Brother, which is threatening to reach the outer limits of banality. Essentially, it is about a group of distinctly minor celebrities, whose ego is in inverse proportion to their talent. These nonentities have been locked up in a house and are spied on 24×7 by strategically placed cameras. The idea is to observe them as they go about their normal lives. “Normal”: now there’s a misnomer, for a start. The supreme irony is that this voyeuristic intrusion into the infantile antics of a bunch of fakes is called “Reality TV.”
So what’s all the fuss about? Last week, a second-rung Indian actress named Shilpa Shetty was “inserted” into this dysfunctional household; and promptly proceeded to get on the nerves of the other inmates, all Brits. One could not pronounce her name and kept referring to her as “the Indian”. Another called her a “f**** Paki” and told her to “f*** off”. Shetty cleverly did her bit, goading them on with her snotty, holier-than-thou” attitude; and by playing the offended martyr to perfection.
For the one and a half million British Asians, such taunts are routine occurrences; and most have learnt to take it in their stride. But, for some reason, they chose to anoint the bemused and secretly delighted Shetty as their cause celebre. The television station was bombarded with 38 thousand outraged calls, deploring the racism that was being meted out to the “defenseless” victim – who, incidentally, is being paid three-quarter of a million dollars – and demanded retribution.
British politicians, like their peers all over the world, are never ones to lose an opportunity to score brownie points. Some raised a question in Parliament, forcing Tony Blair to pronounce sanctimoniously that “Britain deplores and condemns racism in any form.” The TV producers pretended to be suitably shocked, while raking in all those extra millions due to the free publicity.
It would be simplistic to dismiss this hoopla hyperbole as a pathetically hilarious publicity coup of epic proportions. The show producers probably would not have minded paying the 38,000 disgruntled viewers who transformed a garden variety voyeuristic cheapie into an international blockbuster; but they didn’t have to.
Britain has been a so-called multi-cultural society, but the migrant Asians, Africans and folks from the Caribbean have never really been assimilated into the mainstream – as in America. It is partly their own fault, however. They tend to ensconce themselves in exclusive ghettoes, where they feel more comfortable and secure. In doing so, they cling to their ethnic identities. Not surprisingly, these groups – who, less than a hundred years ago were subjects of the British Empire – are treated with a certain amount of contempt; particularly from the lower strata of British society.
Most of the ethnic groups accept this attitude stoically, as a small price to pay for the materialistically superior lifestyle they enjoy in their adopted country. But the discontent and frustration has been simmering under the surface – and this stupid television show provided an opportunity to vent their anger. I don’t think they expected it to snowball into what it has become – it got onto CNN, for Pete’s sake – but I’m sure they are delighted.
For the cynically inclined, this brouhaha has all the trappings of an Andy Warhol spectacular. The obscure participants in Big brother have become international celebrities: the producers have watched their ratings reach stratospheric levels; and the usually tolerated British Asians have achieved near-cult status. Everybody wins. Everybody, that is, except those of us who still retain a modicum of intellectual integrity