Emily saves C4’s ass

If this race row isn’t a setup, it certainly comes at a most convenient time for Channel 4, still reeling from the Ofcom report [pdf] into Celebrity Big Brother and under pressure over the Diana documentary. Ofcom had just ruled that yes, there was racist bullying on CBB and yes, C4 covered it up. And now what happens? A gauche 19-year-old girl tries vainly to talk “street” to the black girls and uses a word heard on a million hip-hop records but that white folks, except for Eminem, can’t get away with. BB bosses, gifted an opportunity to come down hard on Emily just like they didn’t on Team Jade, do a summary eviction in the small hours and can now lap up credit for being tough on “racism”. C4 should be thanking Emily Parr, not punishing her.

This idea being put about in today’s Mirror that C4 were desperately hoping for a light-hearted Big Brother before nasty Emily delivered a body blow to innocent TV execs, is pure bollocks. This is a show that runs on bullying, backstabbing and bitching. It’s inherent in the format. You throw a bunch of very young, often quite dim and invariably exhibitionist people into a confined space and let them run their yaps. If things get slow, you ply them with booze. If some bimbo has a vocabulary malfunction, it’s hardly the worst thing that’s ever happened; even C4 are not claiming there was any malice involved.

There hasn’t yet been a series of Big Brother without some instance of bullying, often serious. More than once this has had racial undertones. The Saskia-Makosi scrap a couple of years back was something of a nadir, where C4 responded to overt racism by blithely denying there was any racism. The perpetrators got off with a light rap over the knuckles from Davina, and Saskia has gone on to a successful career stripping for Nuts. Then there was the appalling way Pete Burns carried on in last year’s celebrity edition, again without the execs appearing to notice.

The Shilpa row earlier this year was exceptional in a couple of ways. Firstly, Shilpa had an awful lot of advocates outside the house, most notably in the furious response from the Asian community. Secondly, because of the importance of BB to C4 – generating 15% of the channel’s revenue – and Endemol, and the importance of Jade to the BB brand as a role model for talent-challenged wannabes, the channel’s cretinous reaction was predetermined. The spectacle of C4 execs simultaneously saying there was no evidence of racism and slapping themselves on the back for promoting a debate about racism only made the Asians angrier. That’s the context for the damning Ofcom report, which is why Emily’s attempt at street lingo sent the bosses apeshit.

There is another interesting aspect to this. The phone-ins and message boards during the Shilpa affair showed that lots of middle-class white people believe identifying racism is an exact science: if you use certain words, regardless of context, you’re a racist, and if you don’t, you aren’t. Hence all the people who reckoned that Team Jade couldn’t possibly be guilty of racism if they didn’t say “Paki”. And hence all the people jumping to condemn Emily as an evil racist bitch even before the footage was aired. The reason this doesn’t happen more often is that BB chooses contestants from relatively middle-class backgrounds who respect these linguistic taboos. BB might allow the odd black man to make a token show of macho homophobia, but they wouldn’t dare put in a couple of spides from West Belfast and let them loose on the “fruits”. BB’s massive gay audience, much sought after by advertisers, might have a thing or two to say about that.

So everybody’s happy. C4 and Endemol can bask in being right-on again. Well-spoken white folks can be sanctimonious. Evil vocabulary has been punished. The tabloids have a new ready-made villain to sell papers. And if a teenage girl is crucified in the process, how many people will mind?

2 Comments

  1. Liam said,

    June 9, 2007 at 10:16 am

    I’ve spent the last few weeks watching all the box set dvds of The Wire. It’s a cop show set in Baltimore, near Mexico. At the end of each episode I find it hard to stop myself calling everything and everybody a “motherf***er” and referring to the “n*****rs in my crib”. This makes me an appallingly bad mimic but hardly a cross burning sonofa****
    It’s a good job my application to go on Big Brother has been rejected again. Yo! True that.

  2. tosser said,

    June 10, 2007 at 9:10 pm

    Emily is totally hot.


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