Are you comfortably numb?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Editorial Issue 1302

Big Brother: racist but reality

Racism is not the only word beginning with R that has stirred up controversy during the recent train-wreck of a Big Brother. The question of reality has also been uncomfortably highlighted. Although the idea of Big Brother actually fulfilling its self-description as 'reality television' is more of a farce than the Daily Express, the fact is that it still sells itself as such. In fact, BB was the pioneer of the whole genre of reality television which now saturates our screens.

Yet during the debacle of last week, over 40,000 complaints to Ofcom showed that Britons are not fans of reality by any means. Big Brother was fine entertainment if it focused on bitchy arguments over banalities and drunken sexual liaisons, but the second a sliver of real human nature reared its ugly head, it suddenly became unacceptable. Now I do not know the motivation behind most of those complaints, but I'm guessing that most of them were appealing for such behaviour to be taken off the air as it was considered offensive.

Offensive it was, plus a selection of other choice words. But however offensive and however wrong, it was also real. A real reflection of the racism that still pervades our oh so Great British communities. Does removing it from our screens mean that it doesn't exist? No. But it helps people to pretend.

I'm not going to get caught up in the Great Race Debate on this page; the issues are too deep and demand lengthy, sensitive analysis, not to mention my own views are driven by too much emotion to do them objective justice. But I think the issue of reality in our society is one worth dwelling on. This national, and now international, argument is symptomatic of a more general and fundamental tendency to bury our collective head in the sand.

This sand can be anything from alcohol to gossip magazines to shopping to cars. The whole manufactured "celebrity" culture is a way for people to kid themselves about who human beings really are. Why else do magazines like Heat feature row upon row of "shock" pictures showing celebrities caught in mundane acts such as taking their dog for a walk? Because they are exposed as real people for once. On the catwalk or the silver screen, the rest of the population can look to them and get lost in an unrealistic fantasy they aspire to; then when chinks in this illusion are exposed, they are ridiculed.

An editorial in The Sun described Jade Goody's life and success up until last week as a "meticulously manufactured lie". What rubbish. How could her life be a lie simply because we didn't know the full extent of her ignorance? This just shows that when someone is shown to have distasteful characteristics, they are presented as a fraud. Jade is not a fraud because she is racist. She just has the same innate potential to do wrong as the rest of us, and we squirm to see it.

Look at the rest of our culture. Aside from our obsession with the non-reality of celebville, we drown out the unwelcome noise of realness with louder sounds. Most people get drunk to forget things. This could be washing down the boringness of your 9-5 job with vodka at the weekend or trying to ignore the fact you've just been dumped. We go shopping and max out our credit cards in a futile attempt to ignore the fact that we have no real money to spend in order to find true fulfilment in Karen Millen. We distract ourselves from real life with something that we call "living life to the full". It's more like avoiding life to the full.

In the midst of all these frenetically desperate attempts to forget the fact that life can actually be pretty mundane at times, we refuse to answer the questions that occasionally make an awkward appearance in our minds. They are a jarring note in the cacophony of entertainment, but they are evidence of what makes us human beings: our ability to think. What is this all for? Why are we here? And the reason we ignore it is because the answers can be too scary. But they need finding. Otherwise we're retreating into the sand, determined to bury our heads in an orgy of drinking and eating and playing and working that can never distract us enough from the knowledge that we don't quite know what we're doing here.



  • Miss Rebecca King. This is tedious and superficial. Can you not do better? Why not tell us what is really happening here? As long as you do things the way you do them you are merely another symptom of the decline. You have to be smarter than this!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:30 pm  

  • Agreed! This is like some rant from a bad tabloid.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:59 pm  

  • your writing is so empty and childish it hurts my thinking gland.

    By Anonymous LeeJ, at 4:22 pm  

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