Race, Class, Culture & the Big Brother House

January 19, 2007 at 10:15 am | Posted in Entertainment, Gender, Popular Culture, Race, Television, Web 2.0 | 4 Comments
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Read Lenina’s post Shilpa vs. Jade: Indian upper-class vs. White working-class and watch the video below. It might stop or flicker when you play it the first time, but once it’s been fully loaded the quality is quite good of that one. I suppose it was uploaded by one one of the Channel 4 employees, as it shows the credits sequence for a suspiciously long time and freezes on the logo in the end.*

Why though did “they” choose to subtitle Shilpa’s, but not Jade’s words? Apparently because Jade’s accent – distinctively working class – was considered typically native. Being a non-native (or non-Brit – that might be the more crucial distinction at work here) I have a much harder time understanding Jade than Shilpa (and I’m quite fond of the Indian accent).

Lenina read the incident as a class issue, the British public predominantly has to read it as a race issue (and display signs of guilt and horror to appease the Commonwealth audience – to whom the show and its continued airing is probably a clear case of colonialist behaviour and discourse).

One could simultaneously look at it as an example of typical problems that may arise in crosscultural communication. As Jade claimed herself, she wasn’t able to read Shilpa or figure out whether she was “genuine” and hence assumed, based on her previous perception of such behaviour (in upper class people), that she wasn’t. Shilpa (even Jade had unknowingly provided her with the code to deconstruct the attack) in turn was hurt because she mainly took in the reproachful comment that she wasn’t genuine and that she played games, but clearly couldn’t see why Jade’s inability to read her disconcerted Jade so much. According to Shilpa, she simply “played the game (= BB) by the rules”. In the same way, Jade wasn’t able to see why what she perceived of as “being direct and honest” was not appreciated, but taken as vile (uneducated) behaviour and interpreted it as an upper class reflex. It couldn’t occur to her that being working class (and behaving like it) was probably not a centre of positive identity construction in some cultures (like the Indian), and looked down upon for other reasons than wanting to deride the uneducated. Etc, etc. Watch the video and see for yourself 😉

Bye the way, eviction night is on tonight on Celebrity Big Brother!

*) Back in the Web 1.0 days, start-ups had to take successful content like comedy show videos off the web because they couldn’t afford the bandwith. These days, they just upload them to youtube. How youtube can afford this is beyond me – but we also do not know yet whether the Web 2.0 bubble is going to burst or not. I think it will, but not quite as dramatically as the last one.


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  1. BTW it’s not only Shilpa that can’t understand Jade. Dirk Benedict (American actor out of the A-Team) can’t understand her either. He gave that as one of his reasons for nominating her. All he can hear is that she’s loud and sometimes aggressive, but he can’t make out what she’s saying! OK, he was probably exaggerating a bit, but plenty of non-British people would have problems understanding her, including other native speakers, i.e. Americans.

  2. I’ve been trying to find the clip of the ‘big fight’ (happened a day or two after your clip) and can only find an excerpt, here:

    There has been quite a backlash against Jade and Big Brother – for instance, the programme’s sponsors have withdrawn their sponsorship.

    Additionally, probably for the first time, the producers apparently have intervened and told some of the involved parties about the perception of these issues outside the house.

    For example, Shilpa was advised to state in the diary room that the attacks were NOT racist, and Jade was advised to make it quite clear that she is NOT a racist (though she used the word ‘racialist’ 😛 )

    It’s certainly going to be an interesting eviction tonight. Security at the event is bigger than ever as Jade has received a number of (death?) threats, and it’s very likely that she’s going to go.

  3. This is really getting interesting! I wish I had an opportunity to watch it live – but I guess I’ll just pick up the pieces on youtube later.

  4. […] , verwandelte sich mein ganzes Umfeld in Material für Blogpost-Ideen – von Ziegenmilch zu Celebrity Big Brother UK und der deutschen Unterschichtenfernsehdebatte über Buchkritik und Kocherfolge. Meine Blogposts […]

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