McAfee SECURE sites help keep you safe from identity theft, credit card fraud, spyware, spam, viruses and online scams

Introduction: How the Big Brother race row began

Big Brother is one of the most successful television formats in the world, and a pioneer of "reality" television. However, it is important to remember that "everything in the Big Brother house is controlled." (18/10/01, Indeed, it was the manipulative element of the show that led programmers to question the viability of a celebrity format - and in 2003, Celebrity Big Brother was born. But by 2007, the format was becoming stale. Now an established vehicle for launching celebrities in their own right, the lines between "celebrity" and "normal" Big Brother had fast become blurred and the relatively well-known names that had volunteered for the show in the past either shied away from the format, or kept up a façade so as not to reveal their personal details to the cameras. Even though, as Crick claims, "considering how heavily cut it is, the idea of anything in Big Brother as reality is nonsense on stilts." (18/08/00 The Guardian)

What has now become known as the "Big Brother race row" began when Jade Goody, a former housemate in the "normal" show, joined the celebrity version along with her mother Jackiey Budden and boyfriend Jack Tweed. Jade has made no secret of her South London background, and the fact that both she and her family began at least as working to lower class (her mother once worked as a prostitute.) Jade's presence in the show intimidated other contestants to the point where two (Donny Tourette and Ken Russell) walked out of the house in protest within as many days. Meanwhile, Jade's mother Jackiey clashed with Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty over a refusal to pronounce her name properly, and instead branded her "The Indian." Following Jackiey's eviction, comments from Jade, Jack and fellow contestants Danielle Lloyd and Jo O'Meara, who had all formed an alliance against Shilpa, suggested the actress was a "dog," and that she should "fuck off home." Her accent was also mocked, and comments were passed such as "They eat with their hands in India don't they - you don't know where hers have been" (Jo), followed by the infamous claim from Jade. "I don't know what her name is - Shilpa Poppadom?" As what the Commission for Racial Equality termed "distasteful" comments continued, complaints of racism and bullying to regulator Ofcom rose from 200 to more than 13,000 in one day. At the climax of the show (which Shilpa won) that figure had reached more than 40,000 - the highest in Ofcom's history.

On a whole it would appear that the media in this instance has proved Marx's theory by focusing a white, middle-class ideology on the public to substantiate its views. The media vilified Jade and her group as "bullies," but as members of the white, upper classes, were often unsure how to label her. But the racist element of the story mattered little when class could be blamed. For those who chose not to follow a left or right wing perspective and label Jade specifically, the media exploited her class. In this particular case, class was clearly a key issue, and one that had not raised its head quite so prominently in British discourse for a long time. But the issue of "classism" was exploited not only by the media, but the programme-makers as a whole, who were aware of the fact that by putting people of different class as opposed to race (which may have been an afterthought - Ken Russell, the white film director who left the house shortly after Jade's arrival, called her family "vulgar slum dwellers," 09/01/07 would cause conflict more than any other factor due to the largely white, dominant, social ideology of what to expect from an Indian woman (in theory subservient and domesticated, whereas Shilpa was largely different.)

In conclusion, this study does not wish to assess if Jade, Jo and Danielle were racist, but in summary, it does find that class conflict was exploited by the protagonists that surrounded the event. The media, as a whole demonstrated this ideology to its fullest, defying Gormley's argument that "the physical origins of cultural information have now become less important." (2005: 138) This study has found that it was the assumption that white, working class girls would not associate with a middle to upper class Indian woman, that created the media furore surrounding the problem as this is the dominant ideology represented by the white upper class members of the media spectre itself. As a whole, the Big Brother race row has proved Marx's writings on class ideology and the scrutinisation of the dominant discourse are apparent within current class issues and the way they are displayed by the media. By following this methodology, the study has also proved that the class system in Britain, no matter how regularly it is referenced, is still alive and well in Britain, whether the race issue is prevalent or not. It would appear that although Marx's original theory came in the 1850s it would appear it was not just that but a prophecy which, in Britain, will be displayed in what Gormley terms the "unstable white identity" (2005:132) for many years to come.

Related Links
To Top