Television and Reality: The Politics of Representation in Celebrity Big Brother, U.K.

Curator's Note

On January 28, 2007, Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty was crowned the winner of Celebrity Big Brother (CBB) 2007, on Channel 4 in the U.K. The show received national and international attention due to confrontations between Shilpa Shetty and Jane Goody (with three other housemates on Goody’s side). Over the course of the show as the arguments and confrontations began to mount, Shilpa claimed that she was being targeted by her housemates because of her race. Although, Shilpa later withdrew her allegations of racism and tried to make up with her fellow housemates, many viewers and some media reports began characterizing the incidents as "bullying," "racist” and "racist bullying." Some columnists in newspapers, magazines and online forums in the U.K. argued that the confrontations on the show were intentionally caused by the producers of Big Brother by casting a lower class "pitbull" like Jade against the upper class "pedigree" of Shilpa Shetty. However, by reducing the debate on racism to a simple effect of the lower class standing of houseguests like Jade, these media analysts failed to recognize the more insidious form and character of racism as a systemic problem in contemporary British society. To suggest that the discourse of racism survives only because some lower class Britons are ill-equipped to be anti-racist not only smacks of upper class elitism, but also seems historically false and empirically invalid given the marginal status of minority representations in mainstream British society.


Jonathan Gray's picture

Agreed, Shanti -- when I

Agreed, Shanti — when I first heard about the incident and quickly headed to the Brit press to read about it, I was hit by a wave of commentary (editorial and multiple online reponses) on The Guardian by middle class Britons reading Goody’s racism as a sign of the failure of Thatcher’s gouging at the public education system. Though I have no interest in defending Thatcher, it seemed too convenient to pawn this off as working class ignorance, as if better schools for the working class would “solve” racism. And yet, as with the recent Imus affair this side of the Atlantic, the ritualistic display of We Are Not Racist, O Praise Us hit such fever pitch

Anyone can see by watching

Anyone can see by watching this video clip that each one of the members of the household are treating her disrespectfully and by the comments made it can be assumed that she is being “bullied” due to her race. I do not believe that your school you attedn affects how you act towards other cultures, it is youur upbringing. It does not matter if your are higher class or lower class, if you were raised in a racist famliy then there are strong chances that when you get older you will have hose same views as your parents did.

I don't believe that the

I don’t believe that the only factor of racism is due to the school you are brought up in, but that does effect your belief and attitude toward specific ethnicities and cultures, whether they are true or false. To adress Shetty’s “bullying” situation, my first question would be: why would she take back her accusations of being bullied? While I, in no way condone racism or bullying, this situation leads me to believe that some major editing had been done to the tapes before airing. Thus, something of important value to this situation might not be shown.

Avi Santo's picture

Possibly, though it also

Possibly, though it also might speak to the contingent relationship that a transnational star like Shetty has in Britain, where her popularity might be partially tied to her “difference” and partly to her keeping her opinion about Britain to herself…

Avi Santo's picture

While I agree Jonathon that

While I agree Jonathon that the more diversity one is exposed to growing up, the more likely one is to be accepting of other groups, lets not forget that schools are institutions that have varied individual cultures, but largely adhere to very similar educational formulas that regularly marginalize non-Anglo history, culture, etc.

I agree that she must have

I agree that she must have been inclusive with her thoughts about Britain, but she also appeared to be mocking the girl with her facing expressions. It is a tough situation especially in a show such as Big Brother where such different people are brought together. In this case, there has to be a level of acceptance up front. We all learn differently about other races and cultures from our schools and our familiy. However, it is up to us to be tolerable to difference and not to be ignorant in times of anger.

I think this is a stupid

I think this is a stupid argument in the first place. From what I saw they were arguing over cubes of chicken broth and how much should of been used ?? It is easy to blame something like this on racism because you see 3 girls ganging up on one girl, so the 1 girl is going to do whatever it takes to defend herself, while the other 3 continue with their ignorance and bully her around.

I in no way shape of form

I in no way shape of form agree with the racism allegations. Like Jillian stated- why did she take them back? I just have come to the conclusion that ‘reality televison’ is always going to consist of bullying and confrontation, or else it would not survive. Editing plays a huge factor and YES they pick and choose candidates that they know will not get along. It is part of our sick new society, but to be completely honest I think this instance has been read into at a completely wrong angle.

While casting and editing do

While casting and editing do play a huge role in the outcome of these weekly episodes, there are some actions that cannot be justified. True, the argument may have been small, from our point of view, but this could have easily been the results of a butterfly effect. All of the small things and the fact that she keeps her opinions to herself may have finally gotten to Shilpa, which caused her to confront Jade. It seems as though Jade simply throws up a defense mechanism and afterwards tries to comfort her pride, by her uncontrollable ranting. Once again, nothing justifies the words; just trying to get an understanding of the situation at hand.


––––––––––––––––––––––––––— Well if you put everything into context, for one this is a reality show and the whole premise is to put a bunch of different people together and let them have at it. Of course when the show was over there were going to be allegations of racism or “racist bullying” because the housemates were all of varied cultures and races. Therefore, of course attacks that were made could have been interpreted as racist. However, I don’t know if some of the housemates were racist or was Shilpa just an easy target for a number of reasons. The reality is some people do have strong beliefs against others and that is in every society. If anything this show just brought awareness to the fact that no matter what people are going to have something to say about somebody, whether it is nice or not, based on their race or something else. In all Big Brother seasons that I have watched and for reality shows in general, you get a combination of people and someone is always going to be left out or feel alienated. Personally, I think it is because people are threatened by that individual so maybe some housemates felt threatened by Shilpa.

I dont think that she was

I dont think that she was being attacked due to her race in this clip. And I agree with others before, if she did believe she was being attacked due to her race and voiced her oppinion then why take it back? It was obviously on tape, but with these reality shows you have to take into account how much editing is done and how people are portayed. Shilpa is obviously from the looks of this clip, the minority in the house and when she is the minority she may feel that every little thing she does wrong or someone bring up to her in a point is due to her race. It is hard to tell just from watching this one clip if Shilpa was indeed undergoing racism but over chicken stock cubes, im not so sure that is racism, but just a complicated and pointless arguement.

Racism is always a touchy

Racism is always a touchy subject for people. One in which most poeple choose to ignore or believe that it is no longer a factor in todays society. We’ll you are wrong! From watching this one clip no one can definitely determine whether ot not someone is being racist, but remember that in Britain there is still a lot of animosity towards minorities just like it is in America. As stated many times before, these contestants were chosen for a reason. To those that seem to easily dismiss the possibility of racism, remember that just because you may have never experienced or witnessed racism urself it does not mean its non existant. It is very much prevelant throughout the world in many countries and is always a hot topic for discussion.

racism exist. I'm sure for

racism exist. I’m sure for entertainment when they casted theses people they wanted people that would be controversial. You can look at is as being racist or people just picking on someone they just don’t like. There is a difference between ignorance and racism. As a minority i’m familiar with both and at most of the time the person does not mean to offend me but its more like they just don’t know better. I don’t think they were being mean to her because of her race but the fact that they just don’t like her. I think i would have to watch more than just one clip of this show or actually be there to know if they were racist or not.

A trivial problem gets blown

A trivial problem gets blown way out of proportion, which is typical of reality television. Whether or not this is overt racism I am not sure. I am inclined to believe that such confrontations are manipulated and forged by unscrupulous producers and directors. Given the relative homogeneous makeup of Great Britain compared to the United States such racism, if that is indeed the root of the arguments, does not surprise me.

Whether the bullying was

Whether the bullying was racist or not is due for speculation. It is the job of the creators and editors to spice up the show. It is unfortunate that the minority who dresses, talks and also looks different is the butt of ridicule, but I feel this is a sick way of doing what every show on television wants; ratings! There were probably many instances of bullying that occurred but this one would have everyone talking about the show. Whether it be positive or negative feedback, if everyone is talking about your show, ratings will ALWAYS be up.

I do not believe that she

I do not believe that she was being bullied because of her race, but they is some underlying issues between her and Jade. Anyone watching this cli would have notice that shetty walked away after she said what she needed to say, so why did Jade feel the need to keep going. I think it is total lack of slef control and of course entertainmet for the viewers. That arguement was not serious enough for Jade to call Shetty out of her name. To me this show just shows blatant disrespect and I was idsgusted by Jade.

Under the trivial arguement

Under the trivial arguement lies a deeper problem of minority relations in British culture. The casting in these types of shows may play a part in causing similar disrespectful interactions between housemates, you cant overlook when Jade says, “You ordered absolutely everything, thats why we only had chicken”. Reinforcement of a stereotype? I think so. The housemates also seemed to be threatned by Shilpa, which forces Jade to keep disrespecting her long after the arguement was over.

Based off of this clip, I

Based off of this clip, I will have to agree and say that not being exposed to different races early on can shelter individuals. Research does support that higher social classes affect a person’s race and how they are viewed by others in society. This show explains how race can play a factor into socialization. Although I feel this way, in the clip, I do not feel that they are necessarily picking on this individuals race. I do feel that when a lot of females live together, there are always conflicting situations. Even though, I have not seen the whole episode, I feel that there many be cases where the girl who was being picked on will retaliate.


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