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January 22, 2007

Let's big it up for poor Jade Goody, argues Richard D. North

Posted by Richard D. North

Richard D. North - the author of the just published Scrap the BBC!: Ten Years to Set Broadcasters Free - argues that most people are grabbing the wrong end of the stick about Jade Goody and the latest Celebrity Big Brother.

Celebrity Big Brother's creators, Endemol, have shown a species of genius this month. It may all end in tears. One of the few original and brave shows on the box may be pulled. The nation may lose one of those unifying experiences - those water-cooler opportunities - which make cultures thrive. But still, so far, so good.

CBB's success is measured in the amount of "real world" attention this Lord of the Flies sleep-over can generate. A so-so series will produce the sort of attention that the soaps routinely receive. A brilliant series - the one with George Galloway and Michael Barrymore, for instance - will go much further. Heavyweight commentators get involved. This latest one, featuring Jade Goody, has done much better. It has sucked in not merely the obvious figures such as Trevor Phillips. He opined:

An ocean of crocodile tears could not wash away her shame,
as though he knew Goody was insincere, which seems a bit superior. The show has achieved the gold standard of getting Gordon Brown to show that he is like so many politicians: a platitude engine.

To be fair to Gordon, the amount of nonsense spoken about this series of CBB has been stratospheric. Perhaps Endemol knew that the British underclass - that feral, illiterate, loud-mouthed rump of society - was the last bastion of the politically-incorrect, and really did calculate that Goody would lose her rag with Shilpa. Certainly the underclass are alone in society in not understanding that race relations are an absolute no-go area. As Jane Shilling pointed out in The Times, in every other area of speech, we have been "disinhibited". "C**t" is fine, and "fat bastard" is fine, but "black bastard" isn't. Abusing "dead white males" is of course fair game, so this isn't a two-way street, and we all understand why. I am not sure quite why Ms Shilling felt so secure in calling Ms Goody "ugly and stupid", but then I'm awfully squeamish.

This latest Celebrity Big Brother will indeed move debate on. But I think most people are grabbing the wrong end of the stick. It seems to be generally accepted that racism will now be hunted down in the small recesses of our minds and language, and especially it will be pursued amongst such elements of the underclass as can be reached. And most people seem to accept that racism is so awful that anything even remotely like it is as bad as the worst it can be. Take an example. Maybe the CBB remarks (made by one of the Toxic Trio in one of their little cabals) about hygiene and eating with the hand qualify as racist: but they were too pathetically ignorant to carry much sting. Are we now so frightened of the race bogeyman that risibly silly remarks qualify? I doubt Jade is capable of a seriously racist thought. Her remarks were only racist in the emptiest sense. She said very little disparaging about Shilpa which depended on the idea that Shilpa was inferior because she was Indian.

Paradoxically, I think this series will edge us toward a better place. It may soon be possible that people with dark skins will be capable of imagining that they are not necessarily being disparaged when their colour is noted as a useful definator. That's to say, we will all be so comfortable with our colour that we will be able to point out the one white man in a group by saying, "No, it's the white one I'm on about", and ditto if it's the black who's unique. Fatness, thinness, tallness, whiteness, blackness, slit-eyedness, cleverness, laziness, whatever. When we stop being jumpy, they just become adjectives.

Somewhere along that line, and further on, we'll be able to make bad, stereotypical jokes about Africans, Asians and all the rest along the same lines that we joss the French or the Welsh. Presumably, we'll always have to be careful, and these will never be uncontroversial areas, and should be equally so whether it's fat, brains or skin colour that we're on about. But in general the point holds: "coloured" people will have achieved parity with whites - in their mind and the minds of whites - when they get parity of unfair and unkind abuse, too.

One of the allegedly racist CBB remarks came from one of the dippy blondes (oh, sorry, there's another stereotype) who gathered round Jade.

Why doesn't she go home?,
she asked, or something like it, of Shilpa. I wouldn't like to have a count of the number of times I've shouted,
If you don't like it here, why don't you f**k off home?
at the telly. Naturally, I only said such things in private and I have no idea whether I was being racist or merely a bit Touretsy in the face of the fatwah against racism. I do it much less now than I used to, so perhaps I'm becoming more civilised. Anyway, I have shouted the remark much more at Germaine Greer and John Pilger than at the legion of second and third generation Asian-origin civil rights lawyers who have also got my goat over the years. Yes, yes, I know the latter group are right and more right than I am, mea culpa, etc. My attitudes aren't funny, aren't big and they aren't clever. Still, I'm instinctively on Jade's side in all this: I'm easily egged on and verbally intemperate. It's a free country, isn't it?

I risk another thought: I absolutely do not believe that a sanitised mouth is even remotely likely to be the necessary or sufficient condition of a saintly heart. In short, I know I have a foul mouth (rather as Jade does) but I hope my heart is as pure as hers may well be.

Shilpa infuriated poor mouthy Jade because the well-brought up and refined film star was solid princess in every direction. Shilpa was blindingly, obviously superior. And she knew it. She knows a peasant when she sees one. She was controlled and controlling, and I quite like Jade for being neither. I think Shilpa was, actually, a bit "princessy", and that she got more likeable as the days went on and she engaged better with Jade. Jermaine Jackson and Cleo Rocos did well to steer her in that direction, and without much success at first.

I'd risk saying that Shilpa went into the show wanting the West to know her better. But the result is that she'll be in much better nick to star in a Western film now that she has seen off Jade, holds Jade's future in her hands, and may even come to like and rather admire her. Shilpa will be savvy now, and not necessarily in a hardened-off way. My bet is that Jade has helped her become more interesting.

Indeed, Endemol is said to have taken on Shilpa to raise its profile in India, where it wants its brand to grow. Indians themselves show every sign of wanting to be more Western, in which they are just like the Japanese. It's typical of the West's misunderstanding of itself that it will cower from this idea and say, with Gandhi, that the West hasn't yet proved itself to be civilised. Too many Westerners think Big Brother shows it.

That's all rot. The West is engaged in an exercise of edgy exploration of the limits of freedom, and it always has been. Manners and discipline and politeness are a part of civilisation, but so is frankness of speech. Jade Goody was certainly frank. And since even in her rage and her verbal incontinence she was no racist, I think she shows that the crusade against racism has worked. Now we need to work on our short fuses. I'll bet Jade Goody becomes a national treasure as she trail-blazes in that direction. Until then, she's the only person in the whole CBB 2007 saga who's a victim. So far.

Richard D. North is the author of Rich is Beautiful: A Very Personal Defence of Mass Affluence and the just published Scrap the BBC!: Ten Years to Set Broadcasters Free.


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i think its a disgrace the way Jade is being treated.The things that happened in that house happens everywhere and in my opinion she is no way racist.If she is so racist why does she not take her racism out on jermaine aswell. I do agree that she's loud-mouthed and that's why she was put back in the house,for entertainment.There was a bit of bullying in the house but I dont think any of the girls were awre of what they were doing.Look whats happening now,they're starting on Dirk,including Shilpa.Get a life and give the girl a break.She has feelings and obviously she feels bad for what she's done.

Posted by: Belinda at January 22, 2007 06:44 PM
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I agree totally with this opinion. In this country today we are too quick to wave the racism flag, Jade is a perfect example of this.

We are all guilty of losing our temper and saying things that we later regret at one time or another. Yes she got carried away but she is not the only one in the big brother house who did are they also being hung out to dry as she is ?.
Danielle lloyd could be seen as more of a racist than jade. I do not see her picture on the front page with get her out under it or is it because she is prettier she can get away with it ?
Jermaine Jackson also made a far worse comment about "poor white trash" is it ok for him to make a comment about white people and it is over looked? Or is it that some races just do not make as much fuss about these sort of things. After all sticks and stones.

Jade i wish you all the luck in the future you were not liked by a lot of people when you first came out of the bb house and you turned that around. Keep you chin up and you can get through it stronger and better.

Posted by: staceys at January 22, 2007 07:33 PM
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leave jade alone..she does not deserve this grief!!yes she is opiniated but she is not a racist!!how would you feel being her!!support the poor girl!!

Posted by: lydia at January 22, 2007 10:03 PM
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i think jade has been totally mis-understood. i have met jade and she is not a racist or a bully, she only has a temper control problem.
i still think jade is an inspiration to young people with the way she has turned her life around and made a success of her career as well as being a mother of 2.

Posted by: kerri at January 23, 2007 09:59 AM
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I have just read this on the BBC News Website:

Police investigating alleged racism on Celebrity Big Brother have made contact with former contestant Jade Goody.
Hertfordshire Police have approached Goody and her mother Jackiey Budden with a view to interviewing the pair.

This is really going OTT! The way that Jade was “interviewed” shortly after her eviction reminded me a little of the Cultural Revolution in China, where victims we made to go through a “self-criticism” session (自我批評), which would be repeated until (if ever) they got it right.

And as for the Hertfordshire Police, are they trying to compete in the stupidity stakes with the Heddlu Gogledd Cymru and their investigation of Anne Robinson? Or is it simply a case of


We run them in,
For we are the Bold Gendarmes!

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at January 26, 2007 10:27 PM
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As far as im concerned, the only bullies in BB is BB. They knew exactly what they were doing when they put the Goody's in the house with Princess Shilpa . This isnt about racism its classism. If BB thought Jade, Jo or Dannielle where being racsist they should have edited the remaks, they didnt because the truth is they didnt think the comments where racist.Because of public HYSTERIA,AND THE MEDIA WITCHHUNT, BB ,To save their own necks and pandered to both, by putting the three girls through a public telling off remenisant of a Teacher telling off a pupil. BB YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF.

Posted by: Kez at January 27, 2007 04:47 PM
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Thank you for this realistic review of this situation.

I suspect the media of trying to instigate racial unrest with there excessive vitriolic attacks on Jade and co

Jade in a working class Londoner the type of woman that sat through the Bombings of the last war without moaning or flinching and brought up the young men that won our wars for us.

She is the result of the hard upbringing and environment in which she has grown up.
And God bless her
I love her for it

Posted by: J.Armitage at February 17, 2007 08:04 AM
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