Thursday, January 18, 2007

That glass box, again.

The whole point of Endemol's shit-fest on Channel 4 is to force together personalities so incompatible that normal human comity would be impossible, never mind solidarity under the stress of sensory deprivation and constant surveillance. Getting 'celebrities' on the show (three of whom are only 'celebrities' by dint of a previous connection with the show) therefore guarantees a daily hit of scandal, and therefore mega mega advertising revenues. Further, since C4 controls every condition obtaining in the show, and since their interventions are designed to be humiliating and bizarre, they can always confect a bit of controversy when phone-in rates slump and the tabloids find something else to gyrate over. And what is more, when the bad guy of the hour is evicted, a new balance is created and the recipient of much sympathy the day before can become the latest villain. The infinite malleability and masochism of the characters is one of the dramatic points on a desperately boring programme. So, rancour, humiliation, indignity and daily bullying are part of the mix, and it is entirely hypocritical for people who watch and like this show to complain about it.

On the other hand, even a saucer-eyed More 4 viewer has the right not to be put through a load of racist abuse, and there has to be some satisfaction in the fact that reported racism on the show has drawn record complaints. And I suppose we had better be grateful that the recipient of the abuse was not a Muslim. If she was, we'd be hearing from many quarters that Muslims are far too sensitive about legitimate criticism. "Ah, complaing about being called a 'dog', is she? What do these Muslims have against canines, I wonder?" Had those who burned the effigy in India been Muslim, we would no doubt be hearing about the sinister Islamic threat to free speech. Not that it matters what religion she adheres to inside the 'house', eh? Shilpa Shetty is variously a "dog", a "Paki" (this bit C4 denies, saying the word was "cunt"), someone who - being from India - must be unhygeinic and eat with her hands, thus giving other housemates "the shits", someone who both needs to "go back to the slums" and also visit them for the first time and be "real", someone who is "trying to be white", and someone who should "fuck off home".

The reactions have been, er, interesting: Channel 4 greasily asserting that there has been no overt racism, titter titter (as if we didn't know that they had assessed their candidates down to the last tic, and fully expected outbursts of racism); New Labour politicians covering their already hideously mired flanks by uttering obsequies about tolerance; David Cameron saying that anyone "who doesn't like this racism, there's a great regulator, its called the 'off' button." The latter is a curious response, surely designed to tickle the fancy of racist Tories and those obsessed with whatever is called 'the nanny state' this week. Taken to its logical conclusion, we should bring back 'Love Thy Neighbour', 'Mind Your Language' and all those charming racist comedies from the Seventies, and if anyone doesn't like it, there is the 'off' switch. Actually, why stop there? It is rather unfair, is it not, that the Human Zoos of old are now 'politically incorrect'.

Or are they? Le Colonel Chabert opined last year that the show had an insidious ideological effect which was to prepare people to feel excellent about eviction (because he's an arsehole), to want eviction (because she's stuck-up), to vote for eviction (because it's not fair): in a phrase, Eviction Rocks. I can't help but think of this whole 'Neighbours from Hell' drivel we get in the British press, in which readers are titillated and outraged with daily tales of torment from hideous people next-door or down the road. If it isn't kids spitting and swearing, it's old men flipping the bird, or trimming the hedges from over the fence. If it isn't rowdy couples, it's gyppos settling on the commons, and asylum seekers eloping from the back of a lorry. These are the people New Labour promises to "boot out" and leave to fend for themselves "in a crackdown on yobs". These are the people who are expected to face ASBOs and "welfare disincentives" as part of the government's Respect Action Plan. These are the families the government pledges to put in "Sin Bins", a conceit that could quite easily have been supplied by Endemol. These are the people New Labour pledges to evict from the very country. New Labour's campaign message - vote to evict the arsehole! Let them fend for themselves in the ghetto. The tabloids will feature pictures and descriptions of new arseholes every day and encourage readers to participate in a phone-in poll to demand eviction. A daily diorama of candidates for the Sin Bin will be the topic of quasi-anthropological inspection and curiosity, their fate to be decided by our placebo democracy.