TV A few weeks ago I was looking through old weblog posts from a few years ago and was struck by how much I'd been offering my opinions on Big Brother, particularly the fourth year, with John Tickle and Nush and everyone turning up on RI:SE every morning. I haven't really paid close attention to it in years, skipping the nightly 'highlights' shows but inevitably picking up some of the narrative in television columns and on blogs and from people I've talked to.

Surprisingly considering the apparent downturn in the ratings, this year's Celebrity edition has seemed to have more press than ever. I missed the Galloway cat leotard completely until it became relevant later in the year but I somehow managed to catch the opening show of this series and I've been dipping in and out whenever something 'exciting' happens, like Leo Sayer swearing at security guards.

Last night, while I was waiting for The Trial of Tony Blair I saw the closing moments of the episode, and the incident between Jade Goody and Shilpa Shetty (watched by us and Cleo Rocos). I can't really comment on anything else that might have happened because I haven't seen it and I can only really talk on the basis of the material shown, edited as it was.

But this was the worst example of public bullying I've seen in years. And it derailed me.

I was bullied at school, from the infant school right up through into my sixth form at secondary school. We aren't talking about the odd name, or playing about between friends. This was a systematised, endemic bullying in which I was treated like a sub-human to the extent that I would sometimes be afraid to go to school. Sometimes it would be sillier subjects like I'd told the wrong person that my pet rabbit had frozen to death in the cold and I'd get incessant chants of run rabbit run down the hallway or in my face. Generally it was about my weight or something I might have said in a club or society.

I remember some mornings before register I'd be on the floor of the classroom, groups of lads around me chanting or smacking me with a ruler. Usually it was much subtler than that, the odd word there, the grabbing from behind by the back pack and swung around there. Having your lunch routed through. You know that scene in The Breakfast Club when Bender goes through Brians lunch? Realism, although in my case it would be sandwiches themselves that would end up being trampled on. On the one occasion I did retaliate, and I slapped them on the back, they threw my head into a wall and I ended up in hospital.

But what bullies hardly ever realised is that they're not the only ones. They tend to think it's just them bullying you, when actually there will be a range of them, in different classes or years and sometimes across the day it would be a drip, drip, drip affair as I moved about my day about the school, trying to avoid certain places because I knew certain people were there. Dave Gorman notes how bullies can become sucked into a pattern of behaviour:
"I don't enjoy watching it and I think they are behaving like bullies. I think there are unpleasant undertones to it and when they sit together and discuss Shilpa they egg each other on, perhaps feeling closer to each other the more they can display their dislike for Shilpa. It's as if by using more and more cartoonish insults, Shilpa is made less and less real to them and they then feel less and less guilty about saying worse and worse things."
The point I'm trying to make is that when you've experienced bullying, you know what it looks like and it shatters you when you see it again. Over the course of about forty-five minutes, Jade demolished Shilpa. In the sections we saw, Jade was using the righteous indignation approach - the 'I'm right because I don't understand you' approach, the 'You're different to me - what's wrong with you?' and the classic 'How can she (meaning S Club's Jo) be wrong now if she was nice to you once before.'

Essentially Jade, like the bullies who wouldn't leave me alone knew what Shilpa's weaknesses were and strip mined them for all their worth. If you tell someone who obviously spends there life trying to be straight up and genuine that you can't tell when they're being fake in the kind of arrogant way that she was, that's bullying. If someone is covered in tears and having to justify the length of time they've cooked a chicken and the person whose put them in that position isn't consoling them or seeing the wrong they're doing, that's bullying.

Even with the editing of the sequence (and for all we know Shilpa could have stood up for herself in the gap), I shivered to see Jade coldly sitting on the end of that table, looking down at Shilpa absolutely destroyed, not a glimmer of sympathy in her eyes. From what I've seen, Shilpa hasn't done anything to deserve that treatment other than tried to be friendly, open and interested. One of the points of Jade's bizarre argument seemed to be that Shilpa had made a nomination choice that Jade had refused to - which is odd considering this is supposed to be a game show, something that Goody has obviously forgotten. Again.

There'll be some who'll wonder why Shilpa doesn't simply react in a much louder way and essentially shout back louder. I have seen her get frustrated and even angry here and there, but she's of the conciliatory personality, like me, she doesn't like arguments because they can be so frustrating. She's possibly just not used to people being so nasty and disrespectful to her. Why hasn't she walked? Because that would let the bullies win.

Somewhere along the line, the producers of the show lost sight of what was supposed to be entertaining and what were supposed to be their own rules about the housemates treating each other with respect. As Shilpa's UK manager, Jaz Barton has said: "She didn't come into the house to have that sort of harassment." People have been kicked off the show in some parts of the world for using physical violence, so why isn't mental cruelty also on the list? On the basis of this would Nick have gone in series one? Is it because these are celebrities, under contract, and they're too frightened to do anything lest the lawyers get involved?

It will be interesting to see the reaction when each of these people leaves the house and attempts to carry on with their so-called careers. Goody has already lost one or two of her endorsements and I think I'll respect those magazines and papers that simply ignore her interview overtures or stop printing the details of her every movement. They won't of course, but perhaps the coverage will be less sympathetic. It's a shame that Shilpa doesn't really know who Jade actually is - through sheer exposure the woman is a walking magnet for retaliatory stories (the London Marathon incident not withstanding).

So anyway, on the basis of all this Shilpa to win. And I'll be very surprised if she doesn't.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Stu, thanks for an interesting and thoughtful post.