Thursday, January 18, 2007

Shilpa Shetty 2: Satire is Dead

The Big Brother Racism story reveals another terrible truth about our world - it can no longer be satirised. The simple facts of the case are so wildly implausible, so deliriously stupid, that satirists can only stand back in awe and admiration. Some very coarse individuals on a TV game show that involves being imprisoned inside a house express, in terms of laughable ignorance, a degree of racial prejudice against another inmate. Professionally outraged people become professional outraged and Gordon Brown's visit to India is turned into a ludicrous pantomime in which people burn effigies of somebody or other connected with Big Brother, newspaper headlines crow about the racism of the British and Brown himself has to keep grinding out the platitudes about what a terrible thing racism is - yadda-yadda-yadda. Meanwhile, back in the house, the contestants don't know any of this has happened. Not, it has to be said, that they would understand if they were told. This Jade Goody character in particular seems desperately thick. Anyway, here is some, if not satire, then biting comment. The Doomsday Clock kept by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has been moved two minutes closer to midnight. It is now five minutes to midnight - the end of the world. The move is a result of including climate change in the calculations. This has brought us as close to doomsday as we were in the bleakest days of the Cold War. The peaks were at two minutes in 1953 and three minutes in 1984. Still, I am sure it is very important that we take the anger of the Indians and the complaints of Shilpa's mother very seriously indeed. I mean - who knows? - the incident might result in her winning the show. That would be very exciting.


  1. I had to laugh (it might have been an ironic laugh) as I watched the news last night on Irish television. The headlines were about the usual stuff (including Big Brother) and then, finally, almost as an afterthought, we get: "Humankind moves a step closer to complete annihilation" (or something like that). The Big Brother story is more important than our very existence in the universe, it seems.

  2. On the other hand, the Doomsday Clock thing is insufferably pompous.

    The self-proclaimed experts already got it wrong when they thought they were counting down to the end of the world during the Cold War, and it turned out they were only counting down to the end of the Soviet Union.

  3. If I paid the TV tax, I would be outraged that this non-story designed to boost the ratings for Ch4's most boring programme ever, led the BBC News. The suspected terrorists trial was second place. Given that this TV tax is set to rise again in April, I hope more people will decide to challenge this nonsense and refuse to pay. If there should be any tax on viewing, it should be based on pay per view and not pay for it hardly to be watched at all. What percentage of the TV tax goes to Crapita pursuing the growing numbers of non-payers? It does not pay them to take everybody to court. Simply resist to help them in their enquiries.

  4. By plugging Channel 4's Big Brother, Breakfast News is presumably just fulfilling the BBC’s obligation to be even-handed, since the rest of the time it plugs its own terrible reality programmes - principally Strictly Come Dancing and that singing one that nobody watched.


    Why don't you pay the TV tax? The license fee provides all of its payers with an inestimable national service: the ability to complain endlessly about the rubbish they waste our license fee on.

  5. the online pixieJanuary 18, 2007 3:17 pm

    Now Carephone Warehouse have 'suspended' their sponsorship of Big Brother surely we'll begin to see changes. Nevermind what the politicians say- it's when the money talks that the producers take notice.

  6. Brit, it is easy to scoff with the benefit of hindsight. I think the Doomsday Clock is a useful concept. It is not pompous of these scientitsts to offer their analysis in this way. On the contrary, to dismiss their analysis out of hand smacks of arrogance and pompousness.

  7. My dear Neil, the word is 'pomposity', and it's what I do best, don'tcha know, as you can tell from this very sentence.

    But leaving the pompouricity or otherwise aside for a moment, doesn't the fact that they had to move it back once rather expose the whole premise as a bit of a nonsense?

    Anyway, it's not like there aren't plenty of other voices out there telling us how beastly we're being to Gaia.

  8. I'm with Brit. I think that Doomsday Clock is ridiculous -- lugubrious to the hilt. People living through the Black Plague in Medieval Europe would certainly have set it to 11:59. If they could see the Western World as it is now (where no one in Europe ever dies of the plague, much less a transient fever), they'd turn it back to 11 a.m.

    But, Neil, I do have a question for you and it's about an Irish slang term. I recently read a great novel by Roddy Doyle, _Paula Spencer_, and the main character keeps referring to her strong sister as a "wagon." What the heck does that mean?

    Thank you, and sorry Bryan for using this thread to talk to Neil. Neither he nor I has a clickable address.

  9. Brit: I have never paid it, and do not wish to start a bad habit at my age in life. I was taken to court but I beat them. If it went back to £12 per year, I think it is worth a £1 per month, 90p for the odd good programme, and 10p for all the crap and repeats. One should not have to pay to complain, I complain all the time, like the Grumpy Old Men, and it's free. This is the price of a democracy...

  10. Jailhouselawyer:

    So, in essence, you make up for your shameless free-riding by complaining about what I pay for on my behalf?

    It's a novel angle, I'll give you that.

  11. I'm with Brit and Susan regarding the Doomsday Clock. A self-selected bunch of Right Reverend Scientists decides to pontificate and we common mortals are all expected to bow down and genuflect before their superior judgment. Screw them and their bloody timepiece.

  12. I believe 'pompousness' is allowed, Brit. As for your other point, I think you have missed the point. Not to worry, eh?

    Susan, a "wagon" is a term of abuse for a female who is believed to be of questionable morals. As it happens, it is most often used by those with questionable morals. Thinking about it, though, it has become a bit of a portmanteau term (am I using this in the right way, Brit), in so far as it can mean lots of different things, none of them complimentary. It is commonly preceded by the word 'bleedin' as in "What are you lookin at, ye bleedin wagon?" Its usage may be confined to Dublin - I'm not sure it's used countrywide. Andrew might have something to add to this. Have you tried Googling it? I might try now out of curiosity. I might have got it wrong.

  13. Moving the Doomsday clock closer to midnight at this point in time seems an alarmist response to recent world events. A number of questions arise here:

    1) If the Doomsday clock has been set closer to midnight because of the danger of Iran and North Korea gaining nuclear weapons, will the clock be set further from midnight in the event that Israel or America bomb Iran's nascent nuclear installations?

    2) Why do the board of directors of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists believe that they are uniquely qualified to judge the level of risk? Would people employed as strategic defence analysts not perhaps be better qualified?

    3) How are the board of directors able to quantify the level of risk in such a way? Would they like to show us their calculations? Would their reasoning survive the peer-review process?

  14. Bryan,

    After reading your excellent comments on wall flies, I noted this picture in the Guardian:,,1992944,00.html

    The wall fly surveillance of the accused bomb plotters in the Lake District by the usual PC Plods seems to have produced the most feeble evidence of conspiracy. It is perhaps unusla to stand in a line in the Lake District and pray, but these pathetic pictures are as a egregious as anything by Paul Watson.

    Chris H

  15. Susan, I'm having a bad vocabulary day. My wife says that 'wagon' means something like 'bitch'. One on-line dictionary says it means 'an awkward woman'. As for the word 'portmanteau', as you probably spotted, I've misused that as well (I'm surprised Brit hasn't taken great pleasure in pointing this out to me after the pompousness/pomposity debacle earlier). For the next couple of days, I'll be keeping it simple.

  16. I've been watching this on and off and none of it's struck me as overt racism. If you watch the captions on the news, none of them could be said to be racist. Just bullying. It's more to do with the fact Shilpa is more attractive and glamorous than the bullies.
    I think this is mainly reactionary liberals just taking at face value that this is racist and demanding that everyone should be concerned about this. For instance, the most surreal thing happened yesterday, Peter Hain came on radio 4 to talk about one thing and one thing only, the big brother fiasco.
    He said it was disgraceful and that racism was horrible in whatever form. But when pushed by the interviewer about which incident in the house most concerned him he couldn't mention one. He then confessed that he hadn't seen it.
    I mean, people are just believing what they are hearing. It's having a snowball effect and people are just assuming it's to do with racism when it's more about jealosy.

  17. HI, I found this post on Global Voices..., as i have said elsewhere...

    is this a case of a little too much reality? hey, it�s not called reality tv for nothing! if you want sanitized tv, or tv that fits your own normative model of how a society should be then go play sims on your playstation 3�

    on the one hand some claim the show is racist for tolerating such behavior, on the other hand the fact that other races are on the show at all could be seen as a move to diversity and positive�i think that the show is taking a chance by showing �a� truth about society�

    i haven�t seen the show�what puzzles me is that with all the sexism, homophobia, etc�shown on tv alreday, we are getting so excited over this show�?

  18. We lack an easy way to explain that an unattractive woman of low education and little talent is jealous of someone from a different background with a little more talent and attractiveness; and so jump on the nearest available 'ism' to express our disapproval. I could be wrong, going on hearsay, as I've not watched the programme in question.

  19. Neil, please thank your wife for me. "Bitch" makes more sense. But does she know where it comes from, why "wagon"? Obviously, when I think of a wagon, I think of a cart to carry things. So I'm wondering how that term became derogatory. (Maybe it's a variant of something we say here: "She's a bitch on wheels.")

    Big Brother sounds like a loathesome show. Very happy to have missed it.

  20. I will certainly look into it for you, Susan. I might have a Irish slang dictionary at home. The online ones I found don't provide an etymology.

  21. I would like to remind the readers of Plato's wisdom.

    He wrote in The Republic:

    'We would not have our guardians grow up amid images of moral deformity, as in some noxious pasture, and there browse and feed upon many a baneful herb and flower day by day, little by little, until they silently gather a festering mass of corruption in their own soul.'

    And he wrote as well:

    'And I pray Nemesis not to visit upon me the words which I am going to utter.

    For I do indeed believe that to be an involuntary homicide is a less
    crime than to be a deceiver about beauty or goodness or justice
    in the matter of laws. And that is a risk which I would rather
    run among enemies than among friends, and therefore you do well to encourage me.'

  22. Susan, I was in the library today with my kids and I remembered that some 'awkward woman' had asked me about the meaning of 'wagon'. I had a look in some slang dictionaries and all but one gave some background to the term and where it came from. Apparently, it did mean a prostitute at one time, as one can take a 'ride' on a wagon. And a 'ride' in Ireland is a term sometimes used to refer to the act of sexual intercourse. In more recent times, it seems, 'wagon' is used in a more generic way to refer to any female one doesn't particularly like. So I wasn't too far off the mark in my orginal remarks, I was just a bit out of date.


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