New media, racism and Big Brother

With reports that Big Brother racism complaints hit 2,000, clearly there is an issue here to be addressed.  As with earlier series of BB where gay and transvestite contestants have raised understanding of relevant issues, this year has stimulated debate about racism.

The programme has been a new media phenomenon since it began – and the 24:7 global dimension is added this year with fans of Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty in India able to follow and comment on the show.

I have seen some of the footage and felt the behaviour against Shilpa was certainly bullying.   I am currently reading some books on racism in relation to the new Diploma planning assignment – and there seems to most definitely be prejudice and ignorance at work here, which are features of racist behaviour.

I am also uncomfortable by the way in which it seems acceptable for one contestant to use a word (which I will not repeat – and which is still about the only word bleeped on UK television) to describe the actress, in preference to a racist term.  I think that any such insults – racist or sexist – are unacceptable.

Equally worrying was the ignorance shown by Jade Goody in asking a question about why Eskimo people don’t freeze to death.  I’m sure she is not alone in her lack of knowledge of other peoples – and this is a factor in racist attitudes. 

I think the BB brother producers could get involved – at least to set a task to increase the contestants understanding of each other and show a positive approach to this “social experiment”  – rather than allowing the base level to dominate.  If they can manipulate people to behave badly (which their elementary application of psychology does), can’t BB also show how attitudes of tolerance and respect can be motivated too?

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

7 thoughts on “New media, racism and Big Brother”

  1. But I’m a PR person with a degree in psychology – for me kitsch television is there to be analysed…. (how else can I justify any time spent watching it?)

  2. Heather, If all the contestants behaved nicely to each other, it would be too boring for words, but this has escalated to such an extent now with 10,000 complaints being made, as well as threatening emails being sent to contestants, and the personal interest of politicians in the UK and India, that Channel 4 cannot ignore it, it will have to intervene.

    It must be fascinating for you to watch through your Bernays-trained eyes. I shall look forward to this new planning assingment, btw.

  3. Ellee, I’m not advocating “happy clappy, group hug” television, but in the same way that BB clearly creates situations where there is conflict, I’d like to see it use techniques to introduce more humour, bizarre behaviour, unexpected friendships and so on.

    It is quite ridiculous here that politicians are involved – popularist hotair remember Blair and his comments on the Corrie “free Deirdre” campaign? They should stick to tackling such issues in the wider world – the individuals in this case will have to be responsible for their own actions when they are evicted. It will be more media hysteria of course…

  4. The media hysteria has certainly started, it’s growing out of all proportions. How can we restore calm over this situation instead of allowing it to escalate like the veiled Muslim women scenario? What this comes down to is foul-mouthed women being horrid to another contestant by using racial undertones. As you say, they will face the consequences on their evictions. I just hope papers do not pay them for their story.

  5. Someone has just posted a comment on my site saying they are burning effigies of BB producers in India. Couldn’t be better timing for Gordon Brown’s visit.

  6. Personally, I feel that too many people are easily whipped into a frenzy these days. There was a case on our local news yesterday of people with learning disabilities being attacked in their home because local ignorant idiots thought they were paedophiles. See

    People rarely take action to resolve problems where they could make a difference – but thanks to our “bored/boring” media, are happy to express outrage and blow everything out of proportion preventing reasoned outcomes. It is instant media crisis – on a global scale.

    I’m interested in how all this affects crisis management – it is almost like toddler tantrums, the biggest drama in the world for 5 minutes, appalling behaviour and lots of screaming, then all forgotten about the next. Supernanny types advocate ignoring the bad behaviour, but that isn’t an option for PRs caught up in the maelstrom.

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