January 19, 2007

Classist jouissance


Three interesting posts on new Lacanian blog Foucault is Dead about Celebrity Big Brother.

The rather unedifying furore provoked by CBB this year presents a very depressing picture of Britain in 2007. Initially, it was gratifying to see so many members of the public complain about the treatment of Shilpa Shetty. Yet, it quickly became apparent that there was another jouissance in play here: as Foucault is Dead correctly notes, the enjoyment of castigating Jade, of anticipating the derision and humilation she will face once she leaves the house, involves, undoubtedly, a classist jouissance. Under the cover of defending a housemate from racism, the media and the public have indulged in a slew of class hatred.

Goody's behaviour in the house makes it clear that class is about a sense of inferiority which cannot be ameliorated by the acquisition of wealth (she is reputedly worth several million pounds). Goody's role in the national pantomime since she rose to fame has been to play the role of lumpen proletarian gargoyle: inarticulate, lacking in basic general knowledge, prone to flying into ecstasies of rage such as she subjected Shetty to the other day. Such behaviour has been alternately reviled and rewarded - Goody's success was based on a wave of sympathy which followed a similar monstering when she appeared on Big Brother the first time - so it shouldn't be surprising if Goody is confused about how to act. This is not to excuse Goody's actions - but her behaviour cannot be separated from the class impasses of British society, which more than ever trap the working class in miserable self-denigration and low self-confidence (even if those traits are concealed behind boorish bravado and conspicuous hedonism).

While Goody and her compatriots have certainly bullied Shetty, I agree with Foucault is Dead that the treatment of the actress has not been straightforwardly racist. There have been racist remarks, but the central dynamic appears to be resentment and jealousy rather than racial hatred. There are certain structural similarities with racism in that the housemates who have attacked Shetty have done so on the basis of fantasies about the enjoyment of the other: Shetty, for instance, is held to have been given privileged treatment by Big Brother.

It is pleasing that the debate around the programme has concerned whether or not racism has happened rather than whether racism is acceptable or not. But it is worth thinking about why postmodern media abominates racism (at the level of discourse; it has, of course, done little to tackle racism and a structural problem) but is worryingly silent about class.

Incidentally, those looking forward to the ending of Jade's career are sure to be disappointed. The soap opera rhythm of postmodern media will not alllow it. The routine is now familiar: a rash of cancelled contracts, period of silence, followed by triumphant, contrite, return.

Posted by mark at January 19, 2007 10:13 PM | TrackBack