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When Shilpa met Jade: Celebrity Big Brother and Racist Enjoyment – schematic notes

by Ash Sharma
7 May 2007 • Comment (1) • Print
Posted: Celebrity Big Brother [1] | Commons

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A guide to the Schema:

This is a diagrammatic mapping of the racial logic of Celebrity Big Brother (CBB). Reworking Lacan’s schema from Seminar XX Encore it outlines the relationship of the three registers that structure human subjectivity:

Imaginary (I) – the illusion of wholeness, perfection.
Symbolic (S) – the order of ‘reality’ produced through language, which is always lacking.
Real (R) – the unsymbolisable limit of language.

The three ‘object’s are:

a – The objet a is the ‘whole in the real’ that sets symbolization in motion. The point at which the symbolic fails to represent the real but also produces the desire for the real.
Ф – is the failure of the imaginary to capture the real. In Lacan this is usually the Phallus- the symbol of castration and lack.
S (A) – designates the lack in the symbolic order.

The ‘abstract objects’ mark different ways of compensating for the deficiencies in the three registers. They work to ward off and possibly succumb to the Real of enjoyment (J) that organises the subject.

In the racial drama of CBB, Shilpa Shetty S(A) marks the ‘Imaginary Orientalist princess’ that causes and fills the lack in the Symbolic order. If racism is driven by the impossible whiteness of the Real and we understand whiteness as the ideal master signifier of race, ‘desiring whiteness’ is the attempt to be a subject without lack – a universal subject who can overcome castration, sexual difference and lack.See Kalpana Seshadri-Crooks (2000) Desiring Whiteness: A Lacanian Analysis of Race, London: Routledge In CBB, whiteness is the desire that structures the relationship between the impossible Real and the Imaginary.

The key objet a of desire, which at once sustains and keeps in motion the racist enjoyment of CBB was the televisual gaze itself. The gaze is the object that creates the desire to mark and look at racial Otherness as the Imaginary object, which in turn supports ‘desiring whiteness’ as the racist logic of the subject’s enjoyment of the unattainable Real.

The ‘anti-racist’ racist enjoyment of the programme was produced by the attempt to keep Shilpa Shetty as the beautiful imaginary object – the unattainable Thing – when it was threatened by the violence of Jade and her white working class gang, who undermined the universality of the master signifier of whiteness by marking whiteness itself as a class and racial particularity. The desiring TV gaze ideologically sutured together the fantasy of whiteness and ‘Oriental Otherness’ when it was threatened.

Ash Sharma is the co-editor of darkmatter. He teaches at the University of East London, UK and is a member of the Black Study Group (London). He blogs at tabula rasa and co-edits the writing zine Southern Discomfort . Re-imagining (sub)urban space at http://burncroydon.tumblr.com/. twitter: @ashdisorient He is completing a book on race and visual culture.
All posts by: Ash Sharma | Email | Website

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