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Editorial: Celebrity Big Brother dialogues – the global pantomime of race

by Ash Sharma and Sanjay Sharma
7 May 2007 • Comments (5) • Print PDF-Issue
Posted: Celebrity Big Brother [1] | Editorial

The banality of the UK Celebrity Big Brother (CBB) reality television show prepared no one for the global media spectacle of the fracas between the b-list Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty and the d(?)-list British super-ignoramus Jade Goody.[1] To debate whether the exchanges between an Indian Actress and a white working-class ex-Big Brother participant (and her co-conspirators) wasn’t a racist confrontation simply denies the multiplicity of racisms of British life. Contrary to Germaine Greer’s[2] insistence that Shetty vs. Goody exposed class rather than racial antagonisms, the aftermath of CBB raises more complex issues: What does the CBB media stampede say about the discourse of local-global race, gender and class relations? Is Reality TV the political unconscious of everyday repressed racisms? Does the ‘victory’ for Shetty indicate the triumph of anti-racism and/or multicultural neo-liberalism? These are some of many of the issues which have motivated the production of the first Journal Issue of darkmatter in the form of a series of dialogues interrogating CBB.

The analysis offered by the following pieces is by no means exhaustive and the global frame of reference needs to be developed further. One of the challenges of grasping the (in!)significance of CBB is being confronted by the unruly cultural politics of Reality TV. Hasn’t the relatively short-lived global pantomime of race which CBB generated now receded almost as quickly as it appeared? Notwithstanding the amnesia of contemporary popular culture, there is a danger that any public discussion of everyday racism is delimited by the very conditions of its articulation in a commodified parasitic media culture. What was dubbed as the CBB ‘race row’ revealed an ‘anti-racist’ public discourse that was little more than moralistic liberal knee-jerking. It also exemplified the central role of interactive media in creating new channels of fractured social discourse all caught up in the simulation of a transnational spectacle. It remains to be seen if ‘race-talk’ can develop new political modalities in the global virtual realm that move beyond the crisis and management mode of the liberal media sphere.

darkmatter is an experiment in creating a collective ‘prosthetic race memory’ that reconfigures the circuits of knowledge and power, in a situation where at present the blinding whiteness of network culture continues to make most of the people on the planet invisible. It seems appropriate for darkmatter to emerge at a time where a eurocentric media culture is reproducing itself as the champion of anti-racism, while simultaneously denying the central role of racism in the terrain of contemporary geo-politics. CBB was a minor symptom of the new digital politics of race to come.


1. Jade Goody on her farcical career-saving visit to India declared “I now know to tell my kids Pakistani people are not from India.” [↑]

2. Why does everyone hate me? The Guardian, 17 Jan 2007 [↑]

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 twitter: @ashdisorient He is completing a book on race and visual culture.
All posts by: Ash Sharma | Email | Website

Sanjay Sharma is a Co-Editor of darkmatter and responsible for the site admin. Currently teaches in the School of Social Sciences, Brunel University, UK. Twitter: @sanjay_digital
All posts by: Sanjay Sharma | Email | Website

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5 Responses »

  1. Sanjay, Ash,

    Congratulations on getting this out. Great.

    Good discussion of Shilpa-Jade. Was that a pic of Shilpa and Danielle in India in the Guardian today (14 May 07)?

    I totally agree its panto.

    That metaphor seems to me to have some purchase just now – see Pantomime Terror and Trinketization


  2. Thought you might be (belatedly) interested in my article on the subject:

  3. Thanks Alana.
    We actually already have a link to your article here

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