Thursday, January 18, 2007

I Go Watch Big Brother then!

Britain is abuzz with Big Brother, and the treatment Shilpa Shetty is receiving from some of country's gossip-column celebrities. It is an ungainly, nasty affair. But it is not unusual. The word 'bitching' was not coined for nothing, and bullying and bad behaviour is the order of the day.

The things took a nasty turn as this became the fight of Shilpa versus the ladies of the house. And, yes, they were not nice at all. They could not pronounce Shilpa's name. This is commonplace though. It is usual for someone local not to be able to pronounce another person's alien name, though a reciprocal behaviour is considered to be offensive. It went to such extent Shilpa started getting called 'the Indian', and slowly this led to comments about Indians in general. Not surprisingly, a huge international row about racism ensued.


To me, racism is a non-issue. Well, unlike what people may be led to believe and say, it is there. And, let it be there. It allows some individuals, in a crisis of identity, to have something to cling to. A false superiority is fine as long as it is false, and keeps the individual blind and ignorant.

Before I get charged with racist abuse, let me explain. Channel 4, the broadcaster, is making a point that it isn't racism, it is cultural ignorance. Take this, for example. One of the participants refused to eat Chicken cooked by Shilpa Shetty because 'in India, they undercook the chicken, and hence so many Indians are undernourished'. Or, 'in India, they eat with hands; or is it China'. Surely ignorance - from Celebrities, to be showcased before an admiring public at the Prime time.


Somewhat in line with the queen who suggested cake to hungry public, Jo! But I dont blame you. Yours is exemplary behaviour, to be showcased for fun and excused for ignorance only. Your friends say you are not a 'bad person'. Well, of course, you are not. It seems everyone wants to forget that racism is a social, rather than individual, malaise. It is about ignorance in the core, and not about being a bad person.


That's my point. This huge debate is going nowhere, but watch it and you see what's wrong. Channel 4 does not feel ashamed about showcasing such ignorance, but will run for cover if some particular, labelled words would have been used. Yes, racism in our time is pedantic, it is about playing with words, it is about being safe and correct in the public face. You can't expect to put a camera in the bathroom and can't not have a scandal on your lap.


It is funny time, so watch the fun. A show is being put on. By the dumb CEO of Channel 4 and squeaking TV presenters who never valued decency. A bollywood actress doing her best in what she does best - act. A gang of C-list of celebs trying their best to be what they want to be - celebs. A boring TV show probably nailing the reality show coffin. Politicians who would rather point the blame to individuals, and hide the wider social malaise. And, the media - who would rather spend time analysing what is ignorance and where it becomes racism.

Amen!

Bangladesh : Keep watching!

The world is watching Bangladesh.

Well, not true. The world has other things to watch. Celebrity Big Brother, for example. Or, something else. There is always a show on, aint it? Why would anyone bother about Bangladesh, a country of no significance?

I would say, we better watch. It is a country of 130 million people, poor, with a majority following islam, but democratic – so far! Not an usual thing. And, also, unlike other Islamic democracies, the Prime Ministership is not granted for life [or till retirement]. There is lively elections, free and fair by most counts, and the party in power has been thrown out in last two elections. Some achievement!

It is poor. It is corrupt. But don’t snigger! Think of another poor, corrupt country which is democratic, and you will realise what Bangladesh brings to table. The true test of democracy – how to make the system work at the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ – is being played out here.

I am not suggesting that it is perfect. There is a lot of vote buying and black money. Of course! But then nowhere it is perfect, nor it is expected to be. How apt that the term ‘politically correct’ came actually from the Klu Klux Klan. Politics, yes, is all about flexibility, all over the world.

But, today, there is a show on – if the world cares to watch. That fragile democracy has just been given a new lease of life, with the intervention of the International Community. The UN Secy General started on the front-foot, intervening at the right time, when the ruling coalition and its underlings were about to hijack the election process. Army, to everyone’s surprise, stood idle, even with a popular preference towards army intervention. The generals did not walk in, presumably, fearing an international backlash. So different from Thailand or Fiji!

Also, so different from George Bush’s Democracy exports. It is a great success of an international community [including the US] maintaining a principled stance, and securing democracy in an important country.

However, all this happened because the World was not watching Big Brother then. The promised elections are still three to six months away. It will be sad if we forget about the country now, and let democracy falter again.

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