3 February 2007

Big Brother - a game within a game

By Jacqui McCarney

Human Psychology. Lesson 1: Bullying results from hatred and hatred grows out of fear. Simple!

A childhood where dad is absent - sometimes in prison - and mum is a drug addict who needs so much looking after that school is often missed must, indeed, be terrifying. In that situation children have few choices – they give up and imitate their failed parents or they fight their way out. Jade Goody choose to fight her way out and that fighting instinct got her all the way from deprivation and poverty to celebrity and financial success. To that extent she deserves our applause.

But simple it is not. Why be concerned about human psychology if,even simple stuff, when you can have all the excitement of righteous indignation and a reassuring feeling of superiority?

Jade Goody couldn't have known that the game she found herself in was much bigger than Big Brother and heavily stacked against her. She might not have bothered to fight her way out of her awful childhood if she had known how many people would relish pushing her back there. It seems that to be a white, working class female in Britain today is to give licence to any amount of venomous abuse.

Racism (except to Muslims) homophobia and sexism against the middle class women is no longer fashionable. That is a long way from saying it is no longer a problem! But it is a shift in the right direction. Fashions in scapegoats change but class hatred is a British perennial. Today we see an extraordinary level of viciousness and now increasingly directed at working class women - from Vicky Pollard to Victoria Beckham, the venom has a particularly misogynistic element. Jade Goody has been described as "thick bitch", "a witch" and "a slut". One tabloid newspaper described her as "a vile pig-ignorant racist bully" - apparently oblivious to the bullying nature of such attacks.

Jade Goody found celebrity by representing all we hate about the working class. New Labour knew that to be supported by the right wing tabloid media they needed to ditch their working class roots. In Mr Blair's 'Classless Britain' – multi-culturism and the changing economy were set to erode the class system anyway. But the only thing that has being eroded is mentioning the working class. It reminds me of the famous saying - when man stops believing in God, he doesn't then believe in nothing, he believes in anything. The working class have become anything – as long as it is bad - "chavs"; the "feckless ignorant" who live on estates, fail at parenting, fill our prisons; "neighbours from hell" spend their money on fags, booze and drugs. Their offspring are "yobs", "hooligans", "hoodies" who need to be controlled by ASBOS, parenting classes and now 'respect zones'.

Whipping up hatred is a game that unites the fearful - the victim is irrelevant – whether it is gypsies, gays, blacks, immigrants, women, or teenagers – who cares? It is a game that has economic rewards for the tabloid media but immeasurable social costs for the rest of us.

Evidence suggests that our hatred and punishment is ineffective in quelling the problem. Anti- social behaviour is rampant and young people increasingly indifferent to authority.

Money spent on education has failed to improve the lot of the poorest. Work by Leon Feinstein, University College London, shows that the British class divide in education is one of the worst in the world. By the time children get to school it is too late – socio-economic attainment gap is evident in children as young as 22 months. It is the middle class who continue to benefit most from money spent on education.

Jade Goody represents our failure and our hypocrisy. We fail to protect the most vulnerable from the worst effects of poverty and deprivation and then we exploit them for our entertainment. When they get it badly wrong as Jade Goody did, they are very suddenly on their own and we refuse any responsibility for what has taken place. But we don’t stop there. Jade Goody's hatred and fear is nothing compared to the hatred and fear of rest of us.

We may not be in Big Brother but our hatred and fear is exploited just as successfully as Jade Goody's. It is all wrapped up and sold back to us by magazines, newspapers and television programmes.

Jade Goody's battle with Shilpa Shetty was about class - Class vs Trash as one newspaper described it. Money spent on education and the law is undermined by this culture of endless abuse – if we treat people like trash, they will act like trash.