Good but never that good

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 21 Jan 2007

WHAT do trashy television programmes, US presidential candidacies, Japan and a new British film star have in common? Perceptions by some in what it means to be different, implications of the differentness, and ultimately what is deemed acceptable. 

Perceptions of others based on race and class can be pivotal, however much political correctness or embarrassment may suppress and deny it. Racism is seldom accepted and even more rarely acknowledged, which explains its enduring nature. 

The row over Britain’s Celebrity Big Brother show on Channel Four exposes the xenophobia of the British contestants towards the Indian actress Shilpa Shetty, a snafu that in turn reveals British officialdom’s intolerance to such intolerance. 

Shetty broke down after being subjected to jibes, taunts and insults by the white contestants who exuded a degree and consistency of bigoted offensiveness that might not have happened had she been a white product of a local comprehensive (school) in Clapham.  

Even if she were a black (West Indian) product of a Brixton comprehensive she would have been insulated from such spleen because of established political correctness, whereas Asians fall somewhere in a no-man’s-land and have to take more of the shocks. 

Racism is seldom clear-cut when it is leavened with class differences and garnished with commercial and political considerations. So as Channel Four denied racism, heated protests foamed in India and political leaders uttered statements, confusion reigned such that Shetty refrained from citing racism, acknowledged it, then retracted that. 

Apparently what riled the white working-class contestants was not only the fact that Shetty was an Indian from India, but that she was a successful middle-class individual with bourgeois mannerisms. But there may be no getting away from the racial aspect, since even if they were middle-class, Shetty might still be victimised for being an uppity native from the (former) colonies putting on airs. 

The pervasiveness of Western racial bigotry was broadcast recently by Rosie O’Donnell when she offended Asian (Chinese) Americans, before she turned her bile on Donald Trump for other reasons. Even in her supposed apology later, instead of saying sorry to the offended, O’Donnell reportedly said only that she was “sorry for” Asian Americans for feeling offended. 

Among American liberals, there is currently some antipathy to the notion of Senator Barack Obama vying to be the first black US president. He may be (half) black, which is fine with liberals, but some also say he speaks too much like a white man, meaning he seems too middle class. 

The implication is that only white persons are middle class, and are necessarily so as presidential candidates. In the absence of a black working-class candidate, would a white middle-class person then be preferable to Obama? 

Japan has risen from the ashes of war to be a wealthy upper-middle-class country, defeated in war by the West only to glorify it now as even young Japanese wishing they were born Caucasian amply show. This explains why Japan fears being outdone by a rising China, even or especially in times of peace, given how it has long undervalued China apart from committing war atrocities there. 

Even the controversy over Daniel Craig as the latest James Bond suggests public intolerance over class and political differences, which even the first scholarly French colloquium on “the Bondian universe” in Paris this week missed. Critics had said that Craig was too ugly, too short (both untrue) or otherwise too unsuitable to be 007. 

What nobody has said is that Craig looks too working class to be the suave colleague of the Hampstead-style M of Bernard Lee and Dame Judi Dench. When 007 is known to indulge in Beluga caviar, Dom Perignon and Bollinger champagne, Savile Row dinner jackets and even a Bugatti Royale, fans are stuck with a sweaty Craig who would rather do his own stunts. 

Then there is also the political aspect nobody has openly admitted: Craig looks too much like a younger Vladimir Putin, ex-Russian intelligence chief and popular leader of the former (and budding future) nemesis of the West. Cold War icon Bond, James Bond, was never meant to resemble the other side’s real-time hero. 

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