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7 ESLJ [i] (2009)

handle is hein.journals/entersport7 and id is 1 raw text is: ISSN 1748-944X

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Lieve Gies
School of Law, Keele University
When the fifth series of Celebrity Big Brother (CBB), a spin-off of the reality show Big Brother, 1
was broadcast in the UK in January 2007, it initially appeared that it would fail to generate
the same level of public interest as previous series. That changed spectacularly when the
show was hit by allegations of racism. As a reality format, the principal appeal of CBB is that
it gives viewers an opportunity to explore how well contestants cope with the pressure of
constant surveillance in the Big Brother House, often revealing their 'veridical' self (Rojek
2001) in the process. CBB also plays successfully with 'fame hierarchies' (Holmes, in this
issue). One of its trademarks is its fondness for making 'top' celebrities (i.e. participants with
some degree of fame) mingle with bottom-ranking Z-listers. A masterstroke in the 2006
series was undoubtedly the introduction of the non-celebrity Chantelle Houghton, whom
celebrity peers genuinely believed to be a singer in the (fictitious) girl band Kandy Floss.
When she went on to win the show, her triumph appeared to confirm not only that everyone
can be famous these days but also that everyone can successfully pretend to be famous.
Celebrity itself has become a kind of pastiche we can skill ourselves in by studiously reading
the celebrity press and cherry-picking the most affordable aspects of celebrity fashion and
lifestyle. Despite its continuing association with privilege, wealth and excess, celebrity status
appears to have been become increasingly egalitarian thanks to the ubiquity of reality TV.
Celebrity is nevertheless less democratic than it often appears to be (Turner 2004). What  2
shows such as Big Brother fail to explain is that the 'ordinary' people they feature are most
likely to be individuals with some talent for celebrity: it is mostly those with good or unusual
looks, an extrovert nature, an exuberant personality or colourful past, etc. who will be primed
for celebrity status. As Holmes points out in her contribution, even in our age of supposedly
manufactured celebrity, fame retains an element of mystique and charisma. Nevertheless,
reality TV's promise that celebrity is equally available to all may account for the apparent
determination of some to pursue it at all costs. This raises some important ethical questions
about the welfare of vulnerable wannabes and the need to balance their eagerness to be
famous against the risk of exposure to ridicule and contempt when appearing on television. A
person's dignity is all too easily compromised on reality TV. A judge recently called the
Jeremy Kyle Show, a daytime UK chat show which thrives on conflict and confrontation
between its guests, a 'human form of bear baiting'? (Cadwalladr 2008). He was making his
remarks on the occasion of fining a defendant for headbutting another guest on the show. Not
all reality TV is admittedly this extreme. However, viewing pleasure in a format such as Big
Brother typically derives from the unavoidable conflict which emerges when a group of
strangers are made to live together while being under constant camera surveillance and with
seemingly no possibility for escape other than making an early exit from the show.
In Britain, Jade Goody has become the epitome of the trappings of celebrity in the age of  3
reality TV. As Holmes explains in her contribution, Jade gained fame and popularity by
appearing on Big Brother in 2002, but there was always a degree of ambivalence towards her
in the British press. She was liked and had shown extraordinary staying power in the fickle
world of celebrity, but affection for her was based on public fondness for her well-publicised
gaffes, her poor education and her supposed stupidity. When she returned to the reality
format that made her famous and appeared on CBB 2007, she entered the show a star but
left disgraced and in fear of her own safety. The cause of her downfall was her apparent racist
behaviour towards her fellow contestant, the Indian Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty. Her
main allies in the House, former pop star Jo O'Meara and model Danielle Lloyd, also stood
accused of racism towards Shilpa. Jade attempted a comeback by taking part in the Indian
version of the show in the summer of 2008. A cruel twist of fate meant that she learned that
she had advanced cervical cancer while on the show. Although the footage was not broadcast
in the UK at the time, this incident once again highlighted the ethical quagmire that is reality
TV. As the CBB race incident amply demonstrated, regulators and lawmakers struggle to deal

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