For several turbulent days last week, the BBC helped to fix the nation’s distressed gaze on an “international incident” between the governments of India and Great Britain. The British prime minister condemned an alleged home-grown atrocity against an Indian national in the most somber tones. Indian Minister for External Affairs Anand Sharma called it “unacceptable in any civilized society.” Angry mobs gathered in cities across India to burn figures in effigy. Chancellor Gordon Brown, traveling in the country, punctuated his schedule with a press conference. And Anglican Archbishop John Sentamu pleaded with Britons to cast out one of the “modern demons of our time.”
The incident, of course, was the racist row orchestrated by two house residents on the Channel 4 reality show Celebrity Big Brother. That such a petty, fribbling exchange could animate public discourse for days on end says something about the success of militant multiculturalism.
Millions of Britons stood on tip toe, it seemed, waiting to see if television star Jade Goody would be booted out of the house for talking trash to Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty. Every conceivable BBC outlet - its news, entertainment and business departments across its media empire - provided hour-by-hour updates as the drama unfolded. A bewildering array of the nation’s political figures, from Tony Blair to Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, were forced to condemn the rot of racial discrimination. “I think this is racism being presented as entertainment,” Jowell said, “and I think it’s disgusting.”
There was the usual slimy, serpentine denial by corporate executives. “It is unquestionably a good thing that the programme has raised these issues and provoked such a debate,” puffed the Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan. “These attitudes, however distasteful, do persist. We need to confront that truth.”
Lots of truths need confronting all right, beginning with this one: Britain’s experiment in multiculturalism is creating a paranoid culture - a society that reacts with Inquisitorial fear and loathing to anything that might offend racial and ethnic minorities.
Multiculturalism has helped to produce, in the words of Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips, a “collapse of national self-confidence.” Signs of that collapse, if it can be called that, were surely on display in the Big Brother brouhaha: At times it all seemed like a morbid exercise in national self-flagellation. Archbishop Sentamu warned gravely about the “demon” of racism - but like so many others he says next to nothing about the malevolent threat of Islamist preachers and their violent challenge to democratic life. That kind of outrage would require a certain conviction about the political and religious ideals of British society. “Multiculturalism is said to promote equal treatment for all cultures,” Phillips writes in Londonistan: How Britain is Creating a Terror State Within. “But this is not true. There is one culture that it does not treat equally at all, and that is the indigenous British culture.”
Here’s another truth about the whole affair that’s worth mentioning. A media organization that panders to a multicultural ideology has abandoned its civic calling - to strengthen, not weaken, the moral foundations of the nation’s democratic culture. Think about all of the issues, domestic and foreign, that were forced off the national radar screen for most of last week: the country’s rising rates of violent crime, the debate over immigration and national security, Iran’s progress toward developing a nuclear weapon, the genocidal violence of radical Islam in Darfur. When the BBC devotes more resources to inflame a voyeuristic food fight than to help ordinary citizens grasp the existential threats to democratic life - militant Islam, for starters - it is losing its way (I’d be the first to admit that most of the American broadcast media already has lost is way).
There were a few bright spots in the Big Brother storm. Conservative Party leader David Cameron, who sounded like one of the few adults in the conversation, simply told the BBC interviewer that people should turn off their television sets. At least 40,000 people fired off complaints to Channel 4, while 82 percent of the audience voted Goody off the show. The chief executive of Carphone Warehouse, a program sponsor, announced that his company was yanking its support. A UK chain pulled Goody’s perfume line from its shelves.
Even Jade Goody, whose insecurity and self-obsession seem boundless, appeared to suffer a pang of conscience. She weepily confessed that her outbursts were indeed racist and called her behavior “nasty and small.”
Yes, nasty and small. She had lots of company.