Weaver's Week 2007-06-10

Weaver's Week Index

'Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.'


Naive? Nincompoop? Numpty?

Readers are warned that the third paragraph of the following section contains a word often found offensive.

Big Brother: The N Word

Two weeks ago, we reported the fall-out from Celebrity Big Brother. We noted,

Channel 4 has conducted its own review, which focussed on the viewer response - primarily, that the producers had been slow to challenge the views expressed by the contestants, or had not done so with sufficient force. C4 is clarifying the ground rules for Big Brother, and is tightening up its relationship with Endemol, including having more people, and more senior people, on set.

Last Wednesday, one of the contestants in the current Big Brother spoke to another, saying, "Are you pushing it out, you nigger?" On Thursday morning, Channel 4's press office issued a statement, which we'll summarise.

The contestant immediately made clear that she had not intended to offend and that the comment had been meant as a joke. Two other contestants agreed that they were not personally offended, although both did express shock at the language she had used. In the ensuing discussion, the contestant acknowledged that she should have been more careful with her words.
The comment was not screened as part of the streaming on E4 and was immediately reported up to senior production staff at Endemol. In consultation with senior executives at Channel 4, the decision was taken to remove the contestant from the house on the grounds that she had broken the rules governing contestant behaviour.

Channel 4 is clearly in a bind here. There is an argument that the contestant had run the risk of causing offence, other contestants had made her aware that she had risked causing offence, and that the matter was well on the way to resolution simply by the regular contestant interaction.

There is also an argument that that particular word is so charged that its very utterance, in whatever context, automatically causes offence. It belongs to a class of words that connote a complete otherness, words that are often used to indicate the speaker thinks someone else is not One Of Us. Given the sensitivities exposed by the previous run of the show, Channel 4 decided that it would rather fight a battle saying that it had over-reacted, rather than under-reacted, and threw out the contestant.

Some linguists have noted this particular word is beginning to be recaptured for general use and lose its gravely offensive nature - the well-researched website Language Log noted last December, "If you're black and young, then in some very informal contexts you may be able to get away with using it to friends as an edgy but basically affectionate in-group term, connoting familiarity and solidarity." 1 From the basic transcript, and what we could see of the incident on-screen, this appears to have been the context intended by the contestant. Unlike her counterparts earlier in the year, the contestant intended no malice; the problem was caused only by her social clumsiness, a point developed by blogger Dizzy:

Friends speak to each other in differing ways. They use words that outside their circle may make no sense or may, sometimes, be assumed to be offensive. Someone who spends their day in a multi-racial peer group (and I have no idea if the girl on Big Brother did but it is irrelevant to the point) will, often, fall foul of acting how they do with their peers when with those who are effectively strangers. When this happens it is their misjudgement of the situation, and also a misjudgement of the familiarity with which they are permitted to speak with the stranger. Does this make them racist, sexist, bigoted, or whatever label the dominant thought police in society choose to use? 2

By taking the path of short-term resistance, Channel 4 has done the right thing for itself. It's most unlikely that the regulators will find anything much to criticise in this incident. But we have to remember - as another Language Log post noted - "racism has become unacceptably disgusting to most thinking people... It picks you out as someone to stay away from. It identifies you as disgusting and fit only to be shunned. A person who would never be invited to dinner." 3, emphasis in the original By singling out this contestant, has Channel 4 given her a stigma for life? Or did she do that herself?

At this point, it's worth our while remembering the beginning of the current series of Shipwrecked, back on 21 January. In that programme, one of the contestants made some ill-informed and probably racially motivated comments. It is not possible to argue that these were words used affectionately; the contestant was speaking alone, and had had the opportunity to consider her position. Because Shipwrecked is filmed many months in advance, it wasn't possible to edit her out of the programme, and the producers had to film her for the remaining episodes. During that time, it became clear to even the most sceptical that she had realised the gross error of her ways, and she is among the six who may win the viewer's prize.

Channel 4 and its agents Endemol have the moral right to remove the contestant from Big Brother, as an example of the channel's intolerance of behaviour it deems unacceptable; by extension, behaviour OFCOM deems unacceptable; by further extension, behaviour the British Public deems unacceptable. It is worth remembering that even the most offensive language, such as this word, is not completely prohibited by the OFCOM codes. Where racist behaviour is placed in context, challenged, and shown up for the small-minded thinking that it represents, it may be permissible to use terms that would be offensive in isolation. We should also remember that OFCOM's criticism of Channel 4 was for its failure to adequately challenge the racist behaviour on Celebrity Big Brother, rather than for allowing it to happen in the first place.

When we saw the transmitted programme, it became clear that Endemol had decided to make this incident the centrepiece of the programme, even though did not reflect the actual events in the studio. The very limited conversation between the contestants about the matter was played in full, and the totality of the hours was ignored. In spite of its best search, Endemol was unable to find evidence of particular offence in the contestants' quarters. It is reasonable for Channel 4 to argue that the "viewing public may be offended"; given the broadcast's previous form, this was almost certain. The reaction of the contestant, when she was given her marching orders by Phil Edgar-Jones at three in the morning, had prescience: "this wasn't a big thing ... unless you've edited it that way."

Channel 4 couldn't win either way, and 1000 people critical of the contestant's removal had lodged complaints with the broadcaster by Friday night. Leave the contestant in, and expect calls from the entire population of a large town. Remove her, and be criticised for blowing a small incident out of all proportion. The only way for Channel 4 to avoid such a controversy would be not to commission the series at all.

This column has no truck with prejudice of any nature. We are deeply unsettled by prejudice based on age, on sex, on hair colour, and on race. We are also unsettled by the prejudice implicit in knee-jerk reactions such as, "You used The N-Word! You must be a hateful disgrace to the human race." Channel 4 had a golden opportunity to do some more public service broadcasting, and to explore some of the finer nuances of the way contemporary society sees itself. It has spurned that chance, preferring to paint the world in broad brushstrokes and primary colours.

Can Big Brother still fulfil its original function of holding up a mirror to society, if the reflection is ignored in favour of an oil-painting on the wall? Is it becoming like the character in a certain Orwellian dystopia of thought crimes and new speak? Are we to conclude that one use of this particular word is worse than inflicting violence on other people (see 2004's infamous battle)? Does Channel 4 have the moral right to brand someone a racist, with all that that term connotes, and with no effective right of appeal? This incident has raised so many questions, and provided so few answers.

Further reading: OFCOM's adjudication was published in November 2007

Countdown Update

There will be those who found the deep and meaningful philosophy above a little too much. Let us go to the other end of Channel 4's schedule, to the parlour game, and pose the question, who will be in the Countdown Finals Week? We now know the line-up.

When we last looked, Aaron Webber was the champ. He won all eight games, scoring 773 points, and was the only octochamp to beat our Par metric of good but not brilliant performances. Madeleine Hicks (149 pts) and Rob Waters (184) each won a single game - Mr. Waters' is the second-highest total for a one game winner in the Des Era. Nick Wainwright unseated him, and proceeded to win all eight games, making 733 points. Rob Bennie took over the vacant chair, but only did so when his opponent forgot to declare he had not written down a word - it's harsh, but those are the rules. Mr. Bennie made 129 points, and one-game winner Chris Walledge had 156. Stewart Gordon, like so many others, looked set for a long run, but was beaten after five wins. His 553 is enough to put him in the Finals Week. Dundas Keating was the victor, and though he looked in mortal danger on at least two occasions, he made seven wins before falling at the final hurdle. John Holland (159) had one win, but was blown away by James Hurrell, who scored 121 (one hundred and twenty-one) in his first game, and a century second time out. He cannot qualify for this season's final, as he cannot win five and lose one in five games.

The draw for the quarter-finals is as follows:

1) Aaron Webber (8 wins, 773 points at -11 to Par) v 8) Stewart Gordon (5 wins, 553 at +27)

It's rare for the number one seed to lose, but not unprecedented - as Stephen Briers found out last December. Stewart is a dangerous floater, Aaron broke Par on five occasions.

4) Amey Deshpande (8 wins, 718 at +4) v 5) Anita Freeland (7 wins, 734 at +26)

Amey made his octochamp run in January, and only once scored worse than +1 to Par. Anita was the carry-over champion from last year, who lost her octochamp match on a crucial conundrum. This will be another tight match, and the semi-final involving these winners could be the match of the week.

3) Nick Wainwright (8 wins, 733 at +69) v 6) Vivienne Mead (7 wins, 682 at +93)

Vivienne blew hot and cold during her eight games in February, losing on her fourth poor match; when she was on form, she won well. Nick was consistent in his matches, five of the eight finishing between +7 and +13 to Par.

2) Jean Webby (8 wins, 738 at +29) v 7) Dundas Keating (7 wins, 661 at +140)

Jean was another consistent player when she was with us in February and March, easing off in the last games when it was clear she had them won. Dundas never really looked at ease in his matches, we would be surprised if he should win.

This Week and Next

Good luck to Christopher Ellison, who will be joining the cast of East Enders in the coming weeks. He is best known in these circles as the host of Challenge's 2003 version of Fort Boyard. In this role, he replaced Leslie Grantham, himself a veteran of the BBC's soap.

From the other side of the Atlantic comes news of their version of Grand Slam. Just four rounds in their programme, and the top prize is US$100,000; after tax, converted to sterling, and allowing for inflation, that's less than the £50,000 that Clive Spate took away for winning the UK series in 2003.

Channel 5 is discussing compensation with Endemol for the long-suspended Brainteaser programme. The show is believed to generate over a million pounds per year for C5, but has been off air for almost three months.

Channel 4 has signed up for a 30-week series of Shipwrecked next year. With Big Brother going down the pan, this may be a wise move.

BARB ratings for the week to 27 May, and in spite of the bank holiday, Any Dream Will Do retained its popularity, securing 6.75 million viewers. HIGNFY (5.45m) was clear in second; The Apprentice (5m) lost out to a football match on the other side. Still beat the Gameshow Marathon final (4.6m). Grease Is The Word (3.95m) limps towards an end, and scarcely beats Millionaire (3.65m).

On BBC2, Great British Menu recorded 2.7m, ahead of C4's Deal or No Deal (2.6m). Apprentice You're Fired had 2.3m, QI 2.25m, Link and Eggheads 2.2m, and HIGNFY repeats 1.9m. Scrapheap Challenge also attracted 1.9m rain-dodgers on Sunday.

On the digital tier, Pop Idle US finished with 745,000 tuning in - the season opener had over a million. E4's After They Were Housemates was seen by 605,000 on Friday night. Deal or No Deal made its first appearance in the More 4 ratings in three weeks, 210,000 tuning in on Wednesday. The QI marathon dominates G2, with 190,000 tuning in for two episodes. Challenge's top show was Thursday's Take It or Leave It, 98,000 took it.

Highlights for the coming week include the final of Shipwrecked 2007 (C4, 6.30); Cardiff Singer of the World (BBC4, 7.30 weekdays, BBC2 in Wales, and Radio 3 for the Song final on Saturday night); the grand final of The Apprentice (BBC1, 9pm Wednesday), and the return of 8 Out of 10 Cats (C4 and S4C, 9.30 Friday).

To have Weaver's Week emailed to you on publication day, receive our exclusive TV roundup of the game shows in the week ahead, and chat to other ukgameshows.com readers sign up to our Yahoo! Group.

Back to Weaver's Week Index

A Labyrinth Games site.
Design by Thomas.
Printable version
Editors: Log in