I was a fan of Big Brother, especially Celebrity Big Brother. There were plenty of downsides to the show, not in the least their bullying treatment of some of the contestants. But in general I enjoyed watching how people interacted with each other and how a crafty mix of editing and big business media might have created new identities for people who went in as something and came out as something else. I think it ended up saying more about itself than about any of the contestants and as a long time fan of television I found that very interesting.
Anyway, one of my favourite ever Celebrity Big Brothers had Germaine Greer, feminist icon and all round brainbox, locked in a house with John McCririck, racing commentator and all round… well, let’s just say he’s known for his sexism as well as the horse racing knowledge. I imagine that when the Big Brother Big Bosses managed to secure Greer and McCririck for the show they were delighted at the thought of onscreen clashes and verbal sparring. What actually happened was much funnier and much more interesting. McCririck grumbled his way through the opening days of the incarceration, bemoaning the lack of ‘totty‘ and doing his best to annoy female contestants by telling them all about how he called his wife ‘The Booby’ and never helped around the house when at home. But, no clashes. Not involving Germaine Greer anyway. One might have got the distinct impression she’d heard it all before.
But that wasn’t all. Not only did she avoid taking the bait, but she and John McCririck started to hang out together. Perhaps being the older members of the game, they found they had more in common than anyone would have guessed. They certainly seemed to genuinely enjoy speaking with one another. We saw them sitting together in the garden, discussing one of the ‘housemates’ that neither of them recognised, trying to work out which band he was from or what he was famous for. ‘I mean, who is he?’ said McCririck, ‘What’s he even in here for?’ Greer,quick as a flash and with a glint in her eye answered, ‘Don’t you know? He’s the totty’.
Confrontation and challenge does not always have to involve aggression. There is a time for protest and a time for anger. There is a time for Billy Bragg to call the BNP out on their racist policies when they come round his home town looking for votes. But there is also a way to be quietly subversive, to bide your time, to be subtle about it. I am keen to explore the different ways that people get things done. I’m not saying I think one way is better than another, just exploring what-else and how-more.
I was speaking to a woman recently who, tired of walking past the abusive racist, homophobic and sexist graffiti in her area decided to make her own contribution. She decided to carry markers with her so that in solitary moments she could amend the abuse, cover it up or write her own comment beside it. She consciously decided that she would use markers that could easily be removed so that anyone trying to remove all the graffiti would find her additions unproblematic. Obviously I’m not recommending that anyone take her lead…. but imagine how it would feel to one day walk past a slogan that spoke to your identity and made you feel unwanted and alone, that made you believe the News at 10 when it tells you that society is made up of people who don’t want your type around, and then imagine walking past the same graffiti the next day and noticing that someone has scored it out or written something to contradict it.
The little things count as well. The quiet things too.