Thanks to Jade Goody's racist bullying, Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty is favourite to win Big Brother during the live final this Saturday. Judith Coles asks former BB adviser Geoffrey Beattie (55), the Ulster-born dean of psychological studies at the University of Manchester, for his analysis of the controversy
So what did you think of the Big Brother row which erupted last week, when Jade Goody launched a tirade against Shilpa Shetty?
It really was jaw dropping. My head was in my hands when I was watching. On a psychological level, it gave an unfortunately fascinating insight into why people make racist or racist sounding comments.
What's your view on why it happened?
Jade felt very threatened by Shilpa, who is talented, beautiful and educated. What was really psychologically interesting was how Jade went from commenting on Shilpa's behaviour to commenting on Shilpa. Jade became famous because she was picked on her during her previous appearance on Big Brother in 2002 and this drew sympathy from the public. She became an icon because of that. Celebrities have big egos which are actually very fragile and I just think she felt threatened by Shilpa and reacted to that by ganging up on her.
From your professional point of view, what effects did you observe the bullying to have?
Bullying is an aspect of human behaviour - people find comfort in joining up with others to target someone. Jade, Danielle Lloyd and Jo O'Meara were bullying Shilpa because they were fearful of her, and they focused on her ethnicity because it was one of the most obvious aspects of her.
Jade was clearly devastated when she realised what was portrayed, but what shocked me as a psychologist was how mindless the whole thing was. They were not mindful of what they were doing. It was as if they couldn't pull themselves away from the situation. The other thing which was extraordinary was how Jade, Danielle and Jo were encouraging each other.
Then, when Danielle was questioned by Big Brother in the Diary Room about what she meant when she said Shilpa should go back home, she made various attempts to diffuse the situation away from herself.
Do you think that Big Brother can be classified as entertainment?
It is certainly not entertainment, but it is an insight into the really unfortunate aspects of human mindsets. Perhaps we shouldn't have celebrities who are so uneducated and so ignorant. Perhaps it is time to pause and ask why Jade was given such celebrity status in the first place. Yes, there was the funny side of her comments like 'East Angular', but the other side of it is that they were just really ludicrous. What happened on Celebrity Big Brother is not going to encourage anyone to join the British National Party, but we do need to encourage education. We live in a multi-racial society and we need to increase awareness and understanding about this.
But what about the effect the show might have on children?
I think it might have a good effect on children. Perhaps the next time they get angry and are about to have a rant, they might remember the really vivid images of Jade and wonder if they really want to look like that.
It's one of those negative things that might encourage people to think carefully. My children do watch Big Brother - and they were horrified at what happened last week.
So you think there was value in what happened?
The show exposed something which people mostly manage to hide below the surface, and it gave us a glimpse of what humans are like below that celebrity surface. There has always been a racial mix on the show and this has never happened before. I have to say that Shilpa, who said she went on to the show to be an ambassador for India and portray what her culture is like, dealt with it all ridiculously well and rode above it.
Was it wise to have Jade on the show again?
Who could ever have seen this coming? The idea was probably just to get her, her mum and her boyfriend on, and that we would just get more of the same Jade. It is extraordinary that reality TV of that kind can make or break careers. Hopefully it will inspire more education - if Jade had known more, how could she have thought that was she did or said was acceptable behaviour?
Do you think it's fair that editing can hide certain things that might have been said?
The stories are in the editing in Big Brother. There were a million stories going on and perhaps Jade was surprised at how prominent this one became, perhaps she thought it only took up a few minutes in the day while so much more went on. The other side of the editing is whether certain bits should be kept out, for instance, was the 'p' word (when Jack allegedly referred to Shilpa as a Paki - later denied) used at all? I don't know. But there was enough to understand what three of the housemates are like below the surface.
What's the point of a TV complaints body if nothing is done in response to 40,000 people registering their anger?
It depends on what exactly the complaints were about. I think the show is meant to be entertaining and interesting to watch, and to give an insight into what people are like. That's why they had psychologists on from the very first show (I'll be back for this summer's Big Brother), so that people can say they'd learned something. You could argue it's like an undercover investigation into football hooligans who happen to be racist - it might be uncomfortable to watch, but it's meant to be entertaining to some extent and producers would argue it's giving you an insight. Big Brother is giving you an insight into what lurks there below the surface in people. But I certainly think TV has to be wary of who they give iconic status to because iconic individuals have impact.
Is it even more shocking that this is still very much there in present day UK?
It is, but it's also shocking to see how situations like this arise. I don't think I've ever seen it so clearly before. There was Shilpa, who's beautiful, and Jade, who's not, so let's make someone feel a bit bad about themselves and see what happens, see what they will do. Racial stereotypes and racial differences are among the things they will draw on. That's what I have found very interesting.
What did you observe from the different groups forming?
Interestingly, I was asked recently about doing a TV programme about group psychology. If you want an illustration about the power of a group, this was it. People who are part of the group dynamic feed into it and encourage each other. It's this irrational thing which is worse than the sum of its parts - some people are only powerful within a group and when they are alone they suddenly become weak. This has been extraordinary, watching their facial expressions, their giggling, and Jo and Danielle's encouragement of Jade, who picked up on it on some kind of unconscious level.
Did you think that after Jade's eviction, her group - involving her boyfriend Jack, Danielle and Jo - would continue or break up?
I think that Jade's eviction shocked Danielle and Jo, but it was, of course, a good thing. I think that even Jade Goody's fans would have been shocked at what went on. They saw her as this person with a lovely smile, very optimistic and upbeat, so how could you reconcile that with the Jade Goody who appeared last week? The whole thing is ludicrous and if I thought that I'd got quirks in my personality of that kind, I wouldn't expose myself to reality TV.