Take three white, working class girls of limited talent but some notoriety. Add a rich, haughty, Indian Bollywood actress, with an over inflated ego. Get them to live together, for a handsome fee, in the artificial confines of Channel 4's Celebrity Big Brother house. Then, if you're the producers of this sorry excuse for TV entertainment, rub your hands with glee as your ploy to mimic and exploit genuine racial tensions between Anglo and Asian communities in Britain unfolds into a publicity and ratings winner.
Newspapers, news broadcasts and internet chat rooms have given this latest reality TV show farce the type of coverage that most anti-racist campaign groups would die for.
The alleged racism against Shilpa Shetty, the first Indian A-list celebrity drafted into the show, has resulted in a record 40,000 complaints to TV's watchdog OFCOM and Channel 4. Viewers were apparently outraged by the bullying of Shetty by several housemates whose individual claim to fame is as uninspiring and tenuous as the programme itself. Jade Goody, a previous loser on Big Brother and willing fodder for gossip magazines, Jo O'Meara dog-breeder and former member of defunct pop group S Club 7 and Danielle Lloyd, disgraced beauty competition contestant, have acted like trashy participants on a Jerry Springer show.
Mild mannered fellow housemate, ex-US pop star Jermaine Jackson, said as much. Having allowed their 'professional' veneers of harmless, goofy, girl-next-door charm to slip away, the trio have engaged in racially offensive name calling and childish mockery expected from seasoned members of the far-right BNP. When Shetty cooked chicken curry for her housemates, O'Meara refused to eat the meal saying she did not "trust" it and was "scared". She did impressions of Shetty's accent and protested that the actress had "touched housemates' food with her hands" to which Lloyd replied "they eat with their hands in India …you don't know where their hands have been".
While Channel 4 sticks to its disingenuous claim that what we're all witnessing in Celebrity Big Brother is 'girly rivalry', others have been swift in condemning the racism. British Labour Asian MP Keith Vaz tabled an early day motion in the House of Commons about the bigoted treatment of Shetty. He said: "We would not tolerate this kind of racism on other types of television programmes and we should not do so on a programme that is watched by millions of people".
Protestors in the eastern Indian city of Patna burnt effigies of the shows producers and UK Chancellor Gordon Brown, during a visit to India, commented on the issue saying that Britain should be "seen as a country of fairness and tolerance". And for one of the protagonists in this saga their life on the 'outside' as a 'celebrity' may already be over. The charity Act Against Bullying dropped Goody from their list of patrons in spite of her previous support, branding her behaviour as "unforgivable".
The producers of Celebrity Big Brother have deliberately diced with the dynamics of race, class and cultural differences as well as the hierarchy of stardom not to enhance serious discussion about any of these issues but to make another cynical grab for even higher viewing figures at a time when the programme was in free fall.
The petty racism displayed by the gormless and ignorant publicity seekers on the discredited show should not be ignored. However, it must not be confused with the sort of pernicious institutional racism that results in the brutal killings of young Asian and African Caribbean men on the streets and in police custody. Or the slaying of Black teenagers like Stephen Lawrence and Anthony Walker by racist white youths.
Surely, what we all need to do is stop lining the pockets of these unprincipled, opportunistic programme makers and switch channels or simply switch off.
* Media regulator Ofcom ruled in May that Celebrity Big Brother had breached its code of conduct over the race row. The watchdog found that Channel 4 made "serious editorial misjudgements" in its handling of the incidents involving Shilpa Shetty.
It ordered Channel 4 to broadcast a summary of Ofcom's findings three different times including at the start of series eight next week. The channel, which escaped a heavy fine, apologised again and said it accepted Ofcom's ruling. The show's creator, Dutch company Endemol, said it also accepted Ofcom's findings and "sincerely regretted the level of offence caused by events in this series".
But this did not satisfy former government minister Keith Vaz who called on Channel 4's chief executive Andy Duncan to step down.
Meanwhile, in Australia Big Brother producers have been condemned for not telling a contestant that her father had died. Srely, the shows worldwide are now past their sell-buy date if they had any genuine broadcasting value in the first place. The Big Brother concept is exploitative of its Jerry Springer type contestants who bring out base instinct among the voyeuristic public who are cynically seduced to prop up the show by calling to vote on expensive premium telephone lines