Less than gorgeous
Is it possible for working class politicians to utilise an established cultural form, designed for a completely different purpose, in order to bolster an oppositional message? Lawrence Parker takes a look at Galloway in the Big brother house
The only remotely entertaining thing about George Galloway's stay in the Celebrity big brother house was the look on Michael Barrymore's face when the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow made his entrance. Predictably, Galloway is in the first batch of nominees up for eviction this week, although Jodie Marsh's personality meltdown may yet save him.
Galloway's appearance on the show does throw up an interesting question. Is it possible for working class politicians to utilise an established cultural form, designed for a completely different purpose, in order to bolster an oppositional message?
Celebrity big brother enforces a message about the process of celebrity itself, in that cutting off these people from the outside world tallies with the mainstream view that never allies 'stars' to any social formation or group. Rather, celebrities are sold to us as being interesting in and of themselves and not because of what they represent.
As Galloway has found, this is barren territory for someone who has thrived off the success of the anti-war movement. Thus, in the episode where the nominations were announced, some of the younger members of the house basically came to the conclusion that Galloway was an MP, so what the hell was he doing in the Big brother house? In nominating him for eviction, the aforementioned Jodie Marsh said: "He's old enough to be my dad, but I feel bullied by him and what he said to Chantelle [another house member] about her being uneducated. I don't think George is a very nice person."
I'm not sure that Galloway has actually been bullying, but these responses suggest the incomprehension he has encountered as a serious politician in an environment designed to pick over individual foibles and nothing else.
Also, in suggesting Galloway has been a dull house member I am well aware that this reflects my own ideological conditioning and expectations. I am turning on to see if anyone can top Les Dennis talking to the chickens about his wife having affairs (on a previous year's Celebrity big brother). I want entertainment and am not necessarily interested in watching George talking to Rula Lenska about meeting Saddam Hussein.
This should be an object lesson to those on the left who inform us that reflecting and getting our hands dirty in what 'normal' people are involved with will automatically lead to gains. Simply put, there is no 'neutral' set of ideological forms in capitalist society. Everything has been corrupted in the same way that Celebrity big brother has been corrupted. Of course, such forms have to be engaged with, but Galloway's experience here should maybe indicate that we need to be a bit more savvy in the way we approach them.
But in a sense perhaps Galloway thought he would be on home ground. The current political scene is marked by a thorough absence of any meaningful popular participation and democratic debate. Organised politics today is thoroughly 'managerial': stage-managed conferences being the most obvious signifier. And, of course, Respect is no different to any of the more established political parties on this score. Indeed, the whole process of 'celebritisation' in regards to Galloway in Respect tells a certain tale.
Celebrity big brother (erroneously referred to as 'reality' television) is itself a completely 'managed' and manipulated environment. This is shown by the placing of the non-celebrity, Chantelle, in order to fool the other members that she was famous. It didn't work, but the manipulative intention is clear. Indeed, the organisation of the whole Big brother experience is like an SWP central committee wet dream.
Perhaps they should adopt it for this year's Respect conference.