I never thought I would be posting about TV, but I am!
After one of the most emotion filled Januarys I can ever recall, we have been medicating with TV. Nothing like pop-culture to act as anaesthetic.
This year’s Celebrity Big Brother has, apparently been one of the most watched in its history, and that is because it has been gladiatorial, in the sense of conflict between individuals, and in the sense of an audience enjoying the spectacle of suffering, (and yes, I am aware that I have been an audience member). I will state as a precursor to the following text, that I am aware both of the editorial manipulation, and of the difficulty in bearing that manipulation in mind as you watch.
Why I am posting about it, and why I found it in equal measure riveting and ghastly, is because I have an absolute hatred of the manner in which bullies gather support. In both the attitude of a number of the in-mates, and of the public reaction to the relationships I perceive the insidious creep of the cult of the bully – and I don’t want to see society revert back to the folly of the cap-doffing Mid C20th. We have Katie Hopkins, known to the Tabloids as “the most hated woman in Britain” and feted by them as one of their own. We have Perez Hilton, a blogger known for outing those who choose not to out themselves, and for cutting into celebrity hubris without mercy. Both come from backgrounds that will, (allow me my armchair psychology) have built into them the need for a carapace. They also share, as a coping mechanism, an attack mode which each maintains rather than being forced into quietude and submission when under threat, (or, in Hopkins’ case, perceived threat).
Having said that, within the house, two different modes have come into play – and I use the word play with caution because what we see in an artificial and studied environment designed to create and exaggerate tension, conflict and distress in distorted personality types, is but a magnification of western culture.
Katie Hopkins mode was typical of the bully who stalks every aspect of our world from nursery school to care home. She gathers around her an army of protectors who may or may not know that their friendship is generated by her powerful fear of being discovered as secretly weak and their fear of being the target of her power. This was most clearly seen in the behaviour of Kavana, who at times floundered in his desperation to stay inside the golden circle being neither emotionally, nor intellectually up to the task of gaining Katie Hopkins’ approval, other than for his loyalty to her as vassal. Every bully needs vassals who refuse to recognise their own subjugation. She identified in Perez Hilton, a person of similar fear, and similar determination and as ‘same’ she could not subjugate him, and would have been completely diminished and challenged as leader of the herd, had she not posited him as ‘other’ to her tribe. This she did so successfully that swathes of the audience were subjugated into her tribe too.
Perez Hilton is full of fear and determination as well. I don’t know, had Katie Hopkins not been there, if Perez would have emerged as a bully. There wasn’t anyone else living with such magnified and concealed fear, that he could have so powerfully used as a target. What did happen is that Katie Hopkins managed to turn every aspect of behaviour that they shared into a positive for herself and a negative towards Perez. When she said cruel things, her tribe, (which quickly included viewers) perceived her as “being honest and straight”. When Perez said cruel things, her tribe perceived him as being spiteful and attention seeking.
What Perez did become is extremely isolated within a group from which he only two methods of escape. It is because he did not take those routes that I find him worthy of huge respect and admiration. I am not saying that I like him, his chosen profession, or that I deem him nasty or nice – I don’t feel I have any basis on which to pass such judgements having seen him only in specific circumstances. What I feel is that were I to collapse in the street, or to be victim to a mugging, I would rather have Perez there being true to himself and refusing to succumb to group dynamics, than anyone of Katie’s sheep, (Baa Baa – not my problem – Baa Baa) or Katie herself, (your own fault for existing)
The first route that Perez did not take is that of escape. This was possibly due to the fact that he would not be paid if he did, but also I believe, due to the strength of character that the persecuted can find deep within that drives them on to refuse to be cowed by the bully and their tribe.
Similarly, the second route Perez could have taken was to shut up and surrender. In refusing to ‘behave’, he lost the opportunity to exercise one aspect of his being, that of community member. It would have been a community that forced him to submit to their terms, terms set out by, in Katie Hopkins, an amoral dictator. He would have become the victim that he refused to be. His refusal to be a victim struck deep into the heart of everyone watching who knows that if they had been so challenged they would have succumbed. They would have been the Nazi prison guard, they are the people who walk on by rather than help a stranger. No wonder the public felt ill towards him.
His behaviour was exaggerated and completely defensive and in my mind was likened to that of a child with ADHD, (which of course does not exist in Katie Hopkins’ world of ‘reasons are excuses. and there are no excuses’) trying to function in an environment within which their nature is a malady and their malady is not tolerated – they become more of what they are and a cycle of disapproval ensues. Perez defended himself by refusing to be diminished by a tribe of sheep led by a wolf. It certainly was a twisted fairy-tale with an inevitably sad ending.
Katie Hopkins has perpetrated a clever and mean trick on the public and most of the in-mates, (all credit to the balanced natures of Katie Price, Keith Chegwin, Nadia Sawalha and Patsy Kensit regardless of the inevitable imbalances of behaviour that celebrity engenders) just as she did when on The Apprentice. She identifies the weakness in everyone she encounters just in case they identify her manifold weaknesses. She manages to imply intellect but she actually lacks complexity of thought, hence her love affair with the tabloids. She manages to conflate nastiness with honesty and is clearly aware that bonds of mutual hate towards ‘other’ are quick to form and temporarily strong – and also infinitely mutable. She also conflates amorality with strength of character – yes we all have hateful thoughts, we all want momentarily for the driver who has cut us up and caused a near accident to be found mutilated by their own stupidity around the next bend, but for most people that thought is fleeting and not a marker of nature. Vocalising such thoughts is not evidence of honesty, being straight-talking or of strength of character. It is evidence of amorality. Because more balanced people do not attack her, as she does them, with insistence that they address their failings, she positions herself on a moral high-ground built on a fault-line. Their failings are her failings and she unwittingly revealed them every time she attacked, and attacked, and attacked. How wily, to do so and yet have the group turn on Perez as the person with unmodified behaviour. Being wily is not being clever: wiliness is an adaptive behavioural response to threat, and perceiving community as threat as Katie Hopkins does is extremely maladapted. We can only imagine what sadness and pain she has suffered to have built such a carapace, but in the end, true self-awareness allows compassion and empathy to govern behaviour. As long as Katie Hopkins despises these traits as weakness and stupidity, she will continue to not only be in pain, but to cause great pain too.