In a short contribution I made to the recent themed issue of the new online journal darkmatter I offered a diagrammatic overview of racism and UK Celebrity Big Brother 07. It seems to me that the Lacanian schema I reworked outlines a more generalizable structure of contemporary racist enjoyment in the present conjuncture of ‘multicultural neo-liberalism’. Racism and anti-racism is sustained by the different ways the ideological fantasy of whiteness organizes the racist enjoyment of the subject. Only by ‘transversing the fantasy’ of whiteness that interpellates the subject can racism be challenged. Tranversing the fantasy in this case means changing the ‘co-ordinates’ of the ideological fantasy of racism that keeps whiteness as the ‘non-castrated’ universal human subject. ‘Desiring whiteness’ as the logic of racism is the attempt to ‘cover up’ the lack in the divided subject. I need to examine further elements of this argument that I have drawn upon from Kalpana Seshadri-Crooks (2000) Desiring Whiteness: A Lacanian Analysis of Race, London: Routledge. While the book develops an interesting Lacanian reading of race, it remains strangely quite apolitical. I think this is do with the lack of engagement with the Real, capitalism and ideology of global power, as developed by Zizek. All this needs much further working through. What I am attempting to do is to theorize racism in relation to materialism and capitalism, and not just an autonomous representational discursive construction.
A guide to the Schema:
This is a diagrammatic mapping of the racial logic of Celebrity Big Brother (CBB). Reworking Lacan’s schema from Seminar XX Encore it outlines the relationship of the three registers that structure human subjectivity:
Imaginary (I) – the illusion of wholeness, perfection.
Symbolic (S) – the order of ‘reality’ produced through language, which is always lacking.
Real (R) – the unsymbolisable limit of language.
The three ‘object’s are:
a – The objet a is the ‘whole in the real’ that sets symbolization in motion. The point at which the symbolic fails to represent the real but also produces the desire for the real.
Ф – is the failure of the imaginary to capture the real. In Lacan this is usually the Phallus– the symbol of castration and lack.
S (A) – designates the lack in the symbolic order.
The ‘abstract objects’ mark different ways of compensating for the deficiencies in the three registers. They work to ward off and possibly succumb to the Real of enjoyment (J) that organises the subject.
In the racial drama of CBB, Shilpa Shetty S(A) marks the ‘Imaginary Orientalist princess’ that causes and fills the lack in the Symbolic order. If racism is driven by the impossible whiteness of the Real and we understand whiteness as the ideal master signifier of race, ‘desiring whiteness’ is the attempt to be a subject without lack – a universal subject who can overcome castration, sexual difference and lack. (See Kalpana Seshadri-Crooks (2000) Desiring Whiteness: A Lacanian Analysis of Race, London: Routledge). In CBB, whiteness is the desire that structures the relationship between the impossible Real and the Imaginary.
The key objet a of desire, which at once sustains and keeps in motion the racist enjoyment of CBB was the televisual gaze itself. The gaze is the object that creates the desire to mark and look at racial Otherness as the Imaginary object, which in turn supports ‘desiring whiteness’ as the racist logic of the subject’s enjoyment of the unattainable Real.
The ‘anti-racist’ racist enjoyment of the programme was produced by the attempt to keep Shilpa Shetty as the beautiful imaginary object – the unattainable Thing – when it was threatened by the violence of Jade and her white working class gang, who undermined the universality of the master signifier of whiteness by marking whiteness itself as a class and racial particularity. The desiring TV gaze ideologically sutured together the fantasy of whiteness and ‘Oriental Otherness’ when it was threatened.