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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, January 18, 2007
    Shilpa Shetty - sacred victim of mimetic violence
     
    If two individuals desire the same thing, there will soon be a third, then a fourth. This process quickly snowballs. Since from the beginning the desire is aroused by the other (and not by the object) the object is soon forgotten and the mimetic conflict transforms into a general antagonism. At this stage of the crisis the antagonists will no longer imitate each other's desires for an object, but each other's antagonism. They wanted to share the same object, but now they want to destroy the same enemy. So, a paroxysm of violence would tend to focus on an arbitrary victim and a unanimous antipathy would, mimetically, grow against him [or her].

    Big Brother is, of course, the perfect model for René Girard's mimetic theory. It is enshrined in the contest rules: the stability of the house depends on the regulated evction of the least popular occupants. Girard reveals the meaning and significance of this event:

    The brutal elimination of the victim would reduce the appetite for violence that possessed everyone a moment before, and leaves the group suddenly appeased and calm. The victim lies before the group, appearing simultaneously as the origin of the crisis and as the one responsible for this miracle of renewed peace. [She] becomes sacred, that is to say the bearer of the prodigious power of defusing the crisis and bringing peace back.

    The ubiquitous human system of mimetic violence has become exposed this week as the Big Brother victim has chosen to speak out about her scapegoating, prior to her (probably inevitable) expulsion. An embarrassed Gordon Brown tries to persuade his Indian audiences to believe that Britain "prides itself on tolerance and fairness" [1]. And the victim (probably under pressure from the programme makers anxious to keep their sponsors) has retracted her earlier statements [2]. The upshot of it all is the realisation that this truly is reality TV. For once the actuality of human group behaviour is raw, and real, and revealed.