Diversity, a London-based street dance group, performed on the 2020 semi-final of Britain’s Got Talent. Soon after their guest act aired, thousands of viewer complaints flooded Ofcom, a UK government watchdog. Complainants decried the group’s representation of anti-Black violence and police brutality on a ‘family entertainment show’ – the performance depicted the racist murder of George Floyd as well as scenes of riot and gestures indexing Black Lives Matter. Ofcom ended the complaints process with the publication of an 8-page report defending the performance against its own Broadcasting Code, an exceptional move. By qualifying the performance’s violence as ‘highly stylised’, Ofcom highlighted the dramaturgical aspects of the representation of protest over and above Diversity’s critique of the racist police state, incorporating its social commentary.
Consider that Ashley Banjo, head of Diversity, appeared on this semi-final episode in the capacity of judge and victim – if we can use this term to refer to his rendition of George Floyd’s murder. In the producers’ invitation to perform with Diversity, Banjo was also invited to replace Britain’s Got Talent’s creator Simon Cowell, who had sustained a back injury in an accident, as a panel judge for the remainder of the series. Why did Banjo’s embodied shift from judge to victim on this episode provoke a ‘fragile’ rush to defend whiteness? How did the centre of this performance shift so virulently from anti-Black violence to Black crime? How did Diversity’s performance interrupt Britain’s Got Talent’s ideological problematic, and how did this interruption function as protest? How did a televised performance of protest come into conflict with a statistical counter-protest? How is blackness positioned on Britain’s Got Talent?
In this paper, I explore the moral panic surrounding Diversity’s performance in relation to Stuart Hall et al.’s analysis of mugging in Policing the Crisis (1978) to reflect on the present conjuncture.
Dr Tom Hastings is Lecturer in Dance at The Place, London. Tom completed his PhD, “Defining the Body-Object of Minimalism: Yvonne Rainer and the 1960s” at University of Leeds in 2018. He has published articles in Platform: Journal of Theatre and Performing Arts, Sculpture Journal, and Performance Research (forthcoming); and art criticism in Artforum, Frieze, Burlington Contemporary, Studio International, Ma Bibliothèque, and Texte zur Kunst. Tom is at work on a book project to do with gesture politics.
All are welcome – this is a free event, but booking is required