Delta Goodrem v. Jessie J: A catfight as contrived as the idea that women can't get along | Van Badham

The ‘feud’ between Delta Goodrem and Jessie J on The Voice is the cliche reality TV was built on. Aren’t we bored of the catfight confection yet?

If reports are to be believed, Australian “nice girl”, singer-superstar Delta Goodrem is engaged in a poisonous feud with her fellow Voice judge, British “nice girl” singer-superstar, Jessie J. “It’s real,” confirmed Channel Nine to the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday, supplying readers with incontrovertible proof of the breakdown of relations: Delta unleashing no less than a “full repertoire of death stares to her fellow judge”. This collection of icicle-eyed hate glaring is viewable in a highlights reel that Nine released to the internet, an act of selfless charity one expects from the commercial television corporation.

Since The Voice began screening scenes of a conflict unparalleled in enmity since the start of the Korean war (peace as yet undeclared, 65 years on), global entertainment media has, of course, been abuzz. Woman’s Day,, TVNZ and the Daily Mail have all covered the story of Goodrem’s extraordinary use of the word “shit” to describe how she was feeling after a particularly long day of talent-judging. Yet statements by Goodrem suggest that the “feud” may not be all it seems. With the brazen iconoclasm of a lecturer delivering the introductory lesson to a first-year media studies course, quoted the singer as saying, “There can be a lot of illusions with TV editing.”

This, I think, is where a greater, more shocking entertainment scandal may yet unravel. Goodrem’s admission that reality television employs the techniques of fiction is just the beginning; stand by to learn off-the-cuff comments are prescripted, shots are done in more than one take, make up really does hide everything and that successful, professional women do not inevitably hate one another, no matter how much the conventions of cultural misogyny should like to make it appear so.

The scandal of the Jessie J-Delta Goodrem feud is not, of course, that it’s been so clumsily faked to hype their TV show that not even the protagonists want to admit to it, but that at best it’s ripping off a reality television cliche so tired that it really should be given a Horlicks, a pat and a tuck into bed.

At worst, it’s direct plagiarism of a supposed feud that similarly took place between singers Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey when they played the original feuding-women-judging-a-talent-show roles on American Idol three years ago. But these two gave their parts some Hollywood oomph, with Minaj both tweeting broadsides at Carey and allowing reports associating her with threats to have Carey shot – yes, shot, with a gun –to disseminate through the media. Amid the higher-stakes environment of the American industrial-entertainment complex, it pays to go large; the Minaj-Carey feud went prime time, big-time, and resulted in a public detente mediated by celebrity interviewer, Barbara Walters.

Goodrem either hasn’t got the interest for this kind of performance, or she’s as bored with the “catfight” confection as the rest of us. The point has been made that the other Voice judges, Ricky Martin and the Madden brothers, have not been recruited into sham skirmishing. Of course they haven’t, they’re men: if male feuding couldn’t be made cool by the Blur-Oasis sniping of the 1990s, it’s certainly not going to get an effective reboot from the Madden brothers.

So, we are left with The Voice’s girlfight on Nine, reaching for the last stale story idea left in the cupboard to boost ratings – the ancient set-up that “the Chinese character for ‘strife’ is two women living under the same roof”. Quoted by crime novelists like Robert Wilson, dramatised in oft-studied plays like Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba, it’s a cultural myth that insists no women anywhere can work or live together. Though disproved by the existence of the modern workplace, sharehousing, lesbian relationships, friendships or, you know, the family, it remains the bedrock not only of Goodrem-J and Carey-Minaj bareknuckling, but any examples of the Real Housewives franchise, any variation on The Hills, the very point of Next Top Model and at its most distilled hysteria within The Bachelor series.

Usually, the fighting is orchestrated around supposed competition for a man’s attention, which neatly flatters the notion of male supremacy as a value worth fighting for. Anyone paying attention may notice that “feuds” overwhelmingly take place between successful and beautiful women, who are rendered petty, ugly and vulgar through the behaviour demanded of public battle, and they leave the arena diminished. Language experts may notice that this supposed Chinese character for “strife” is as made up as any one-dimensional stereotype of women offered by mass media. There’s a rarely-used character for “quarrel” that, containing two women and no roof, really depends on a pre-held misogyny to pretend the experience of two people disagreeing is not universal.

Excised among the public shaming of Goodrem for “salty language” is, of course, the reality that professional women paid to do a job are as likely to get cranky if they’re still on shift at 12:30am as anyone else.

If this were true feuding, Goodrem or J would be off the set without returning and Channel Nine would be briefing the lawyers, not cutting a showreel. Of course, if reality television were anything like reality, there’d be no need to watch television. While The Voice purports and repurposes these ancient gender stereotypes, reality beckons this viewer as far superior entertainment.


Van Badham

The GuardianTramp

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