Monday, June 09, 2008

Big Brother 9

The same old, trite, tired ingredients: Big Brother hits the screen - and we're only at Number 9

It was the first programme to lead the way for the binge of 'reality' and celebrity-obsessed television that characterised the Noughties. Initially, the experiment carried a certain charm. Big Brother was almost an Orwellian test in which the behaviour of ordinary people locked in a house was going to be analysed and put on a 24-hour watch for everyone to consume. The programme even featured a psychologist to comment on the contenders' actions. In the end, the viewers decided that the winner would be an ordinary Scouser by the name of Craig. There was little or no scandal at all; a few rows, the occasional rivalry and the contestants' frustrated bursting into tears while they'd be pouring their heart out in the Big Brother chair. The winner himself was quite content to round off his celebrity moment with an inoffensive Christmas charts flop, the video for which featured Craig wearing a high-neck woolly jumper and hugging a child by a fireplace and a Christmas tree. In spite of the tremendous success of series 1, it was decided that the programme had to up the ante and come up with something more shocking.

Any pretence of taste and complexity was shed when the BB makers dropped the psychologist and got rid of any 'fancy' analysis. For the stakes to be raised, the common denominator was to be further lowered. For the beast to grow and massive tabloid coverage to be secured, foul and tacky behaviour was to be required in industrial strength. It was a plain and simple escalation. If series 2 featured a gay bloke talking anal sex live on telly, then series 3 would star a mouthy transvestite; series 4 may be host to a shockingly vile chavette, but the next one was to sport a messed-up anorexic. And the spiteful weirdo on series 5 would pale by comparison to the latest BB's outrageous guy with Tourette's syndrome. Big Brother turned into an unashamed recruitment agency for Z-celebrities presented as a feast of self-obsession. The contenders wouldn’t just flirt or snog. With each series, shagging would get closer and closer to the viewer's face and nudity would increasingly amount to pure routine. They'd have sex right in front of the cameras, flaunting it to the extreme, fully aware that only that way would tabloid headlines be secured. It was all oh-so-shocking. The one who would swear more, talk less sense and spread more semen was to be granted almost overnight throwaway celebrity status.

It was only a matter of time before the same programme-makers who egg on outrage and scandal would end up with the same ingredients splattered all over their faces. It was time for the very notion of dumbed-down, cheap, voyeuristic TV to backfire. The opportunity arose in January 2007 when Celebrity Big Brother, the first example of "televisual incestuousness", featuring people "on telly for having been on telly"[1], ended up in a row of massive proportions over a scandal surrounding racist bullying live on TV. A bunch of brain-dead contestants, invited on the show in the hope they'd say something hilariously stupid or disgraceful, ended up racially taunting their Indian housemate. That time, it just went too far. Channel Four was found guilty of "serious errors of judgement" and accused of showing contempt for the code of broadcasting[2]. The cult of celebrity-for-the-sake-of-being-celebrity has now bizarrely turned on itself.

Whereas it is perfectly reasonable to argue that popular interest for stars and celebrities has always existed and that anyone who envisage a world that works otherwise is guilty of intellectual snobbism as well as of contempt for human nature, it is also true that the 'celebrity cult' reached in the UK in recent years has become nothing short of endemic. For instance, Britain boasts a proud history of TV soaps, no doubt the purest form of escapism, but one that would still have its roots in gritty realism and social drama, think Brookside, Eastenders or Coronation Street. And although that too was enjoyed by an audience of millions, it never carried the same dumbed-down pervasive nature of 'realities', proving that you don’t have to vulgarise everything in order to be successful. People used to become famous because they could sing, act, or dance. Now you're handed celebrity-status because you shout the f- word louder than your fellow contestant in front of a camera, better so if you have a stammer and you're ready to hand it on a plate to an audience that will have you for breakfast as the latest entertainment chimp.

[1] "Big Brother encourages us to embrace a condition far worse than racism", by Howard Jacobson, The Independent, 20/01/2007
[2] "He's up 4 Eviction", by Nicola Methven, The Mirror, 25/05/2007

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

BB= absolute shite and shame on those dumbasses who stay up all night to watch it. get yourselves a life!