At the start of this century, "Big Brother" seemed like a novelty and audiences grew and grew. Before 2000 and "Big Brother's" first series, nobody could engage their voyeuristic instincts without punitive action. Even professional psychologists had to validate observational studies, after ethics committees deemed 1950s/1960s psychological experiments (by the likes of Zimbardo
) too invasive and dehumanising. Now we live in times where it's commonplace to announce your activities to all your friends and strangers via Twitter; the whole world is now a reality show. Whether it realised the need to compete, "Big Brother" producers made the crass decision that it needed to engage our interests by attracting more extreme exhibitionists. In doing so, it had it's wings clipped (perhaps rightly) by OFCOM
and its ilk, mirroring what happened with the ethics committees in the 1960s. As a psychology graduate myself, this strikes me as perfectly reasonable; if you can't dignify a social experiment with the advancement of science, you certainly can't dignify it with the advancement of an entertainment circus. Meanwhile, as social networking becomes more universal, voyeurism seems so much more pervasive. We can interactively create our own reality shows where we have the choice of "following" who we want, be that a bedsit musician, amateur blogger or 50 Cent. At the same time, television producers have their hands tied by OFCOM's tougher regulations and, paradoxically, they are left with the very thing that caused those regulations to be put in place; extreme personalities in an artificial house that audiences can no longer identify with. It's little wonder "Big Brother" now seems out-dated.
There are two threads in this blog article as to why "Big Brother" drifted inevitably away from it's roots. Firstly, as a reality TV gameshow in it's dying days, it bears little similarity to the simplicity of the social experiment it had in it's earlier years. Secondly, like most evolving systems of democracy (from phone-in vote shows all the way to party politics) a media-machine will grow around it as time goes by. This machine will attempt to influence a winner and a runner-up. As an added opinion with no basis (but one of personal preference), there will be a third place taken by a participant who would normally be the most deserving winner*; someone who is overlooked by the voting system's media-machine and are often rewarded by votes from a more dedicated populous who ignore external manipulation. Is there any basis to my preposterous theory or leap of imagination? Well, I know who will win the last series of "Big Brother" (or "Ultimate Big Brother"). Steep claim**? Well, read on…
Let's deal with the original point. "Big Brother" is often argued to be both a social experiment and a gameshow, as well as holding up a mirror to society. In the former case, I've already argued that "Big Brother" is a "jack-of-all-trades" which quickly became a "master-of-none"
; the show's biggest strengths became the biggest weaknesses as the series went on. It can't be a proper reality show, because most people in the United Kingdom don't end up in a strange sci-fi house with funny tasks, accompanied by a skewed sample of the population (while something like "The Verdict" is a more analogous artifice of an enclosed social situation
). As a gameshow too, I've argued that a level playing-field for all contestants became less and less fair as producers and media became involved and interfered.
In that sense, "Big Brother" was never "a mirror to society"; it was "a mirror to media and democracy". If you think about it, any landscape that supports opponents trying to get to the top of a hierarchy by using other peoples' votes starts off relatively fair. However, after a voting system is recognised and establishes itself, it becomes obligatory that vested interests will get involved. In the "Big Brother" series, just chuck in the phrase "producers" instead of "spin doctors" and replace "newspapers" with "companion shows". Plus, throw in the newspapers themselves, who are adept at giving their wholly compartmentalised views of society
. You've now got a potent mix of inbuilt biases and cultural norms. I'm not saying that there's a conspiracy to ensure a particular person is crowned winner in a frothy television series (I'll leave that to obsessed online fan forum groups). It would be more accurate to say that any perception of a television reality is going to be, at the very least, unconsciously shaped by past experiences and biases of the producers themselves without them meaning to
. As the connection between the voting public and the producers' vision becomes more disparate, the audience drifts away and their interests go toward... well, social networking and following other ordinary people; or other artistic projects that represent real people
Certainly, after the seventh series of "Big Brother", the show began to fizzle out. The winner of the eighth series, for example, was Brian Belo, someone who had absorbed the BB phenomenon via osmosis, having watched every episode on video over and over again. In that sense, he was inadvertently the living embodiment of a winner that encapsulated the media part of BB, as opposed to the ordinary person on the street. The mega-fan, either consciously or unconsciously, had absorbed exactly what was needed to be the media representation of the perfect BB competitor. This was living proof that "Big Brother" had embraced the media fully and it was another death blow. As lovely as Mr Belo is, he's the "Big Brother" series version of Tony Blair***.
To conclude, it started off as a minority channel social experiment, with a little bit of viewer interaction in the form of phone-in votes. It was seized upon by the tabloids and new gossip mags. Spin-off shows were quickly created to catch up with the new "Heat"-style titles that had appeared. Due to this engorged media, the gameshow element became a sideshow. Voting by telephone or betting slip wouldn't work, because there was no level-playing field anymore; the image was of a distorted playing field created by harsher editing and extreme personalities. As a result, the highlights programme showed insane stereotypes, rather than gentle archetypes. The aggressiveness of the editing can lead to people potentially being misrepresented harmfully
, particularly as the final day of the show has been sadly affected by Nadia's suicide attempt
. It's time for the show to be given to an over-delayed rest. As for it being a reality show, who really
lives in a house like this? The seeds had already been sown slowly for it to die.
* Disclosure One. Yes, I voted Lib Dem. I feel a bit foolish now. Disclosure Two. I have two friends who are both Bronze medallists from "Big Brother" (and both of them follow my demented tweets). Read Dan Bryan's article from last week on this blog
, while check out Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace's contribution to the BBC News
this morning. Oh, and here's a few more Bronze medallists who all deserved to win. Three's the magic number.
- Alex Sibley (BB3)
- Dan Bryan (BB5)
- Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace (BB7)
- Liam McGough (BB8)
- Maggot (CBB4)
- Dirk Benedict (CBB5)
** For those not in the know, Ultimate Big Brother is a belated last throw of the dice of the dying BB franchise, which reunites a whole bunch of previous contestants of past series. And I already know who will win Ultimate Big Brother. Seriously. In my minds eye, I can see it as clearly as crystal shard. Davina McCall will start off almost palpably uneasy and foreboding, reading the name off the card "And the winner of Big Brother, the Ultimate Winner of all time, is... is... IS". This is her last chance, Davina is reaching the crescendos of all crescendos. Believe me, a Davina crescendo is like a sunspot radiation flare. They're always big, but not as big as this. "IS... "
In order of votes counted (and predicted):
1) Brian Dowling
2) Nikki Grahame
3) Victor Ebuwa
4) Chantelle Houghton
5) Nick Bateman
6) Ulrika Jonsson
7) Samuel Preston
*** Not really. Belo's lovely and doesn't know his Shakespeare from his George Miller. Blair's a cunt and doesn't know his Iraq from his Afghanistan.Next blog entry, things on this blog will become normal again, when I'll witter on about Goths. Yes, I know I used to be one - it'll be slightly autobiographical.