Who Would Live In a House Like This?

It never fails to amaze me how people get affronted by the thought of watching Big Brother, let alone enjoying it.  I have had numerous conversations over the course of the last few weeks, since BB9’s arrival on the airwaves, with friends, family and collegues during which the discussions have often turned to television.  Whenever I ask if they’re watching Big Brother I get looks of bewilderment and contempt like my enjoyment of the show is somehow a blemish on my character or as if some hideous personal vice has been splashed over the pages of the local press.  Big Brother has always been, and still remains, one of the most fascinating concepts for an TV programme ever.

Please note my use of the word “concept”.  In execution, Endemol have been known to “balls up” to staggeringly incompetent levels; by its very nature it is contrived to the point of near worthlessness; and the contestants’ craving for instant fame without hint of talent or worth would be laughable if not for the fact that the fame (or infamy) weren’t so certain.  So, what encourages me to evangelize about the show?  I guess it is simply down to the joy of people watching. Plunging 16 strangers into a confined space and seeing how they interract, what their motivations are, and to see how friendships develop and break down is all genuinely fascinating.  Of course, the televisual habitat of such observational intrigue for decades has been the Soaps.

Soap Operas used to be about real people leading real lives, like Corrie in the days of Ena Sharples or The Archers or Emmerdale when they used to be about rural farming communities.  However, as the need for viewing figures began to dominate, the demand for thrills and shocks and twisting storylines became stronger.  The outcome has been that the soaps no longer even pretend to reflect this thing we call “real life”.  Bodies under the patio, planes falling on the village, and all the storylines that we have laughed at due to the sheer level of ridulousness have turned these little dramas into pantos for the suicidal. I gave up on on them all years ago.

The onset of the multi-channel, digital age has allowed channels like E4 to dedicate coverage on 24-hour streaming via the ubiquitous red button, to allow the viewers to immerse themselves in getting to know the contestants, or perhaps “victims” might be a better word. Reality TV has blossomed as these unscripted dramas are left to unfold in short bursts over a few weeks or months and, usually, in a blaze of publicity from the gutter press.  Nuts, Heat, The Daily Star et al can all take an undeserving bow for allowing the deluded souls who inhabitat the Big Brother house to think they are deserving of special status in the world.  My preference would be for these people to disappear back into obscurity as quickly as they had arrived, once time has been called on their Warholian fifteen minutes.

But what a fifteen minutes it can be!  Last night’s Davina-led BB highlight show was a prime example of how the viwer can learn about human nature… well, the human nature of a bunch of celebrity obsessed twenty-somethings at any rate.  It all went a bit Lord of the Flies as the two, loosely defined camps within the house fell out with each other rather dramatically over Rex’s deliberate smudging of Jenny’s painting.  That’s right. A smudged painting.  Ranting and raving, tears and tantrums and some astonishing bad behaviour resulted in Dennis being thrown out for spitting in the face of Mohamed.  The psychology of the unfolding situation could quite easily be the subject of an aspiring student’s thesis.  I remember once being told that the definition of good TV was when it engaged with the viewer so that it took them on a journey in which they became emotionally involved.  Big Brother ticks all the boxes, which is why I still enjoy it, whatever everyone thinks.  I just wish that the inconsequential fluff that goes with it would disappear.

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