Big Brother: Because Life Just Isn’t Interesting Anymore

This week, the revamp of Channel 4’s ground-breaking experiment in social science was released. To those who hoped that the wrapping up of Big Brother was permanent, the sight of Channel 5 eagerly broadcasting this tired and overworked format will be disappointed. Minor celebrities (and I use the term in the broadest possible sense of the word) are again being paid to have their privacy dispensed with, and the freedom of the viewing public to see these lab rats behave in ever more atrocious and disgusting ways. Such is the will of the public.
Ask a person in the 1950’s whether they would spend a couple of hours in an evening watching other people watching television in their room, and the answer would have been short. So why then are we captivated by the sight of cretins living their tedious lives in full view? Are our lives so mundane and downright boring that we get satisfaction from seeing how other people like to live? What is seen on the screen isn’t even what happens a lot of the time. Charlie Brooker, astute comedian and social commentator, rightly points out that editing has become a huge factor in many of these so-called ‘real life’ programs. A participant’s expression in response to a statement can be engineered from any of 500 expressions in the last 24 hours, just like that. Therefore what you’re seeing is manufactured, twisted and spat back out as an approximation of what the producers think you should see.
At this point, some readers who are ardent members of the B.B. fan base will be berating this article with words like ‘escapism’, ‘relaxation’ and ‘entertainment’ etc. And this is where I struggle most of all. My feelings towards Soaps are approximately the same as watching paint dry. Yet, I can understand the appeal of Emmerstreet and Coronation Dales, crowd pleasers by the million too. It is understandable to want to empathise with dramas that are conducted in everyday places; pubs, restaurants, cities, countryside areas and so on. But most are still sufficiently removed from reality, and even pass on some profound moral messages (like Dot’s highlighting of the euthanasia issue) to warrant their position on our televisions.
Big Brother, far from having a warped moral compass, simply doesn’t display one. And it is worrying that, at its height, 8 million people (that’s 1 in every 8 ) were sitting down to watch other people living their lives. It enabled someone like Jade Goody to be broadcast showing the best of British racism towards one of Bollywood’s finest, Shilpa Shetty. The amount of complaints was tremendous; but people derived an enjoyment from watching it unfold. The brash, obnoxious Goody made headlines, and became a tabloid favourite. A reward for disgusting behaviour, society’s gift to the inherently racist and stupidly ignorant.
This latest series has seen people like Sally Bercow appear, eager to make her fame with the ‘common people’, as her husband would say. What could possibly be interesting about watching the wife of a Conservative MP eating cereal in an angry manner is beyond me. If the mental capacity of the viewers just about stretches to taking this in, something really complicated like the news will be unreachable. On a serious note, it is worth considering what damage this is doing to our mental and intellectual ability. This show offers nothing of value to the lives of people who so joyously revel in the cage-rattling tricks that the contestants are put through. Just like violent video games are being factored in when certain crimes are committed, so too will these kinds of shows be held responsible when the average intelligence of our children slip even lower than our European counterparts.
Of course, at the end of the day I couldn’t care less that millions want to watch the show. If the BBC were showing this, I’d be having a proper moan at the world in general. But it’s not. The only useful thing this program is doing is keeping dumb creatures high in the public favour.

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About the author

Christopher M. Watson

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Chris read English Literature and Language at Winchester, and is currently a Recruitment Consultant in Brighton. Previous publication experience includes co-founding and editing the University newspaper from 2009, and as Foreign Affairs Editor for the Evans Review in 2012.