Never mind Big Brother watching us, at times it seems that we are all watching Big Brother. Or everyone else at least, since the fifteen minutes I’ve caught of it have failed to pique my interest in the slightest. On the TC entertainment scale, watching dull and irritating people attempt to learn semaphore falls slightly below shampooing the budgie. But I think it is very interesting from a social phenomena point of view: this morning, I missed my train to work, because I couldn’t believe that the breakfast news had a lengthy report on Nick’s eviction. And this wasn’t even on the home of the brain-damaged, the Big Breakfast, it was the BBC. Clearly Something is Going On.
I feel a certain parental interest, having raised a flag about Big Brother, in its Dutch incarnation, all the way back in December 1999. It was clear then that it had the potential to go supernova, and this has been the case wherever it has been shown. However, it’s obvious that – as usual – the tabloid press are building their own castles. Even if 5 million people are watching, that means 50 million of us have better things to do. Though it’s impossible to avoid. At least until the football season starts again, coffee-machine talk here revolves around the exploits of the not-so-magnificent seven…no, make that six. Even people who wouldn’t touch Eastenders or Coronation Street with someone else’s barge-pole are touting its merits because it’s “real”. I suggest they try watching WWF wrestling instead – it’s patently bleedin’ obvious that the people in the house are playing roles every bit as artificial as The Rock or Triple H.
The show has been condemned in some circles – usually liberal, bleeding-heart papers like The Guardian – as “cruel” or “voyeuristic” – and it may well be so. However, I have very little problem engaging in cruel voyeurism, under scientifically controlled conditions, of course – such is human nature. A couple of thousand years ago, we’d have gone down the Circus Maximus watching people fighting wild animals. Nowadays, we go down the multiplexus and watch Russell Crowe fight computer-generated wild animals. This is what they call progress. We all like to experience other people’s lives; however, if you can’t find anyone’s better than a lesbian ex-nun, you perhaps do need to get out a lot more.
Say what you like about the people in the house – and if that was “they’re a bunch of annoying bastards whom you’d actively avoid in the pub”, you’re probably close to the mark – they’re taking part of their own free will. It appears to be a shock to some commentators, but give people enough incentive, and they will do virtually anything. In this case, I don’t think the money is particularly important: indeed, it may even be counter-productive, since the real loonies would do it for free. And real loonies = good television. Indeed, The man behind Big Brother has already got his next show sorted: Chains of Love. In this, a woman selects four men from 100 prospects to be chained to her wrists and ankles for a week, before she selects her dream date.
The question is not whether people want to watch such shows, for there’s obviously a market. The question is more whether the authorities will let them. The main news story which Nick’s departure drove from the front pages was the sunk Russian submarine – imagine if it had cameras inside, and pictures were broadcast over the Internet, 24/7. Would it get high ratings figures? Would you watch, right up until the last breath flickered out? You may not like the answers to these questions.