Big Brother is returning to TV next year. Think you’ll be watching? Think again.
I don’t need to bother telling you why Big Brother is the most influential series in British reality TV history – just stick on the telly, open the Radio Times, fire up Instagram: the sun never sets on that empire of copycat “social experiments”, famous-for-nothing influencers, and modern-day bear-baiting.
It defined 21st-century celebrity, transformed what we class as entertainment, and dragged our standards about what is considered proper and suitable for prime-time broadcast into the gutter.
But about 11 years in, we got over the shock factor of that groundbreaking “experiment”, things got formulaic and other reality shows overtook, everyone stopped watching, Davina left, it moved to Channel 5, everyone stopped watching that, and then it got cancelled altogether. And now it’s four years later and ITV2 have acquired the rights to a new series for 2023 and to fend off our post-Love Island comedown we’re all absolutely buzzing about it. But I’ve got news for you: it’s going to be bloody boring.
Were you watching til the end? Didn’t think so. By those last couple of series, Big Brother had lost all the fun and mischief, it was no longer galvanising a watercooler cultural conversation and instead felt seedy, downmarket, low-rent, contrived, mind-numbing, and pretty much all the other things my parents labelled it in the early Noughties when they banned me, an impressionable teenager, from watching it in the first place.
Obviously, I defied them, which is why my brain is indeed mangled, just as they feared. It’s why my warped perception of what is and is not entertaining rests primarily on how much people on TV are forced into situations of conflict or deprivation or extreme mental distress.
And it’s why I might regularly say to myself or those around me, “I’m SO COLD” (Nikki Grahame, 2006), “Who IS she?” (Nikki Grahame again, 2006), “You better know yourself if you’re talking about me, little girl” (Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace, also 2006), “Mikey’s got a disability, open your eyes” (Mario Marconi, 2008), “I’m cooking an egg for the very first time ahooo” (Glyn Wise, 2006), “David’s dead” (Tiffany Pollard, Celebrity Big Brother 2016), “Am I minging?” (Jade Goody, 2002), “I refuse to diminish my character to survive in this house” (Craig Coates, 2005), or “NO NAKED JACUZZI” (Michelle Bass, 2005).
It’s why when I feel down, I think about the man who had his face ripped off by a chimpanzee (Josie Gibson, 2010) and why I have never been able to look at a wine bottle with innocence since 2005 (cheers, Kinga Karalczak).
Nostalgic? Me too, sort of. It was a simpler time, a time when I could watch all these “nutters” fighting and climbing the walls and having their brilliant little breakdowns in real-time without this guilty conscience that plagues me now, a time when aftercare and safeguarding and participant wellbeing were negligible, mere niggles compared to the task of chasing gargantuan viewing figures and cheap laughs.
We all greedily lapped it all up and weren’t supposed to question the ethics of it all, and if we had concerns, they were about what watching Big Brother said about us, about our intellect and our social class, and not about the actual welfare of anyone involved and the grotesque ways they were distorted and put on display. We loved to – were encouraged to – see them as desperate low-lifes who put themselves up for scrutiny and deserved all they got.
That’s not how we think about television now, thank God: almost everything that made it such compelling viewing would be banned. We can’t believe, watching back, how plainly some of those “hilarious” contestants were suffering from mental health problems that might have rendered them unable to cope with overnight fame or the insidious effects of the rising “social media”.
We can’t believe we felt comfortable watching people be lied to or refused basic amenities until they were in such torturous distress that they literally turned violent. We hesitate before we tweet about Love Island, knowing what can be the darkest consequences, and we demand assurance that production companies are doing their duty of care, and that contestants have basic rights, privacy, and boundaries.
The truth is, though, it doesn’t make great television. I didn’t spend years devoting my summers to Big Brother, a programme with no premise (plus Big Brother’s Little Brother, Big Brother’s Big Mouth, and live daytime coverage on E4), to see whether a load of nobodies in a compound with 10-foot walls and no windows would make friends. I watched it to give in to the worst side of me, the voyeur who wanted to know what would happen when we try to make people go mad.
We’ve left that base principle in the past. Big Brother is nothing but a live-streamed sleepover without it.
Source: ICategories: News