Big Brother

Big Brother is unquestionably garbage. It adds nothing to our understanding of a complex world. Nor does it enrich our lives with stories of timeless quality. By all accounts, it is an excruciating blancmange of meaningless banter, Benny Hill-style ribaldry and, now, low-level sexual assault. Which pretty much sums up the times in which we live.

Well there you have it from New Matilda. A bit sweeping I’d say. I don’t like BB and would watch pretty much nothing of it in normal circumstances, but my twleve year old daughter likes virtually any reality TV, so I see a good bit of it here and there.

I’ve been up in Canberra for the last couple of weeks, and a bit crook. And I’m afraid if I feel a bit crook and don’t have any deadlines, I’m happy to channel surf for a while. Play a bit of internet chess, read the newspapers.

Now I wouldn’t normally watch BB even then – enough Soccer and Tennis to make me happy at the moment. But I tuned in the other night and it was great fun. Twenty seven year old David has decided ‘no more Mr Niceguy’ in the house. Now plenty of housemates think he never really was Mr Niceguy, but that’s not how he sees it. He’s speaking his mind and shaking off what he says is a life of non-assertiveness. I couldn’t watch hours of this, but one night they had about fifteen minutes of edited highlights of a massive blow up where he got just about everyone offside.

Here he was blundering about. And you could see both what his feelings were and what a hash he was making – of the etiquette and of the politics of it all. Anyway, it struck me that it was really quite something to watch a casual argument develop. To watch how transparently in so many arguments, the words are really a cloak for the expression of emotions. And to see how much aggravation is generated by nothing much more than impatience – an impatience about the other person catching on to what one has to say.

Anyway, from what I saw, I could make a teriffic one hour DVD of materials for school classes – and perhaps for management training – which brought these things out. Its actually quite rare to have such good footage of arguments happening in a social setting like this. We have arguments on the record in Parliament and courts etc of course. But these contexts are highly theatrical and these arguments are of a quite different genre to the family argument.

Of course those in the BB household know they’re being filmed, but when it’s 24/7 you let your guard down and there is a genuine naturalness to the interaction in BB. I can’t think of a better source of footage for life as it happens – or at least arguments as they happen.

The other good thing about BB for me is that provides a snapshot of another generation (for me).   Perhaps they are chosen for this – but they’re a strange mixture.   Impossibly vain, and very articulate.

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Kim
Kim
15 years ago
Stephen Bounds
15 years ago

Big Brother is unquestionably garbage … By all accounts, it is an excruciating blancmange of meaningless banter … (emphasis added)

Part of me wants to applaud Andrew West’s transparency in admitting he has never actually watched the program he is rubbishing. Most writers at least pretend they have watched/read/visited the exhibit of cultural barbarianism du jour.

Of course, the actual nature of Big Brother isn’t important. It’s just a waypoint to touch on his way through to an all-too-predictable attack on John Howard. And Andrew’s approach is unfortunately typical of Left rhetoric these days — frequent assumption of values as fact (“[Howard and Costello’s] doctrine of materialism”) and selective choice of facts (“When Labor was in power … Ten used to screen high-quality drama”) without any attempt to present both sides of the argument.

Last time I checked, you don’t win new converts to a cause by sticking your fingers in your ears and going “la-la-la”. Andrew may not want to hear the inconvenient truth, but the facts are that a large number of young people enjoy watching Big Brother. To trot out the old argument, it’s not a sign of the decline of civilisation any more than rock’n’roll was.

Lin
Lin
15 years ago

Stephen said “…but the facts are that a large number of young people enjoy watching Big Brother.” and he is absolutely right. If you try to influence the voting between 7:30 pm and 7:45 pm on a Sunday you’d find out how many people are voting for Big Brother evictees. If you think that something like 1.5 million watching a TV show is small beer you need to be out there running a channel yourself. Almost everyone can get something from BB at some time, as Stephen has just demonstrated.

mG
mG
15 years ago

As far as entertainment goes I think BB’s success is fairly dependent on our time and our place (well the globalising nature of the world to be accurate.) Seriously, I wonder whether we won’t look back in 30 years and squirm a little bit at how interested and distracted we were by the (significantly constructed) banalities of other peoples (and thus our) lives. It’s not the format that gets me; its how pointless crass and quasi-scripted most of the content is. Maybe I’m not watching enough of it (Catch 22 of course), but, Nicholas, how you could describe them as articulate…beyond me. I guess it’s enhance by the editing room though.

I think the actual show as well as viewing habits associated with it, are an interesting reflection on our society and sometimes it provides a useful platform for one or another issue. It can be, like Nicholas says, an interesting sociological study or human resources training tool and it can also be an interesting study in how our highly media-saturated and mediated society functions; how, for example, moral panics can be whipped up.

Hmm…Big Brother and Rock and Roll. As you say Steven, neither represents the decline of civilisation, but still, they do represent very different things – you can’t just lump them under the heading of ‘things that oldies don’t understand.’ Put another way; Australian Idol and the Saints – Compare and Contrast.

John
John
15 years ago

Once upon a time people entertained themselves by listening to stories and dramatisations of the great literay epics. The Bible, the Mahabharata etc etc etc. These epic stories communicated profound archetypes about how to live with wisdom, compassion and understanding. In effect they were transmission vehicles of/for truly human culture.

Now ALL we have is the dreadul banality of BB. No wisdom whatsoever.
The barbarians rule OK.
Brought to one and all by the champion of the “culture” wars the Murdoch media

Link
15 years ago

“These epic stories communicated profound archetypes about how to live, with wisdom . . .” I think that’s Nicholas’ point in some ways. There is a fascination to be had as a fly on the wall, witnessing an argument ‘unfold’ and see those archetypes we know so well, being acted out in front of our eyes, for real. It is macarbre and it is valuable because it teaches us about ourselves through watching the torments, neuroses, hang ups and pesonalities of a random group people. I agree too, with the ‘unquestionably gargbage’ sentiment, that’s got to be viewed in relative terms.

I don’t agree with the idea that because 1.5 million children ‘enjoy’ it, that this somehow bestows credibility on it, all it shows us is that there are indeed many many fools out there with nothing much better to do. Lots and lots of people go to public hangings too. This argument that something is given validation because so many people enjoy or do it (and who am I to suggest depriving them from this RIGHT of theirs. Sheesh) it is a really dumb nonssense. (Public hangings? now there’s an idea to raise a few quid).

I watched it once ie in a series. I think its unquestionably garbage as far as what television could possibly be, I’d rather watch Dr Who or Attenborough, but I did find it enthralling. John Howard won, the lefty lost. Life imitates art. The cuntry’s fuct. Sorry that was my tourettes.

patrickg
15 years ago

I love that someone is slagging off BB as shit television. Hello! It’s mostly shit. I want people to start getting enraged about ACA and Today Tonight. After all, they’re the ones that end up in multiple losing court battles every year.

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

I don’t watch Big Brother either, and I agree it’s garbage. But not everything on TV needs to be “worthy”. And worthiness is in the eye of the beholder anyway. There was plenty of lowbrow pupulist entertainment in Shakespeare’s day and in every era since. In fact Shakespeare WAS lowbrow in his day, but he was also a genius who could create populist entertainment that was extraordinarily profound and capable of being enjoyed on many levels. There aren’t many (or any) Shakespeares in any era, but that doesn’t mean we should decry populist garbage let alone call for it to be banned. If you don’t like it you should reach for the remote. I certainly do. But I can (sort of) see the attraction of shows like BB. It’s a vicarious, detached form of back fence malicious gossip, translated for the cyber-age. We mostly don’t know our neighbours these days, but we can still gossip by watching and voting in “reality” shows like BB. Not my cup of Bushells, but what business do Stephen Fielding or other nanny state wowsers have telling people what their leisure tastes should be? If I had to choose between watching BB or sitting through a CityLife or Hillsong god botherers service, I think I’d opt for BB.

Stephen Bounds
15 years ago

Once upon a time people entertained themselves … [with] the Bible, the Mahabharata etc etc etc. These epic stories communicated profound archetypes about how to live with wisdom, compassion and understanding. In effect they were transmission vehicles of/for truly human culture.

Now ALL we have is the dreadful banality of BB. No wisdom whatsoever…

So what’s the problem here? That Big Brother refuses to deliver moral messages?

The “epic stories” John refers to were nothing more than forms of moral and ethical conditioning, gently encouraging people towards acceptable standards of behavior. But since the Enlightenment, Western societies have progressed towards an environment where people are expected to construct a personal set of ethics and morals.

Big Brother is just a consequence of this philosophy — the “morality plays” of old are replaced with non-judgemental and ambiguous scenarios where people are expected to construct their own meanings and judgements. Look at The Age forums [1] after the incident [2]. Do these seem like people who are passively absorbing “bad morality”?

Drama or art it ain’t. But Big Brother taps into celebrity culture and the diminishing gap between public and private life. It also encourages public discussion of tricky issues such as peer pressure, social bullying and the line between sex play and sexual harassment. I can’t see any of those consequences as a bad thing.

Gaby
Gaby
15 years ago

From a personal perspective, I think one of the big atttactions of BB to the “children” is voyeuristic. It is the dicks, tits and arse, or the potential for the viewing thereof that is a really a patent attraction.

I was a devotee of “Number 96” from when I was 11ish or so for a year or so I think, my memory is a little hazy. The see through blouses of Abigail, Georgina’s antics with many and various, the queerness of Joe Hasham and then the piece de resistance, the full frontal nudity of Vera Collins in the one hour special “Black Mass” episode.

The next big attraction for me after the titilation was the exhaustive post episode analysis in the school yard the next day.

But then one grows out of it…

I reckon the whole controversy is “Plus ce change….”

Gaby
Gaby
15 years ago

Perhaps Nicholas “peer group formation, interaction and dynamics” is the major attraction, but with a view to ultimately getting an answer to the big question: “will they snog (or shag…depending on which nationality flavour of BB one is watching)?”….haha!

I was only, reporting my personal experience and motivation in watching what I see as an analogous show. I do think, however, that sexual interest and awakening does begin, and play a significant role in behaviour, before 14. And BB and soap operas are convenient vehicles for these emotions to be stirred and explored. Again this is from a sample of one.

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

Nice post, Nicholas.

Here’s a trackback:

http://larvatusprodeo.net/2006/07/11/big-little-brother-06/

Gaby
Gaby
15 years ago

I see there was a little reminiscence piece on “No. 96” on page 2 of the Herald Sun this morn.

Gaby
Gaby
15 years ago

Sorry but totally unrelated to this thread, this little titbit about Albert Einstein’s “theory of infidelity” caught my eye on the above link.

http://www.heraldsun.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5478,19760178%255E2902,00.html

Did AE shag Marilyn?

Reminded me of Roeg’s film “Insignificance” where there is a lovely scence of Einstein explaining special relativity to Theresa Russell as MM. From memory an enjoyable filum.