Reflections from Big Brother
Generally, my summers are not complete unless I spend a sickening number of hours watching a new television show. Working 40 hours a week this summer, though, I found that the time I normally allotted to my disgusting TV comatose was suddenly limited. What I needed was something that I could watch as it was airing so I couldn’t possibly take it all in at once. One of my friends from home convinced me to watch the premiere episode of Big Brother. For those who do not know, Big Brother is a show where players live in a single house completely bugged by cameras and microphones and cut off from the outside world. Each week, players are nominated for eviction and one is voted out of the house. There are various ways to be in power and earn oneself safety, and each season also has a unique twist on the rules.
Now, going in I knew that I might become helplessly addicted, and I was ready for it. What I didn’t expect, though, was that this show isn’t complete trash. Being good at the game requires incredible strategy and focus as well as social and physical skills, and it’s awesome to watch. But its value goes beyond that. CBS offers 24/7 live feeds for anyone who wants to pay a fee for the summer. This means that production relinquishes an insane amount of power that editors are usually granted. Yes, they can edit the episodes how they want, and a lot of people, including myself, never watch more than that. But there are also people who watch the events as they happen and are able to see everything untainted by the power of editing. Even so, the episodes alone show a lot about these people.
The transparency is fascinating, but also TERRIFYING. Because, as it turns out, when people have cameras on them at all times, they can’t hide a whole lot. The players are also completely cut off from the outside world, creating the illusion that their actions lack consequences. With all of this in place, some pretty scary stuff can happen. The season that is currently going on, in particular, sticks out to me as alarmingly sexist.
From the beginning of this season, most of the boys formed a secret alliance, excluding every girl except two that they thought weren’t weak, immediately assuming that the girls were weak players. The first player evicted this season was crucified because she attempted to form an all-girls’ alliance and was found out. In fact, as a result of this one alliance of attractive, muscular, mostly clueless men ruling the whole game, seven of the first ten players eliminated were women.
But there’s no way the course of this game could be so blatantly sexist, right? They did include two girls in their alliance, after all. Oh, if only that was a saving grace instead of something that made it even worse. One of the girls, Amber, was relentlessly pursued by one of the guys in the group, Caleb. Despite her repeatedly making it very clear that she was not interested in him, he followed her everywhere, threatened other guys who spent time with her, wore her clothes, and even volunteered to be put up for eviction to save her despite her insisting that he didn’t. In the end, the alliance decided to give her the boot because she was “distracting” to Caleb.
The other girl, Christine, is at the center of the season’s big controversy. She is generally disliked by viewers for somewhat flip-floppy back-stabbing gameplay. Where people get carried away has to do with her personal life. Christine is married but has been pretty obviously flirting with one of the astonishingly handsome boys in the house, Cody. Granted, I don’t think that this behavior is morally okay by any means. What amazes me is how obsessed everyone is with it. Beyond showing excessive clips of them cuddling, the producers felt the need to make a segment talking about her relations with Cody where they interviewed her husband. And, of course, Cody receives almost no criticism for flirting with a married woman. Whether he should is up for debate, but the point is that I can so easily imagine the script being flipped if Cody was married and she was not. Christine would undeniably be perceived as a disrespectful temptress. The constant targeting and belittling of women is so obvious, and it’s distressing.
I guess my overall feelings about this can be summed up as “disappointed but not surprised.” And, apparently, this season is definitely not unprecedented. Last year’s game was talked about outside of the fanbase for racist remarks by players.
The thing about Big Brother is that it has a huge following of superfans but lacks a strong presence in general pop culture. This is unfortunate, because the show is a blatant social commentary that could provide fodder for a lot of intelligent analysis and discussion. Until that day comes, though, I’ll be here catching up on the end of the season in the library.