September 2006

Arts & Letters

‘Big Brother’ Channel Ten

By Rowanne Couch

And so we enter September, the season of uncertain weather and jasmine cascading down fences, and the start of nine glorious months of no Big Brother on the box. Call me old-fashioned, but I find the prospect of someone tracking my every move creepy in the extreme. The tough love meted out to celebrities by the paparazzi may have turned surveillance into a side effect of fame, but is that reason enough to court it in your own life? In other contexts it's called stalking, or state-endorsed punishment. On television it's called "reality".

There are many things to resent about Big Brother - its monopoly of airtime, its who-moved-my-cheese dullness, its profiteering on the vituperative banality of the schoolyard - but perhaps worst is the requirement it imposes on everyone to have an opinion about it. Even the prime minister, not known for his analyses of popular culture, was moved, following this season's turkey-slapping incident, to pronounce it a "stupid program". The world frets little about the impact of Deal or No Deal on its target demographic, but Big Brother brings out the sociologist in us all.

Strip away the domestic terminology, though, and what's left is a television studio, months of relentless social interaction and surprisingly little prize money. With a group of extroverts vying for the distinction of surviving longest in that environment, it's little wonder some extreme situations come to pass. But does it offer much insight into who any of the contestants are, or into the culture with which they supposedly interact? Should it have to? It's just a game show, after all, with a teenage audience and an ageing format. That said, when Socrates declared the unexamined life not worth living, it's a fair bet that he didn't have round-the-clock online video-streaming in mind.

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