Orwell, and Good

Graham Kibble-White introduces Big Brother

First published September 2000

This is an exercise in Doublethink: Big Brother is a television programme which triumphs in provoking a response from the audience, in being in every sense extraordinary television, and yet it features only “ordinary” people, often in the most banal and boring of situations. Additionally, Big Brother manages to haunt the normally mutually exclusive genres of “game show” and “innovative television”. It has not so much redefined British television in 2000, as defined it.

As the lights were switched off in the Big Brother house on 15 September 2000 it seemed as though (amidst the dying days of a fuel crisis) we were being thrown into some kind of TV blackout. In its aftermath we may have gathered together under an easy but transient sense of community to discuss our shared experiences of the programme, but the underlying notion was one of loss. Big Brother‘s most affecting attribute was its frequency. Every weeknight (and Saturday night/Sunday morning for those dedicated ones) we were able to enjoy 30 – 60 minutes with the housemates – something small to look forward to every night. But now it’s gone, and we no longer have the opportunity to lounge immobile on the sofa, watching our favourite tenants do likewise on the telly. We were initially intrigued by the concept, then rewarded with the most excellent of drama, until finally we were held simply by a sense of commitment that had secretly been taking hold. Big Brother was, in the final analysis, deeply ordinary: but by the time we’d realised it, it was too late. This was extraordinary, ordinary TV.

As ever, OTT locks horns with the programme in the immodest hope that we can tease out new interpretations, opinions and conclusions from what we all have come to recognise (albeit with some sense of resignation) as a television phenomenon. Aside from the articles collected here, we also direct you to the eight reviews featured in the Reviews section of OTT, wherein you will find contemporary reaction to Big Brother over the weeks, plus a look at Channel 4′s Big Brother Night in December 2000.

Be warned: the attendant articles contain strong opinion from the start …