Big Brother

Sunday, June 20, 2004 by

Mine wife has come up with the ultimate reality show concept. Tentatively entitled Celebrities with Sticks, it involves your favourite C-listers – Eubank, Ramsay, Feltz, etc – being placed in a windowless, locked room together, each armed with a stick (mine wife suggests that said sticks should be sharpened, but I prefer blunt cudgels; this point of order is yet to be settled). Via 24-hour coverage on E4 or ITV2, you can then watch each of your celebs pick the one to their right, and routinely proceed to tap them with the weapon. How hard they do this is entirely up to the participant and his/her tactics, but the eviction process is based on a “who cracks first” premise. Clearly, the more volatile the celebrity, the more fun it will be to watch those facial tics and mumbled curses develop, as the charities of their choice begin to lose importance in the face of barely suppressed rage.

It’s a winner, isn’t it? And very, very sadistic, which to my mind is one step on from the latest series of Big Brother. The phrases “good taste” and “reality television” have never been placed in the same sentence too comfortably, but Alex Best crawling through a tube of roaches aside, has there ever been an experience less salacious than observing Channel 4′s latest bunch of chancers in the Bow house? Watching it makes me feel grubby. If it emerged that the programme makers injected some of the housemates with regular doses of a rage-inducing hormone a là 28 Days Later, it would come as no great surprise.

The die was cast at the very moment your hopefuls emerged from their limos. Marco Sabba came across a little too urgently as being desperate to win “World’s Campest Man”. He also bears an uncanny resemblance to Middlesbrough striker, Massimo Maccarone, which quite frankly would explain a lot about the goal-shy forward’s form. Mincing into the house with blackboard-scraping shrieks, wasn’t it just obvious that the next contestant would be a self-confessed, unashamed homophobe?

As though the dubious equal rights sentiments of Ahmed Aghil weren’t likely to be tested enough by Marco, he was then assaulted by a series of people running the full gamut of sexual diversity – Kitten, a militant lesbian; sex changer Nadia Almada; Daniel Bryan, who according to the official BB site burns the candle at both ends. For reasons I’ve never been able to fathom, gay people are endlessly fascinating when it comes to reality shows. Are the programme makers gunning for a recipe of same-sex love? Or is it more likely that they want to capture the reactions of straight competitors when faced with homosexuality? Certainly, the two Alpha Males – Scottish butt-exposer Jason Cowen (who spuriously admitted he was bisexual) and Victor Ebuwa, the house’s wannabe gangsta – who have been thrown into the mix would suggest there’s an intention to test this to the maximum. Finally, there’s the usual blend of self-servers (Michelle Bass, who looks to be using the show as a platform for her modelling ambitions; “cleverest man in Britain” Stuart Wilson) and those who don’t appear to be there for any especially good reason (childlike Emma Greenwood; artistic type Shell Jubin; Vanessa Nimmo, the bland, “fit” one).

So far, Ahmed, who is considerably older than his fellow housemates, has been a restrained presence, with the occasional outburst, and spats with the incredibly annoying Marco understandable under the circumstances. Indeed, the Somalian has become a remote presence in the house, isolated from the others and reduced to keeping silent, naked vigils in the Jacuzzi. Peripheral as he has been to much of the action – and possibly the show itself – it’s the younger crowd that has dominated. The latest BB is defined by arguments and outbreaks of volatile behaviour that at times are a thread from turning physical.

And is this what the show’s overlords have wanted all along? After all, the last series was criticised for being boring, for daring to shove a bunch of people together who had the temerity to get along. I found it excruciating viewing, with the novelty stunts played on the housemates looking more and more like desperate attempts to stir some lingering interest. Booze was often used as a device, the logic being that drunken housemates made for greater entertainment, though in certain instances it just caused them to become boorish and/or dopey. A pity that it couldn’t replicate the success of the very first series, which relied on the format working at its most basic axiom – put together 10 very different individuals and see what happens.

This time, the differences have been magnified to such a degree that the easy to label housemates are the extreme examples of their own stereotypes i.e. Marco is very gay; Jason is extremely vain. What you have is almost a freak show, without any of the tempering influence that should come when you put the more excessive types with moderators. Instead, we’ve had Daniel, who came across as one of the more flamboyant individuals pre-entrance transformed into the voice of reason. I thought his boastful remarks (“I can get anyone to sleep with me”) before he went into the house were repellent. Now, I’d like to see him win.

On the other hand, the polar opposites have made for some nasty moments. A particular feud developed between Victor and Emma, when the latter accidentally burst in on him in the toilet. Victor cursed at her. She took offence at his remarks, and the argument found them face to face in fist-throwing range. Later, after a stay in the bedsit (Michelle and Emma were evicted, but instead of being kicked out spent several days in another room where they could observe the other housemates before returning) it sparked again, Jason threatening violence against Marco, and Emma and Victor throwing plates at each other. As the situation threatened to get out of hand, she was dispatched once more to the bedsit, prior to being ejected from the show altogether, essentially for her own safety.

How things got this far can be answered by a combination of different people who in their own way are all outspoken, and the fact that Channel 4 have called this year’s series “Evil” Big Brother. And it is – but not in the way they anticipated. “Evil” was originally defined as forcing all the housemates to sleep in the same room and foisting the bedsit prop on them so that those in there could listen in on everyone else’s comments about them (a cruel device, with typically harsh consequences). In fact, it has come to mean a show about some not particularly likeable people behaving horribly towards each other. Especially odious is Victor, who spews vitriol and rhetoric as though from Compton rather than, er, London. His behaviour towards Emma (who most viewers agreed was not the most intelligent representative of our planet, but seemed to have innocence as her greatest vice) was despicable, as he threatened to kill her when not barking random abuse in her direction.

Second in the vile stakes is Jason, whose original categorisation as house exhibitionist has changed into a sharp-tongued moaner with a lascivious, leery attitude towards the women. In other words, he’s a bit of a creep, and it’s the alliance between Victor and him that has shielded most of the other housemates from having their personality flows exposed too deeply.

At times, BB5 is compulsive viewing, but always for the wrong reasons. Any sense there might have been that it’s a sociological experiment in human behaviour under claustrophobic conditions flew into the distance a long time ago. What we have instead is a mess, a mockery of the dumb, easy-target housemates, and of ourselves for seeing people shorn of any semblance of dignity over a nine-week period within a deeply flawed format.

The only logical step for the programme makers to take now is to hand sticks to the participants and watch them slowly beat each other up…


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