Big Brother

Friday, August 18, 2000 by

The programme makers may well fear that Big Brother has peaked a little too early. It is difficult to fathom a more compelling storyline than the one that concluded this week.

The series’ most fascinating character has now gone, as too its most unpredictable inhabitant – Nichola – who has just been evicted. There now exists the alarming possibility that the series might run out of steam. But let’s not become despondent just yet. Instead we should reflect on the week in which Big Brother finally capitalised on its dramatic potential.

The week began in high spirits. Nichola’s birthday party let the group exorcise the demon of Caroline (evicted the previous night), whilst allowing the birthday girl herself the opportunity to behave in a manner so beloved of those who perceive such “genuine emotional responses” as uncontrived, artistically valid and cherishable. Caroline and Nichola had long since curried favour by portraying themselves as emotionally “true” people. This strategy may have paid some dividends with the General Public, yet has shown to be fatiguing for those forced to live with their distracting behaviour. With Caggy gone, Nichola seemed determined to keep the faith and demonstrate that she had learned nothing from the eviction of her best mate. Still intensely open with her emotions, her housemates responded to her anally expulsive behaviour, by choosing – predictably – to expel her.

Of the others this week, we saw little to change our perceptions of Mel or Darren, yet something of an unveiling for Tom, Craig and Anna. Then of course there was Nick. Having spent considerable time building up Nick’s role as chief villain, the beginning of the week chose to dwell on his moments of charming buffoonery. The dramatic change of course by week’s end forced Big Brother into something of a recant, as the programme makers realised that they were no longer in charge of the plot. Thursday’s edition not only exposed the nefarious activities of Nick but also the manipulative desire of the programme makers to create ongoing narratives and dramas, thus precluding the television viewer from being able to truly survey the inhabitants of the Big Brother house. Still let’s not focus on these events just yet.

“It’s only a game show” has rung out for the last two weeks now, yet our reactions to Nick have elevated him from game show contestant, past “evil soap character” (after all we know they are fictional) to a level usually populated by real criminals or David Beckham. I expect I am not alone in having idly imagined each nomination day that – should his end come on eviction night – Nick would have to be escorted from the house concealed under a blanket. This pitiful imagining has – in part – driven me to form an oppositional viewpoint to that screamed at me by the press and every Friday by Davina McCall. In truth Nick is an immensely likeable, yet awkward individual. His moments of hi-jinxing with Mel in the garden, or participation in the pillow fighting of the previous week always seemed to betray an element of social discomfiture that I have found both vulnerable and appealing. It was as if he could not believe that these people actually liked him. If I had been asked to participate in Big Brother when I was 14, vote-rigging Nick-style is just the sort of grand scheme I would have enthusiastically devised. Any adolescent worth their salt wants to cheat their contestants and beat the system. Is the act of smuggling in a gizmo emitting chicken noises the act of a mature individual or that of someone who childishly wishes to bait the “adults”? Should you still be in any doubt, then re-watch his wonderfully self-destructive interview with Davina McCall (transmitted as part of Friday’s special edition). Still clinging to his “It’s only a game show” excuse, Nick once again displayed his endearing inability to read the mood of others (contrary to popular mythology). In retrospect, his garbled, half explanation delivered on Friday’s episode and dismissed by his co-habitants and audience members alike might actually have been the truth at last.

So, to Thursday’s late night edition: Where were you when you heard “Nasty Nick” was out? For those of us who still believe in the power of television, the protracted debates across the offices and Student Unions of this land was a satisfying phenomenon to behold as news filtered out that Nick was to be no more. Watched by 63% of the viewing public, this was a perfect slice of television: fulfilling over a brief period all of the expectations we might have had for this genre. But much could have conspired against it. How affecting would the scene in which Craig confronted Nick have been had the production team been only to obtain half obscured shots of our protagonists’ faces? Whether it was down to luck or perhaps – more likely – to careful planning and positioning on the part of the production team, they were able to deliver to us beautiful, tight, close-up shots of Nick as his reaction turned from confident denial to horrific realisation. Every swallow and coquettish blink was captured in glorious detail. Darren too was wonderfully expressive, and his righteous anger vividly expressed through his demeanour, could have so easily been obscured by Nick’s back. As the interrogation continued we stuck close to Nick, attempting to finally uncover something about the man. The occasional cut away shots encompassed the horrific reactions of his housemates, and on occasion wonderfully framed him between his two most vocal detractors – Craig and Darren.

Ultimately we all like to think that we can read people like books, and the closeness of the cameras allowed us ample opportunity to try and ascertain not just what Nick was “playing at”, but the objectives of the other players too. Anna quietly, kept burrowing that metaphorical sword of Nick’s deeper and deeper into his back, Craig and Tom were keen to show that beneath their disgust they were decent individuals able to show their quarry some cursory respect, and Mel hung back, sensing that the time for her to pursue her own agenda would come (it did shortly afterwards). Only Darren, Nichola and (for once) Nick seemed to be responding genuinely to the situation. Nick’s final hours in the house allowed him ample time for repentance. We saw his tears and angst. As he hugged his suitcase, we were left – not to ponder upon his motivation, nor to discern whether his tears were of sorrow or self-pity – just simply to feel some human sympathy for Big Brother‘s big baby.

The game is still afoot and next week will bring us a new contestant. Big Brother reflects a society that wants to become “part of things”. Adroitly, The News of the World took the decision some weeks ago to begin publishing the names of known paedophiles – thus allowing their readership to contribute in some way to the unfolding drama of the latest tragic child murder. Big Brother - and Nick, represent a society which can no longer communicate, save through the conduit of the national media. Television is still a binding force.


Comments are closed.