Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Television Tuesday--"Big Brother" Season 15 And Its Reflection of Racism in Society

I may have posted a Television Tuesday post a bit earlier today already, but I also wanted to share my thoughts on a show where what is happening this week could be dramatically different the next, so I might as well comment on stuff now. The show in question is half-social experiment and half-competitive game show to win 500,000 dollars, "Big Brother".
Here is the entire initial cast, in swimsuits for some reason.
Now in its 15th season, "Big Brother" is a show I started watching last season as my girlfriend had always been a fan and I figured it couldn't be any worse than most reality television shows. There are the more stupid elements where the house-guests/contestants do little challenges and competitions, but I find the most interesting aspect to be the aforementioned "social experiment" parts.

You see, the house-guests are really more prisoners in the sense that for 90 days they are stuck in this household with nobody besides each other as company. They don't even have a camera-crew to chat with as the house is rigged with a ton of cameras that capture their every move and statement, every day, all day. With no idea what is happening in the outside world, these people live in what is basically a surreal bubble where they only have each other and the occasionally beamed-in hello from host Julie Chen. She usually demands that they vote out someone for that week in a way that makes it seem like she's either going to have a nice interview with the voted out house-guest or devour their still-beating hearts once they walk out.
"Choose who you want to vote out, and then feed me their souls!"
There are all the intricacies of who gets voted out, how some people can "veto" their nomination to leave, and all that other junk, but as I stated, that stuff doesn't interest me. I get interested when the people start to "crack" in the sense that their fake-nice personality they came in with slowly disappears as their "real" self starts to emerge due to the stress of being stuck in a house with the same people, 24 hours a day, with little to do besides eat, sleep, or lounge by the pool.

Sometimes the cabin-fever (as it were) results in interesting romances on the show, or "showmances" as folk have taken to calling them. Other times, the stress of being in the "Big Brother" household results in hidden prejudices emerging.

This season of "Big Brother" started gaining some controversy when people noticed on the 24-hour live feeds (that can be accessed via the interne)t that some the house-guests weren't just the usual assortment of trustworthy folk, liars, and annoying contestants. No, some were flat-out racist. Like, calling welfare, "Nigger Insurance" levels of racist. GinaMarie made that comment, but it seems Aaryn has the most vitriol, often being hurtful to minority house-guests such as Candice or Helen, talking in a mocking "ghetto" fashion to them (Aaryn to Candice), or that they should, "Go make rice (Aaryn to Helen)." Weirdly the internet feeds have seen Spencer make some less-than polite comments about Andy (who is a gay) but those haven't seen airtime.

Speaking of what gets aired on Big Brother during its televised broadcasts, it seems at first CBS maybe was trying to avoid showing any of that on the air, but eventually the racism was just causing so much trouble (and enough people online were discussing it) they started to address it (and threw a handy disclaimer up which airs for a good 10 seconds before the show about how house-guests views do not reflect that of CBS).
Well played, CBS.
One must wonder if some of the house-guests have just completely forgotten that their every word is being broadcast for all to see, or are just at a point where they don't care. Either way, Aaryn and GinaMarie may not know how they have already lost their jobs and have a ton of people in the outside world hating them, but once they emerge into the real world they will get quite the rude awakening. Apparently Aaryn's mother has hired publicists to try and save whatever reputation of Aaryn's can be salvaged (I doubt any).

There have been calls by some to boycott the show due to statements made by the house-guests, or have those house-guests kicked out, but I think that is the wrong thing to do. I think we as a society need to see how this melting-pot of people forced to live together reflect what we as a country are like. We may not all live in a house with one another, but the United States is a place where those with differing views share the same "space" in the sense we all share this country. It should be seen that even though it is 2013 there still are those who carry hurtful and racist views, and instead of trying to ignore the problem by not watching "Big Brother" or kicking those who say terrible things out of the house, we should study what is going on and see what we can learn from this reflection of us--the good and the bad.

 After all, Howard (who is black) consistently has shown he can be the bigger man when seeing the racism coming from other house-guests and literally had to pick-up and carry Candice out of a room before she, Aaryn, and GinaMarie came to blows (I would embed the clip but CBS won't let me, so go to the scene here if you want to see some quite intense moments).

Things have settled down since then but I bet it will only be so long before things get ugly once more, or at least it will be interesting to see how Aaryn and GinaMarie react when they are voted off (because they clearly aren't going to win) and are told how pretty much all of America hates them.

"Big Brother" is a show all about back-stabbing, lying, and doing whatever it takes to be the last man/woman standing and "win"--kind of like real life. "Big Brother" is also about what happens when you have genuinely good people stuck with terribly unpleasant and prejudiced ones and they have to try and not kill each other--exactly like real life. There may be silly moments like in the various challenges/competitions, but those scenes are less important in this microcosm of the world known as the "Big Brother" household that those that reflect everyday life's struggles. That is what keeps me coming back.

By facing the harsh realities of how there are some genuinely hateful people in the world we can work to overcome all that negativity and instead of hiding away the ugly side of ourselves, expose it for all to see and work toward healing the long-present wounds of racism, homophobia, and sexism. That or we could just keep on pretending prejudice doesn't exist and ignore the parts of "Big Brother" that make it apparent and instead just focus on the silly bits like when the house-guests had to eat a ton of frozen yogurt...
However, I like to hope we are a bit deeper than that.


  1. I started watching Big Brother with Season 14 as well. I was actually just watching After Dark when I decided to check my feed on Blogger and saw this post.

    I had a really negative perception of the show before I started watching (a friend convinced me to do it), but like you said, it is a fascinating social experiment. The competitions are intentionally very kitschy, I think, and unfortunately that does play into some of the stereotypes about the show, but it's very interesting to see how the cast's behavior and relationships with each other evolve over the course of the season.

    I don't know if you watch After Dark and/or the live feeds, but I was watching AD the night Aaryn flipped Candice's bed. I have to say, watching her and Howard trying to come to grips with it, and then seeing Howard break down when Candice left the room, is one of the most difficult things I've ever watched. Fortunately, I think the people who edit the CBS show do an incredible job of editing it in a way that's very faithful to what actually happens. I can't think of anything this season that was basically "invented" by the editing, and only one or two minor things come to mind from last season.

    It will definitely be interesting to see what Julie's interviews with Aaryn and GinaMarie will be like. Will she beat around the bush? Will she tell them they lost their jobs? I'm sure they've had a plan for the exit interview in place for weeks, and I look forward to seeing it carried out.

    Oh, and I almost threw up watching GinaMarie do that frozen yogurt challenge. So gross. :(

  2. I've not watched the "After Dark" bits before as I can't find the channel for them! I also have rarely done the live feeds as I find the T.V. broadcasts usually distill the most interesting stuff into an hour--plus that way I'm genuinely curious who will win competitions as I haven't found out online yet who the winner of a challenge is.

    It seems you and I both had a negative opinion of the show as it sounded like any other reality program, but the social experiment aspects elevate it a little bit above your regular trashy reality TV, I would say (and it seems you would agree, Marc).

    Reality shows do often "invent" drama but everything happening this season is basically real and an ugly reflection of how our society can be racist, mean, and otherwise unpleasant. I too wonder what it will be like when Aaryn and GinaMarie are finally kicked out (I was devastated when Aaryn won HOH this week)and if Julie Chen is going to throw softball questions at them or just rip them apart.

    This season of "Big Brother" can indeed be a hard show to watch when it reflects the less pleasant parts of our nation, but it is important for us to see thing such as racism and homophobia so that we get angry and work to get rid of them. I would probably be more upset if viewers of "Big Brother" hadn't gotten mad about the comments made by house-guests.

    Lastly, that frozen yogurt challenge with GinaMarie was disgusting. She must have some kind of yogurt super-power, which is both impressive and probably the world's worst super-power to have.

  3. I'm really glad that not only was there such a strong reaction from viewers, but that CBS didn't give in to the demands of some people to throw out the racists. I totally agree with you that it's important people see this, even if it's hard to watch, rather than it being just swept under the rug.

    I'm thinking Julie is really going to give it to them, especially Aaryn, when they eventually get evicted. I was glad to see her bring it up to Kaitlin; if it seemed like she pulled her punches, it was probably because Kaitlin was really just following the others' lead.

    I'd recommend giving After Dark a shot at some point, even just once, to see what it's like. It's on the TV Guide Network, although finding that channel proved a challenge for me too (it should come with most basic cable subscriptions though). I'm actually moving in two days to a completely new city and I'm not planning to get cable there, so I'm thinking I might get the Big Brother live feeds since I'll no longer have access to After Dark (and it's only $10 a month). I'll have to let you know how that experience goes; I'm looking forward to how much entertainment I'll be getting for just a fraction of my current cable bill.