Celebrity big brother viewer: your votes, your values

By Ian Feis

Psychoanalysts have long hypothesized that humans tend to play out unconscious aggressive desires via videogames or watching films that provide outlets for libidinal urges. After a stressful day, people find themselves screaming at their favourite football team on the tele – the essential release of primitive sexual and aggressive impulses that have been ignored throughout the day.  More accurately these urges have been bludgeoned out of awareness by the dominant superego, which exists to force people into behaving in ways culturally sanctioned as appropriate – the morality of the masses prevails against one’s personal craving. Without a fail-safe liberation from bodily impulses, the enter system crashes and people become easily agitated and inevitably irritable.

Celebrity Big Brother provides a release and an identity booster. Watching allows people trapped within a monotonous daily routine, constantly obeying their rational brain to shatter the bonds of social law conformity, to become a social judge: laughing, gasping, and feeling disgusted by the behaviour of contestants. A French philosopher, Michel Foucault, wrote about the systematic structures of institutions, such as prisons, and the ways in which architectural design create obedience amongst subjects. The building, a panopticon, allows the observer to monitor all of the inmates, or in Celebrity Big Brother’s case, housemates, without the watcher being detected. In prisons, inmates’ behaviour, in theory, becomes self monitored because of the fear of being reprimanded – providing theoretical support for the development of community surveillance like CCTV – under the fear of public gaze people will self-govern their actions.

In prisons, surveillance provides a controlling mechanism; however in the case of reality TV subjects desire the support of the unknown viewer. Viewers have the power to evict or save the housemates. The personalities of the housemates themselves are up for elimination. No longer are they to fear the constant surveillance, but use big brother to their advantage – be the most sensational, ridiculous, and scandalous or be left behind. This captures the paradox present in the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, the behaviour of any object being observed is changed by the fact that it is being observed, thus the accuracy of any judgment is questionable.

The characters, not relatable people, represented in the Celebrity Big Brother cast were not chosen to be the viewer’s friend, but to play into the social experiment of placing extreme examples of common archetypes into a confined space, with no escape, week after week. Producers have no interest in broadening the acceptance of diversity, rather rely on cheap tactics of choosing overtly sexual, highly feminine Barbie dolls and testosterone saturated men who can’t keep their hands out of their trousers for the five minutes they spend in the diary room.

Big Brother could at least try to be subtle instead of filling the house with playboy playmates, page three girls, an underwear model, a boy with the names of his sexual conquests tattooed on his bum, a rapper, and a self-inflated party boy pervert from the cast of The Only Way Is Essex. Housemates who don’t fit into this classification serve their purpose too – Denise Welch, of the popular talk show Loose Women, is an ironic choice. Juxtaposed against woman nearly half her age, the intention is not for Welch to be enticing or “loose,” but to become the desexualized, outspoken mother of the house. During the fairytale challenge where housemates are assigned fictional characters to represent their personalities, Welch is given “the three bears” because she’s the one you’d want to cuddle with if you were feeling blue, further illustrating that she is motherly, you can trust her, and she provides comfort.

What about Gareth Thomas? Surely Big Brother is challenging the doctrine of heterosexual domination among a patriarchal culture, why don’t you feminists just shut up and accept positive change and stop crying about problems you choose to see? Thomas is the most disappointing mainstream gay figure of 2011. He alone had the position to challenge destructive stereotypes and the unspoken masculine law that bans gay men from living open lives whilst playing sports. Since coming out, instead of obliterating stereotypes, he has become one. Everyone in the public has been privy to Thomas’ public transformation from unkempt rugged rugby player to the prototype of ‘straight-acting’ overly manicured gym-bunny that mimics the standards of heterosexual masculinity and subverts the lives of gay men who don’t fit into the carbon copy image he has conformed to. Thomas isn’t the messiah of gay rights in sports, he is an easily digested image that is free of the confrontation that compels the public to question values they’ve assumed via western socialisation to be natural.

The first two Celebrity Big Brother eliminations are illuminating, providing insight into the UK’s cultural psyche of morals and values. You’d have to contact your deaf, blind, and senile grandmother to find anyone who would rate Andrew Stone, the self-proclaimed “dancing diva,” as anything but an obnoxious nobody, but his nomination by housemates and later elimination by the British public highlights adherence to traditional gender roles and sexual identities. Stone regards himself as, “very straight,” yet is as camp as Graham Norton dancing in Soho to “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor. Housemates couldn’t make sense of this – how can such a camp man not be gay? I make no assumptions about Stone’s sexuality, that’s not the point. The matter is, people understand a camp gay man, but heterosexual identity for males is limited to what is considered masculine. Even though Georgia, the other housemate up for eviction, is about as boring as watching George Osbourne deliver his budget, she was saved. The housemates and the public alike couldn’t make sense of Stone and felt uncomfortable with his straight identity – he was the inevitable choice.

Natasha Giggs, the famed adulterer who had an eight-year affair with footballer and brother in-law, Ryan Giggs, came on the show to reclaim her image. Unfortunately for her, when given the opportunity, the public axed her without any hesitation. I feel sorry for Giggs, Natasha, that is. She was an absolutely lovely housemate who got on with a majority of the house. Nicola McLean, the most backstabbing judgmental housemate, who has publically, via Twitter, denounced the behaviour of many of the housemates was saved from elimination when pinned against Giggs. The public, couldn’t get past the acts viewed as morally irreprehensible and has cast Giggs to the same fate of Hester Prynne from the Scarlet Letter, public isolation and banishment to live with her guilt.

Many issues are at play because of the extreme tensions placed on the housemates in Celebrity Big Brother 2012, but don’t think the viewers are free from the psychological influence: your votes signify more than who is pretty or ugly, boring or interesting, they reveal the hierarchy of values realised through cultural socialisation, which the producers of Big Brother refuse to challenge.


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