So, who have we got this time round then?
There’s the rather strange Stephen, the youngest of the Billion Baldwins; Jordan’s cage-fighting transvestite red-top magnet of a boyfriend Alex Reid (who looks as if he’s fought one too many cages in his time); Jordan’s ex and boyband warbler Dane Bowers (who apparently had a punch-up with Reid at Jordan’s New Year party – tabloid trashtastic, Channel 4!); Dynasty and Bad Girls legend Stephanie Beacham (god knows what she’s doing in there, she’s far too classy for this!); and worryingly thong-obsessed singer and actor Sisqo (please god this doesn’t mean The Thong Song is about to be re-released…).
Then there’s some strangely-named bloke called Basshunter who apparently had a hit single a couple of years ago; ex-Hollywood madam (and almost certainly recipient of some Pete Burns-esque ‘facial adjustments’, if her pics are anything to go by) Heidi Fleiss; glamour model and WAG Nicola T (who?); feisty British rapper Lady Sovereign (who once had a decent career ahead of her – what happened?); Katia Ivanova (famous for… er… dating Ron Wood from the Stones for about five minutes); and, last but not least, ex-football hard man, tough-guy actor and notorious nutcracker, Vinnie Jones.
Good grief. What can you say about that shower of celebrities (I use the latter term in its loosest possible sense, of course)? I mean, I know we’ve been stupified into compliance by too much Christmas food and bad telly (and it was really bad festive telly), but is there any sort of an excuse for this? Really?
Gone are the days when Channel 4 was essential viewing and actually broadcast programmes with real, actual content and something interesting to say. The ‘dumbing down’ of television argument has been dragged out so many times that it’s getting very boring, but how else can you account for the popularity of Big Brother and its celebrity counterpart? And how on earth are Channel 4 still getting away with it?
I was curious about this, so I went for a wander around the Channel 4 website. According to that, the station has a very specific and particular remit under the 2003 Communications Act, which means that it must provide:
“a broad range of high quality and diverse programming which, in particular:
a) demonstrates innovation, experiment and creativity in the form and content of programmes;
b) appeals to the tastes and interests of a culturally diverse society;
c) makes a significant contribution to meeting the need for the licensed public service channels to include programmes of an educational nature and other programmes of educative value; and
d) exhibits a distinct character”
Channel 4 is thus a public service broadcaster, but I can’t help but think they’re not providing any form of public service with Big Brother. It seems to be easier and/or cheaper for them to fill our TV screens with a constant diet of countless wannabes or z-list celebs in BB, and imported American comedies of wildly varying quality than to actually bother making television programmes which have character and are educational, intelligent, entertaining and creative, like they used to.
BB is real lowest common denominator stuff, and not in a good, accessible way (and that’s not a contradiction in terms either). It’s clearly more like the televisual version of a tabloid gossip column, by turns bitchily snide and guiltily pleasurable. Or at least that’s how it started out. These days it’s way beyond that – more like the worst student house you can imagine, with all the associated petty irritants and hatreds amped up to eleven and then some.
Having lived in a number of shared houses in my time, I can attest to the fact that it doesn’t take very long before the cracks begin to show and personalities begin to clash (usually over whose turn it is to do the washing up). This is true even when you’re living with friends, but throw together a group of strangers, whether celebrities or not, in a completely unnatural environment like the Big Brother house, it’s only going to be a matter of time before things kick off.
And that becomes all the more inevitable when it’s orchestrated from behind the scenes in the way that BB has been right from the start. It’s never been a matter of achieving a diverse mix of housemates for the sake of having an interestingly diverse mix of housemates; it all comes down to creating tensions between people with oppositional types of personality and lifestyle. Apparantly, this all makes good television, you see – although Channel 4 have repeatedly shot themselves in the foot with Big Brother over precisely how one defines ‘good television’.
Ignoring the fact that the majority of the series’ and the majority of the contestants have been as dull as ditchwater, which is bad television in and of itself, there have been aspects of BB that have ended up being deeply worrying at the very least and, in some cases, downright disturbing.
The international outrage sparked by the racist bullying of Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty by the late Jade Goody and her cronies during 2007’s Celebrity Big Brother immediately springs to mind, but there have also been accusations of exploitation, official complaints about the phone voting system, clearly mentally unstable contestants, much lewd and lascivious behaviour, swearing aplenty and, of course, controversial politician George Galloway pretending to be a cat; a deeply disturbing sight that will stay with me forever, no matter how hard I try to suppress it.
This isn’t good television. It’s car-crash TV, certainly, but it isn’t good television. And I don’t think making car-crash television actually comes under Channel 4’s remit, or does it?
You can call me a snob if you like, I don’t care – although I freely admit to watching part of the 2009 series because, bizarrely enough, one of the contestants was someone I had known as a teenager. And I also watched the very first Big Brother back in the summer of 2000. Back then it seemed like an interesting psychological experiment, constantly examining how people interact on a grand scale, as well as being a near-unique example of a larger society in microcosm – rather than the desperate excuse for fifteen minutes of fame it has inevitably become (possibly an attempt at fifteen more minutes for some of this current lot). Thank heavens that this is the final CBB, I’m not sure I could handle any more of this without my brains starting to dribble out of my ears…