One of the main things I like about reality television, a much maligned genre, is that you get to see real people in real situations. Yes, yes, I know – scenes are staged and people act up to/for the cameras, and don’t even get me started on the manipulative editing, etc. I know it’s not “really real.” Real reality would undoubtedly be too boring for anyone to want to watch.
But…that said, the people on these shows aren’t actors (usually). The shows themselves aren’t scripted (usually). On the shows that I watch, I believe that to some lesser or greater degree (depending on the show) people *are* being themselves. And that interests me.
“Big Brother” is frequently criticized as “trash TV” (especially in light of the racism scandal this season), but it’s a unique reality show in that we are allowed to watch the hamsters (as they’re called) in real time, without editing, via live feeds. There are restrictions on this – CBS may tout “24/7 access!”, but the truth is that the list of things live feed viewers don’t see is fairly long and heavy on stuff we’d all probably *like* to see. Competitions, whether they are for veto, luxury or have/have not, are blacked out. So are nomination ceremonies and veto ceremonies. Diary room discussions with production are never on the live feeds.
The exception is the actual Head of Household competition – usually seen live on the show (well, live if you’re on the East Coast or watching an East Coast television feed), but if it extends over the end of the show (as, say, endurance comps tend to), they’ll usually switch the feeds back on a few minutes after the show ends.
Still, production can simply control what the viewers see by deciding what to show them. There are four camera feeds, typically showing two separate areas of the house (the feeds on the same group usually show different camera angles). Occasionally all four feeds will be on one group of people. Sometimes the feeds switch in the middle of a really juicy conversation between two houseguests, in order to show us another houseguest plucking her eyebrows or another two having a desultory conversation about their favorite/least favorite fruits. This is infuriating.
Still…still…I maintain that the live feeds make BB unique and do allow viewers to get the “most real” reality show experience possible, at least of the available options on now. (And yes, the real reality, even in the BB house, is frequently boring – witness the fruit discussion referenced above.)
One thing about watching a reality show is that your perspective can change on the participants radically during the course of a show. This is particularly true of “Big Brother”, because, again of the live feeds, and because even the edited show occurs in close-to-real time. This means that the producers don’t have the time to shape the narrative the way they do with other reality shows. They don’t have the luxury that, say, “Survivor” has – of getting an entire season shot and then editing it to develop storylines. On “Survivor” or other reality shows, if someone is to be the villain of the season, you often see glimpses of it early on, or at least you don’t necessarily see that person portrayed in a positive light. On BB, someone may seem perfectly likable, both on the feeds and the show, until something happens – they get HOH (caution: huge power trip ahead!) or they get nominated or they get drunk or whatever – and another side of that person comes out.
Joker’s Updates is a comprehensive “Big Brother” fan site (they cover other reality shows as well), and one of the things that’s interesting to watch on that site is the “rate the houseguests” feature. Registered members can vote once a day. Since the site prominently features transcription of live feeds, it’s safe to assume that people who vote also either watch the live feeds or read the live feed updates. My point is that it’s a pretty informed group that’s voting – not just people who watch the show (and thus get the edited version). So it’s interesting to see how people move up and down in the rankings based on what’s happening in the house. Judd has been at or near the top of the rankings for a while now (he’s just now starting to fall; he’s being kind of a jerk lately); so has Elissa.
Aaryn, the not-so-accidental-racist, has been at or near the bottom of the rankings since about day 11; probably around the time that a lot of her racist comments were getting widely aired. She was all the way up at #8 for a while (about mid-pack), a high she hadn’t seen since the first week. I like to get an idea of why someone is ranked the way they are – I kind of get her creeping up a bit because she was out of power and semi-behaving herself for a while there, but I’m not surprised that she’s dropped back down because since winning HOH a week ago she’s been up to some of her old tricks, albeit not quite so in-your-face about it. She’s decided that she’s “NEVER” said anything racist and that Candice is trying to “ruin her life” by claiming she has. Personal responsibility, clearly, is not Aaryn’s strong suit. (Meanwhile, late last week she called Candice “Aunt Jemima” behind her back and said that she should go and “make [Aaryn] some pancakes.” Nope, no racism there!)
Meanwhile, others, notably Amanda, have stepped up with the racist and inappropriate comments. This is the same Amanda who warned Aaryn about how her racist comments were being perceived, yet she herself refers to Candice’s “greasy nappy haired head.” Amanda considers herself “the least racist person”, but this YouTube video would suggest otherwise.
Bringing up the rear: Gina Marie, who suggested that Candice should wash her towels, “You know, like “The Help?” She also stated that Candice’s own mother didn’t want her (Candice was adopted as a baby), which isn’t racist per se but is a really ugly thing to say.
Where was I? Oh, yes, trying to make the point that “Big Brother” isn’t just trash TV and is worth watching. I may have lost some of you there…but I think there’s value in seeing that people do talk and think like that, especially if, like me, you’re lucky enough to not encounter such people in everyday life. Some people believe we live in a “post-racial society” but the racism rampant on BB this season would suggest otherwise. I guess it could be seen as an anomaly, but I think of “Big Brother” as, while perhaps not entirely representative, a microcosm of our society. One that, through isolation and the tension of fighting for the grand prize, unfortunately often brings out the worst in people.
Jennie has contributed to Imperfect Women since its inception in 2009. She writes about politics, celebrity news, and anything else that catches her interest.