Big Brother 15 and its controversy
The one phrase Big Brother host Julie Chen is most known for is “But, first!” Her second-most repeated phrase is “expect the unexpected” as she tells each year’s Big Brother houseguests. This year, that phrase might be better directed at herself, the viewers and anyone else paying attention as Big Brother is both taking and giving a lesson in social self-awareness – how one acts in public and the resulting consequences.
Big Brother is one of the longest running reality television shows that still remains quite popular as it enters its 15th season. The show typically follows the same pattern year after year as the houseguests familiarize themselves with the game and their surroundings, including each other. This year has been different as, less than a week into the game, the houseguests have drawn a vastly different kind of attention from any the show has received before. Several of the houseguests have made openly racist and discriminatory remarks toward others in the game, prompting criticism and outrage from fans and viewers. Much of the negative attention has been directed at Aaryn, a 22-year-old college student from Texas but since her comments, other houseguests have joined in. Unbeknownst to Aaryn, along with GinaMarie and allegedly Spencer, they no longer have jobs waiting for them when they finish the game.
While I obviously don’t condone racism in any way, my thoughts are that not all of the people spewing these remarks actually feel this way but rather are joining in because that’s what the social dynamic has become within the house. A form of “groupthink”; the culture within the walls; that sort of thing. Remember, these people are completely cut off from the outside world except for any interaction they may have with the show’s producers. That means that they aren’t aware of the reactions and outrage currently surrounding the show and have no one (other than the producers) to tell them to knock it off. There’s no internet or no other people for them to refer to to be reminded that, ‘hey, you don’t need to say these things just because other people are.’ There’s no break from the exposure of these people who have now become the baseline for how to act in order to be accepted by everyone else which will ultimately lead to a game win. Therefore, a level of social acceptance has been created and unfortunately, it’s pretty ugly. It’s also likely that, unless there’s outside intervention, until whoever is seen as “the ringleader” is voted off, we’re going to see a lot more ugly.
Many people demanded that CBS air the comments, as they should show the true nature of the people in the house, which they did. Others insist that the offending players be removed from the show, while some have announced they are no longer watching.
I don’t think they should be removed.
Removing them is avoiding the problem. This particular situation and those similar to it make us uncomfortable because we are being forced to acknowledge that these remarks are real. As a society, we try to shade ourselves from this type of racism unless it’s purposely central in a movie or story that focuses on it as a negative. But rarely are we faced with actual situations of actual people saying actually racist comments in a somewhat natural environment.
We should be uncomfortable. And we are. And that’s a good thing.
When these people return to the real world, they’ll be faced with the consequences, some of which we’ve already been made aware of. We might not be able to see the full extent of how their remarks will affect them but the amount of people angered over them is a good indication of what may be to come. Big Brother may not be the type of show that has wide viewership or is respected in the grand scheme of things, but the response to what is happening on the show is encouraging to me that racist, homophobic and misogynistic are not welcome in today’s world.