Reality television needs a reality check

There’s a documentary currently being displayed on the Channel 4 on demand website. It’s called “Best Undressed” and follows the attempts of a group of exotic dancers and strippers as they try to become “Miss Nude Australia.” Yep, you heard right, there is actually a competition held for being naked. And trust Channel 4 to capitalise on the chance to broadcast some softcore pornography into British households.

Big Brother, one of the most successful reality TV programmes, is celebrating its 11th year. Photo: Ged Carrol via Flickr

This sort of programme really does lend light to the mindset that the media will literally broadcast anything these days.

That rather nicely leads me onto the crux of my argument, Big Brother. I’m sure you’ve all seen it, you would have had to have been living in a hole for the past decade or so to have missed this cultural phenomenon. As the programme enters into it’s eleventh, and thankfully final series, I’m trying to see what the appeal is.

First of all though, a bit of history. As with all the great British icons, we nicked the idea of Big Brother from someone else, the Netherlands in this case. The first Dutch series was broadcast in 1999, with the UK version kicking off a year later. Now the show has several international versions, and is hailed as one of the true icons of the twenty-first century.

But why? What’s so great about it? Oh sure, you get the regular arguments and the occasional flash of nudity, but that can’t really be the appeal?

Maybe it’s the God complex in all of us at work, the good feeling we get from looking down on people who can’t watch us back, of interfering in another person’s life and watching them deal with the consequences.

The people I’ve spoken to, all avid Big Brother fans, say they watch the series because they like seeing the various relationships form in the house and there’s not much else on during the summer anyway.

There’s also one thing about Big Brother that annoys me immensely. It’s not the constant adverts or shameless self-promotion, but rather the housemates themselves. Think about it, in the current series we have a lesbian, a gay man, a religious but intoxicated fanatic, a posh-boy, and an amputee.

It’s as if Channel 4 simply went down a checklist of minority groups, ticking each one off as they went. They might as well chuck a serial killer into the house as well, that’d tick a few more diversity boxes.

Though clearly I must be missing a very important point here, because despite numerous Facebook status updates proclaiming otherwise, reality television in general is still a huge business. There’s been hundreds of commissioned programmes over the years, all with the basis of watching a cross section of the public undertake something ridiculous from the comfort of your living room. And every incarnation of I’m a B-list Celebrity Dancing Strictly on Ice for Charity owes its roots to Big Brother.

So I suppose that since this broadcasting leviathan is well and truly in its death throes, the time for criticising it is past. And what I should in fact be doing is praising the icon for providing us with quality programming for the past decade or so. I would be doing this, had said programming been of any reasonable quality.

What Big Brother has in fact provided us with is a unique way of turning ordinary people into so-called celebrities. This has been so successful that there are now more celebrities than ever, and therefore the threshold of what it takes to be considered famous has been considerably lowered.

So that’s my final sentiment after ten years of Big Brother. So if you want to vote on whether we should keep reality shows, phone our premium rate phone number now… or you could just write it down, I suppose.

2 Responses to Reality television needs a reality check

  1. Ian Bower says:

    Quote: ‘With the latest series of Big Brother already taking over our screens…’ It’s not taking over my screen nor any of my friends’ screens.

    Another quote: ‘…in the current series we have a lesbian, a gay man…’ Are you implying that being lesbian or gay should bar them from the show? After all, no doubt C4 choose them to ‘titilate’ those viewers who don’t really have a life of their own.

  2. Darren Moss says:

    Hi Ian,

    Well, if its not taken over your screen you’ll still no doubt by aware of it, and the general appeal of reality television is still apparent.

    No, I’m not saying that anyone should be barred from taking part. I’m saying that I’m surprised by C4’s spectrum of participants.