Big Brother is one of my guiltiest of guilty pleasures. I don't want to watch, I don't want to read the feed transcripts and see the same backbiting conversations repeated 20 times a day. And yet in Big Brother 2 and 3, that's exactly what I did. I felt like I had to know what was going on, that something shocking or outrageous would occur and I would miss out.
Here we have Big Brother 4. The most outrageous, perverse Big Brother yet. And here I am, barely watching the episodes, barely reading the feeds. What I do watch or read tends to make me even more dejected. I spend more time wondering what has been missing from this season than I do wondering who will triumph in this season. My best guess as to what is missing is balance.
The 'Ex-Factor' was passable in theory and poor in execution. Instead of creating fireworks, the exes quickly settled into quiet alliances or simmering acceptance of what they could not immediately control. They were polite to each other's faces and indulged in intense trash-talking behind each other's backs -- no different than any other group of BB players.
What was different was that this move helped cause the shift towards hard bodies and hard heads that characterized BB4. Most of the houseguests were in the same age range, had similar backgrounds or personalities, and were physically attractive. They controlled the game. The fringe characters, like Jack and Dana, had to assimilate or die, and ultimately did both.
One of the key aspects of Big Brother is learning how to live with people who are very different from you. Whether that be someone of a different sexual orienation, race, or background, you have to figure out how to deal with this person. Will you drop your fears and try friendship? Will you settle into mutual hostility? Will you try a reluctant alliance? There was no strong difference of personality or lifestyle in the house this season. Although the show tried several times to edit a 'good vs. bad' mentality, the actual makeup of the house was more along the lines of 'really bad vs. unpleasant' or 'vapid and dull vs. reprehensible'. Unlike season 2, there were no 'good' people who fractured when their shared enemy was gone. There were only a few passive sheep like Jack, Amanda, Erika and Michelle who were nice enough people but seemed to be deer in the headlights compared to their sociopathic housemates.
One of the major components of the BB4 house which was generally left out of the episodes was the constant bigotry. In one episode a houseguest sarcastically says her boyfriend looked like he just got off the boat. In another, a nominated houseguest has a brief outburst of racial venom. Later still, a houseguest's derogatory statements on women are briefly highlighted. Just enough to titillate viewers, and help them decide who to root for and against. What viewers did NOT see was the almost daily vitriol coming from all sides, accepted and even encouraged, growing and growing like a tumor. While other reality shows like America's Next Top Model, Amazing Race 4, even the tacky and exploitative Boy Meets Boy, were on some level trying to show the complexity of women, of gay men, of minorities, of how they deal with each other and the world around them, Big Brother 4 took on a junior high locker room mentality. People referred derisively to homosexuals, constantly speculated on one player's sexuality as a way to intimidate him, swore that if they ever had a child who said he was gay, he'd be disowned (because it's just wrong and a sin...yes, Big Brother the house of morality), and one particularly vile player referred to seemingly every man in the house, especially those who did not spend enough time groping her or telling her what a pretty pretty princess she was, as a 'fag'. The Dream Team alliance spent many hours bragging on themselves and tearing women down in graphic terms, especially when a woman would win a challenge. Not to be outdone, several of the members of the so-called 'Angels' alliance would decry misogyny and in the next breath refer to other women as old and ugly, as bitches, as sluts, as whores. These two 'ladies', once assured of their success in the final stage of the game, spent their time not only making nasty, homophobic, racist comments about other houseguests, but also the houseguests' family members, to the point of one player's 8-year old daughter being called a 'bitch'. What class.
I'm not going to tell you that bigoted remarks should be banned in the house, because the point of the show is how people react - warts and all - in a claustrophobic environment. What I will say is that I vastly prefer an environment where a diverse flow of personalities and opinions is possible. Think of BB2. Bunky and Kent were very different men. Kent was certainly not a saint. Yet, when Bunky came out, Kent became one of his closest friends in the house. He went from raving about the sickness of the gay lifestyle to genuinely caring about a gay man. No, he didn't stop making some questionable comments, but his view of the world was broadened, even if only for a few months. That would never have happened this season. The generic pecs-and-breasts casting style provided a cushion of unchallenged hate speech. There was no balance, no room to learn. I truly believe that BB setting up this type of atmosphere was deplorable, and created possibly the most unredeemable, disposable reality TV cast ever.
Part of the reason for this unchecked bile was the sequestered jury. Nearly everyone can figure out the reason for this rule -- Danielle was a producers' dream and when she did not win last season, many fans felt cheated. I was in the minority who did not feel cheated because I felt that Danielle dug her own grave. She didn't just 'play the game', she took an unholy glee in tearing people apart behind their backs. In her overwhelming loss to Lisa, she suffered the consequences of her actions. Alison and Jun will not, and the jury will not even have the opportunity to address these two classless, crude, braying wastes of oxygen on the many despicable, below-the-belt lies, insults and insinuations which they have reveled in all these months.
There has been a long line of meddling from the start of this season. Was it just a coincedence that more than one of the HOH competitions seemed to be designed in favor of the people most in danger? How many times did the live feeds cut away to the front of the house when the validity of Alison's last POV win was discussed by other houseguests? How many times this season did people in and out of the house discuss rigging, certain houseguests being coached in the Diary Room, etc.? At first none of this made an impact for me, since any reality show has some kind of producer interference. But as BB4 has slumbered on, more and more of this season, from Scott's convenient outburst and exit just in time to hook viewers in early, to all of the lopsided competitions, to Erika being chided because she and others were not 'excited' enough during competitions, to Alison's constant escape from the firing squad, to the makeup of the final few players, seems predestined. The houseguests and the fans watching were all puppets. Elements of surprise or excitement were rare and fleeting.
Perhaps most depressing of all is how uninspired the product of all this manipulation was. You would think that IF the powers that be did step in to cause some drama, they would have done a better job. Instead, they have left us with a vulgar, boring, demoralizing, depressing season, where it was impossible to care about the final 3, final 2...some would even say impossible to care about the final 13.
The irony in my rant is that BB4's ratings are great, some of their best ever. I know people who have no idea of the activity on the live feeds. They sit through the thrice-weekly episodes and have their moments to enjoy. I don't have the heart to tell them the kind of people they're watching, and maybe they wouldn't care anyway. This is all just potato chip TV anyway. Not to be taken seriously. I have no problem with so-called 'trash TV' or guilty pleasures, at least when a balance is in place. But with Big Brother 4, I felt no guilty pleasure. I felt apathy, nausea, and at times, shame. Shame, apathy and nausea that these types of losers were given free reign on national television and that their worst behavior will never be known by many of those at home.
I don't know if I will watch next season or not. All I know is that the people who conceived, cast and executed season 4 of Big Brother have severely damaged a reliable franchise. Arnold Shapiro revived US Big Brother from the dead. Now he's slammed the stake right back into it's heart.