2016: The Year Celebrity Big Brother Became Relevant
You, like me, will probably have forgotten that in its infancy Big Brother was actually a genuinely fascinating social experiment. Named after the Orwellian dictator, it took a dozen or so normal people and kept them in a house under constant observation. Inevitably this human ant farm was deemed uninteresting by Channel 4 executives and they added stranger and more repellent ants year on year and began to shake the ant farm violently. The years passed and we saw countless series of both Big Brother and Celebrity Big Brother but the true experimental intrigue was lost amid the sleaze that is reality television. Channel 4 would eventually not renew the rights to Big Brother but it was denied a quiet death as Channel 5 instantly brought it back to life. Five years passed and we forgot Big Brother existed. That was seemingly the end of it. What started with good intentions was fizzling out to anonymity; drowning in a sea of ever more scandalous reality tv.
This year that all changed. Celebrity Big Brother 2016 rolled around as per usual; with the worst of British celebrity culture splayed across our screens for several weeks. But something unexpected happened. As the dust settles on this series of Celebrity Big Brother it’s become apparent that it not only returned to its social experiment roots but perfectly reflected modern British culture back in our faces. The housemates included; a friend of a Kardasian, a 3rd placed X Factor contestant, a disgraced Hollyoaks actress, a walking penis from Geordie Shore, a man who’s claim to fame is not being Mr Ireland, some Made In Essex-ers, a UKIP MP and whatever David Gest is. The names are unimportant. What is worth noting is that nine of the twelve housemates made their name in reality television (and the rest are tabloid fodder). Remember when a woman called Chantelle was put in a series of Celebrity Big Brother and wasn’t famous? That was the big twist that year. Well imagine that, but everyone is Chantelle. Here is a very brief list of the highlights on what was less a reality show and more a masterful piece of broadcasting showing us everything wrong with celebrity culture.
Daniella Westbrook (career ruined by persistent substance abuse) told Stephanie Davis (famous for being fired from Hollyoaks) she was ruining her career by cheating on her boyfriend (famous for being on Channel 4 show First Dates) with Jeremy McConnell (famous for lying about being Mr Ireland). Gemma Collins (from Essex) decided she was too good for Big Brother, correct in the knowledge that she was the Tony Soprano of the fame hungry. Megan Mckenna (reality in all its forms) spat and swore and screamed on more than one occasion because someone looked at her the wrong way and was removed by security. Tiffany Pollard (American reality) gave us the undoubted moment of the series when she hysterically mistook Angie Bowie’s (David Bowie’s ex-wife) lament that ‘David is dead’ to mean David Gest (asleep next door) and not her late husband and when corrected she decided to aggressively confront Angie. John Partridge (alleged actor) spent the time haughtily looking down on the depravity unfolding but also nominated his friend Darren Day (self-confessed ‘love rat’) for eviction. When these evictions were made public John said he believed Darren’s smoking of two cigarettes was evidence that his time in the house would cause a relapse into alcoholism. A man from Geordie Shore won (in the loosest sense of the word) despite having the charm and depth of a penis drawn on a toilet cubicle.
It would be easy to dismiss this as just another low for television, humanity and the modern world. Think for a second though. Would Channel 5 just let this car crash play out for the sake of it? Or did they choose to show exactly how horrific these products of reality television are? As a viewer it was painful to watch but it made me think about how these monsters on screen were created by us. All but a few are products of reality television or tabloid gossip and the only way to get rid of them is the hardest thing to do. We must give up our morbid fascination and turn our disgust into ambivalence. It’s the same thing we’ve been told all our lives. These people just want a reaction; all we have to do is stop reacting. Do you want to stop Gemma Collins? Then turn off the television when she comes on. Do you detest Katie Hopkins? Unfollow her on twitter. We the public are the Victor Frankenstein to these horrific monsters and I can only thank those geniuses at Channel 5 for utilising this latest series of Big Brother to show us just that.