Monday, 4 July 2016

Reality TV

By Antraeus Voltage, June 2016

When I was still watching some television and reading free papers I found on London transport, I examined this seemingly new phenomenon called ‘reality TV’ an attempt by television channels to provide entertainment at once cheaper and far more thrilling than any TV soap,” as Tim Parks puts it. (Evening Standard, 4 October 2011, p.15). An American guy named Dirk, while in the Big Brother house, described the show as “a really cheap, corporate way to try and create a TV show.” (27 January 2007).

What follows are some notes and quotes from newspaper cuttings from the mid-90s.

Back in the 80s, there used to be excellent discussion groups on TV like After Dark where creative, intelligent people from different walks of life could share their views with the public freely in a civilised manner, sitting round coffee tables on sofas in a relaxed atmosphere. One might go as far as to say that the guests were our true peers and leaders. If only that programme had continued to this day as some less worthy ones have.

The noughties really started something rather naughty. Much less introspective and thoughtful. Much more shallow and competitive, just the way the Elite want our role models. Desperately vying for viewers’ attention mouthing off and “resorting to gimmicks to sex-up the series,” as an article by Ciar Byrne on Big Brother notes. “A bunch of youthful extroverts engaging in ever-more lewd antics in a quest for instant fame.” (The Independent, 12 August 2005, p.10).

Big Brother 4 UK Logo
Then of course there is I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here, “first aired in 2002, in which celebrities live in jungle conditions with few creature comforts,” as Wikipedia describes the show. Contestants spend “six weeks competing in physical challenges and tucker trials to survive with the aim of winning $100,000 for their chosen charity.” ( “You can expect more conflict, more laughs and ultimately more heart,” Stephen Tate told News Corp. (Ibid).

Going back to 2004, the third series, topless model Jordan (Katie Price) and awful but hunky one-hit-wonder Peter Andre fell in love. Jordan dumped her boyfriend, cage fighter Alex Reid (who, oddly, almost went on to marry Chantelle Houghton), and the couple became more famous for their high profile relationship. They got married and hosted their own show, titled Jordan and Peter, of which someone said that is was very entertaining but not for the reason they thought it was. In other words, it was a circus freakshow. (100 Greatest Funny Moments, Channel 4, 15 December 2007).

Houghton was then given her own dating show, Chantelle's Dream Dates, aka ‘Chantelle’s Love Lounge’ where nobody ever seems interested in the girl she is promoting after giving her a makeover but everybody wants to spend time  with the lovely, enchanting, glamorous Chantelle. She said that she was “working on her magic makeover wand” and that she was on a mission to bring “love to the loveless;” that is, to women who are a bit drab. It may have worked had Chantelle picked the wrong men all of whom, apparently, avoided eye contact.

D-list duo Big Brother best friends Chanelle Hayes and Chantelle Houghton at Mayfair's Nobu Berkeley

Apparently, there is a TV show called Love Island that ran for two series. This one attempts to match twelve single men and women up in Fiji, where they share a villa, to see if any sparks fly with a view to forming relationships. Back in 2006, wealthy sociality Lady Victoria Hervey poured wine over model Sophie Anderton’s head, the latter having appeared in I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! ITV shipped a former Big Brother winner there in order to boost flagging ratings, Kate Lawler having won the third series in 2002. Incest aside, Miss Great Britain 2015 was been stripped of her title this very month after having sex on Love Island which was revived in 2015, now taking place in Mallorca. Zara Holland, is no longer regarded “a strong, positive, female role model” by the pageant organisers. They have explained: “The feedback we have received from pageant insiders and members of the general public is such that we cannot promote Zara as a positive role model moving forward. We wholly understand that everyone makes mistakes, but Zara, as an ambassador for Miss Great Britain, simply did not uphold the responsibility expected of the title.” A lot of young people seem to disagree with the decision which, as Olivia Blair, for The Independent, explains, “has prompted widespread outrage, with social media users branding it ‘misogynistic’ and criticising the organisation for “publicly condemning a woman for having sex.” (17 June 2016). A comment by Emily in response to this article reads: “Slut shaming. Shameful of you when you tell women to be confident and proud of themselves.” Another: “Alex Bowen warned Zara she might lose her title for what she was doing under the sheets – ‘That's a bit stiff !’ she said.”

People watch reality TV because it is voyeuristic, explained Sir Christopher Meyer on Question Time. They do not otherwise get an opportunity to secretly spy on others in their living space. And this “personal destruction and personal invasion,” as Anne Widdecombe noted, is wide open to the world. (BBC1, 21 September 2006). It was also suggested that choice is a good thing. Since people like it, “let’s be too high-minded.” However, as one critic observed, reality television does tend to contain elements of pond life.

“I cannot believe 1,500 people actually bothered to complain to Ofcom about the potential return of ex-BB housemates. Surely this should be the motivation you need to switch that crap off? Alternatively, shut your eyes, hit a random button on the TV remote and turn over to watch something more interesting than a bunch of crossdressing cretins sitting around in their underpants worrying about their next meal.” (Reader’s comment in Metro, 9 August 2006, p.18).

Reality TV features stars who are called ‘Z listers.’ That is, they are the opposite of A list stars who occasionally feature in Celebrity specials or even whole series’. (Try Celebrity Wife Swap starring ‘repulsive racing commentator’ and ‘bossy’ Tory politician and ‘TV personality’). Viewers want to see a variety of people. Everyone. All kinds of people. Not just privileged people, including celebrities, those who are confident enough to go on television because they belong to a superior class, or cultural identity group.

“I don’t want to be trapped with anybody. I am extremely antisocial.”- Michael Winner on why he wouldn’t go on a cruise for Grumpy Old Holidays (BBC2, 26 August 2006).

Samuel Preston and Chantelle Houghton

Reality TV is perhaps a reaction to all the delusional, pretentious crap that is churned out year-after-year on television and at the cinema these days. Simply filming wannabe (or hasbeen) celebs stuck together in one place – like the David Blaine Fan Club - for weeks is not real and it’s boring! It’s playing a stupid game just like the majority of programmes are. That said, the Proles are no longer exclusively represented on television fictitious characters in series such as Coronation Street, but by their own kind, albeit selected by corporations. Which means that there will be real aggression and drama which seems to go down a treat as well. Jade Goody, back in 2006, for example, could be rude and gave as good as she got in the Big Brother house. Which was probably set up using black magic and fitted out with technology to bring out the worst in people in what Lisa James referred to as the “biggest lab rat experiment ever.” Yes, apparently, Jade Goody could be a nasty bitch but the attempted PR recovery insisted that she was sweet to old ladies because she had been taught to respect them. Aside from them, rude banter was generally par for the course, however. Calling the Bollywood star ‘Shilpa Poppadom’ does not sound so offensive to me. It would make an excellent stage name (in a comedy of course)! Something of a big mouth from South London, Jade said of herself afterwards in a TV debate, “I’m famous for being a loser. I’m famous for nothing. I don’t have talent. Celebrities have talent, like writers, singers and actors.” In other words, her behaviour did not make her popular with the public. And the papers had a field day condemning her, of course.

The Big Brother team behind the scenes sets all sorts of twisted games, tasks and rules for the housemates and changes the arrangement as the show goes along. As George Galloway put it: “Big Brother drips things in to create confrontation. In the house, 24-hours-a-day with people with whom you have nothing in common.” He had realised that it was impossible to live in harmony with people in that house for three weeks because Big Brother goes out of its way to cause conflict for entertainment. You are cut off from the people you love and stuck with people with whom you have nothing in common which Galloway said was “boring and turgid.” A bit like prison, except that you get paid for your trouble.

"This is George Galloway, and he absolutely loves blocking people on Twitter"

Indeed, Big Brother strives to divide people, to cause divides and resentments, just as the puppet masters behind the Government do to society. Channel 4’s Chief Executive in those days was Andy Duncan who said that Big Brother was just titillating audiences. He said it is a polarising programme: you either love or hate it.” (Newsnight, BBC2, 24 August 2007). Pete Burns, singer with the band Dead or Alive, a one-hit-wonder with the song ‘You Spin Me Round’ in 1985, is now recognisable as his face is swollen as a result of his addiction to plastic surgery. As a housemate in 2006, Burns remarked, “I think you’re reducing us to behaving like complete wankers. In fact, that’s the best question you’ve asked since I’ve been in here.” I watched this on Channel 4 at the time and noted, “And that’s why Burns himself is doing so well and is on top of it!” Well, due to the publicity gained by Nadia the Portuguese transsexual in the previous year’s Big Brother, how could they resist?

Indian Bollywood film actress Shilpa Shetty Kundra attends the press conference announcing the judges in the dance reality show Nach Baliye 6 in Mumbai

There have been some culture clashes and racial issues as well. An African nurse named Makosi Musambasi won British citizenship after claiming that she would face a backlash at home for her behaviour in the house (kissing girls and wearing a bikini) if she were to be deported. She said she even feared for her life from the Zimbabwean security services in order to justify her asylum application. Makosi had quit nursing to pursue a more lucrative career in order to pay for her mother’s operation. Legally, her entitlement to stay in the UK ended when she quit her job as a nurse. She also resorted to prostitution to pay off debts. Former FA secretary Faria Alam suggested that ‘they’ would never allow a non-white contestant to win. And brave (or uninformed) Indian actress Shilpa Shetty found herself bullied because the English girls did not trust her. Too sensitive and feminine. Not to mention elegant. She said she could not be herself in the house but the others complained that the whole point was to be yourself. They wanted to break her mask, or walls, down. They challenged her to see the real Shilpa. They pushed her because they wanted her to play the game. But hey, that’s their game, wanting everyone to be the same. They wanted to bring her down to their level, more like. C’mon, be a dog bitch! Woof! Meow!

Unlike the band The Misfits who claim that anyone new can fit in and get on in the group, clashes of culture, gender, orientation and personality are the staple of this House of Horrors. This reference came up in a programme called Shipwrecked. Battle of the Islands, another reality TV show in which two teams live on separate islands as tribes compete against each other. (Channel 4, 13 May 2007). It was a description of the Sharks. I suppose it is interesting to see how people interact in groups. One may learn a thing or two. For example, unlike the sharks, the Tigers were a tight-knit family. Everyone got on well because they were all the same. So it was hard for anyone new to fit in. So this new guy is dropped ashore by boat to choose which team to join. ‘Fliss’ had to choose between just being a number in the background on the winning team or being really valued. He said he was taking a risk joining the Tigers but believed in them and could not see why people were choosing the sharks. I wonder he didn’t get mauled. Well, I wonder, like, the minutest amount that one can wonder. Just makes me glad I’m not there!

Channel 4 Chantelle and Preston's romance played out in the 2006 series of Celebrity Big Brother

That does sound like a prolonged game show. Victor Lewis-Smith wrote in the Evening Standard under the headline, ‘The X is for excruciating.’ He explains:

”What with Ant and Dec resuscitating ancient game show formats in their new Saturday evening series, how about them trying out that one that I’ve been peddling without success for the past decade? It’s called Lottery Buzzle, and ingeniously caters to televisions insatiable appetite for big money prizes and sadistic punishments by inviting convicted murderers to sit in the electric chair, and take the ultimate life-or-death challenge by playing the metal-ring-on-a-wiggly-wire game on live television. If the felon keeps his nerve and a steady hand, he’ll win a million pounds and freedom but, if he shakes and his ring touches the wire, he’ll get a million volts and there will be ‘frying tonight.’ But the fun doesn’t end with his summary (or wintery) execution because rolling numbers on the screen will freeze at the precise moment that he takes the juice, so one lucky ticket holder watching at home will get the cash prize that the unlucky lifer was dying to win. I once proposed that format to a BBC executive who thought long and hard before replying (in all seriousness): ‘Nice idea, but not for us – try ITV.’ And perhaps he was right because it’s no more degrading a concept than the gratuitous cruelty of X Factor, which requires the public to submit to character assassination of the most demeaning and humiliating kind in return for a one-in-a-million chance of becoming ‘the nation’s next singing sensation.’” (19 September 2005, p.37).

“Everybody is an exhibitionist these days.” – Rob Halford, Judas Priest Frontman (Metro, 20 March 2006, p.10).

Pete Burns pop star transformations over the years Pete: Burns in 1985 and 2015

I wonder if people know what they’re getting themselves into. Back in 2006, Samuel Preston, the lead singer of The Ordinary Boys, fell for a pretty platinum blonde named Chantelle, from Billericay, Essex, in the Big Brother house. “Preston and I are soul mates who helped each other survive the house,” said ‘non-celeb’ Chantelle. The couple – dubbed an ordinary boy and an ordinary girl - married afterwards but broke up after 10 months of marriage. They are reported to have made £1 million each from the relationship. In the same house, a glamour model named Jodie Marsh said she became suicidal after being bullied by Respect MP George Galloway, accusing other housemates, such as Michael Barrymore and transvestite Pete Burns, of ganging up on her. He was also pretty unpleasant towards Preston and Chantelle and turned on Barrymore, bringing up the entertainer’s alcohol problem. Chantelle branded him “a wicked, wicked, wicked man” while Preston questioned his credentials as a representative of democracy. Galloway said that he was trying to show that there was nothing extreme about him while Preston accused him of running a Socialist dictatorship in the house. The politician proved himself to be far too serious and not very kind towards young people. That is one of the dangers of becoming a cog in the Machine no matter what side you are on. Ironically, the MPs publicity stunt was a way to reach millions of potential voters and his goal was to impress young viewers. “We were playing a game,” Chantelle had to explain to him at one point. Big Brother, however, said that the MP was the best housemate they had ever had. A ‘legendary housemate,’ they said, even though he did not last long.

The 22-year-old ‘Paris Hilton lookalike’ went on to win Celebrity Big Brother with a landslide of 56.4% of the votes. The public votes for contestants to be booted out of the house until there is only one left. Even though Preston had pointed out that young girls tend to vote girls out. In the history of Big Brother, the girls go out of the house first. Chantelle responded that 13-year-old girls would all be in love with Preston. Meanwhile, Michael Barrymore was a nervous wreck, for the sake of entertainment. Yet he referred to the house as the best rehab afterwards. “See this guy break down.” (Jonathan Dimbleby, ITV1, 22 January 2006). What fun. Just like pantomime in which the characters are cheered or booed by the crowd as they are evicted, as Jonathan Dimbleby and Faria Alam discussed at the time. The show was referred to as a sort of think tank that exploits people’s frailties. (Ibid).

Nikki Grahame is returning to Big Brother

Chantelle’s glamorous, charming predecessor was Nikki, a drama queen who, when evicted from the Big Brother house, behaved as though she were sent to be hung. Her housemates could not believe how emotional she was as she believed that the public hated her. She was young and unprepared for the initial shock. It was said of her by follow housemate Pete, who had Tourette’s Syndrome, that, “She was a bundle of fluff and made it feel fluffy in here. Now it’s spiky.” At least it can be said that reality TV contrasts appalling behaviour with the positive things that people are capable of doing. This could be said to counter the largely negative events reported in the media. We now know what others are doing perhaps, but we do not know ourselves. The focus is still on the world ‘out there.’ As a result, people have few positive aspirations outside of the System. It can also be argued, however, that we have lost our hopes, our potential, through more imaginative, larger-than-life sitcoms of the type that were popular during the sixties, from Batman to Bewitched, Bilko to, er, The Addams Family. Britain, meanwhile was offering more mature, even spiritual viewing material such as cult classics The Avengers and Prisoner.

As one Andy James suggested, perhaps the show is childish and basic but it is giving people - particularly teenagers - a chance to vote and become more accustomed to choosing and expressing their rights. If democracy has sunk, he said, it might rise above this level again – otherwise it could be lost forever. “Rapid media,” I think he called it. (These notes are from p.156 of a book, the title of which I did not write down). Indeed, Big Brother may have been designed to reflect the truth about democracy on a level that informs without aiding conscious comprehension. The public gets to vote and yet the message is clear: Big Brother is still in complete control and doesn’t care who wins as long as it can inflict cruelty on people in the process and get millions of viewers to sit around watching garbage for as much of the day as possible. All presented, naturally, by a confident, smiley lady. Davina McCall was the original presenter. I just found her annoying, full stop. “That grinning, squeaking, jerking munchkin should be consigned to TV history,” said someone named Dave (reader’s comment in The London Paper, 31 May 2007, p.28).

The Current BB Presenter Emma Willis

The production firm that makes these shows is called Endemol. The global group is owned by the Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica and based in the Netherlands. According to The Independent, it is “active in 20 countries. Its projects range from Extreme Makeover in the US to pro-celebrity cricket in India, but much of its success has come from franchising simple television formats around the world. Big Brother has been a notable success from Australia to Brazil, but other programmes, such as Ready, Steady, Cook, have also been transplanted to more than 20 countries around the world.” (The Independent, 12 August 2005, p.10).

An episode of The Wright Stuff (Channel 5, 22 October 2007) revealed that Big Brother actually began in the Netherlands, the happiest nation in Europe where they start testing kids’ happiness at the age of four, it was explained. If this is true, the show commenced in a country where the public could observe people being generally positive and getting on with each other. This may help to magnify that spirit in the collective. In Britain, however, the reverse is true. People are in conflict and cause problems. Big Brother goes out of its way to magnify the tension as much as possible for ‘entertainment value.’ The result is hostility and childish behaviour demonstrated by idiots chosen for the show, assemblies of people who will not get on and who are usually just there because they want fame and fortune. People’s values here revolve around desire. This is the example being set for our children there is some positive psychological merit in observing how people cope in such situations as individuals. And, at least young people can see how adults interact as a group beyond school and family. However, if mature individuals are few and far between, and then, like Shilpa Shetty, are degraded for it, what message does that send out to children? And, absurdly, even many adults watch this programme and bitch and gossip about it, further demonstrating that immaturity is rife in the adult world.

“It took a lot of balls to do what I did.” This is what one woman said in the Big Brother house. Lisa Jeynes I think her name was. The papers then accused her of being a man. After enduring ‘slurs on her femininity’ as a result of this humiliating experience. Crap rags like Sport, the Star and Daily Express wrote lots of nasty comments about her, questioning her gender and suggesting that she was the most hated woman in Britain. She got very down and ill over this. She spent £11,000 on plastic surgery. This is the dark, destructive side of both television and the papers working in tandem.

Emma Willis in front of BB Eye

Natalie Ward, of 10,000 Maniacs, said that, in the United States, there is a morbid fascination with self-destructive people.” As opposed to people with full and productive lives. There are more of the latter, I read somewhere, and the few who suffer have some attraction for people even if just for their scarcity and authenticity. They stand out. It reminds people of their own potential in terms of individuality.

There was also a TV show about how to be a Hilton or something. It was called I Want To Be A Hilton and it was about living high-society life and having a £200,000 do what you want I guess. This programme involved 14 contestants being “made for the ES, as in Sniping Egomaniacs, whose claws are out before the cameras roll.” (Evening Standard, perhaps, 7 November 2005). The American reality TV show which followed confident, glamorous airhead Paris Hilton and talented, level-headed Nicole Riche into a series of temporary jobs as they shows capitalist working environments and redneck Americans for what they are. Wikipedia explains that, "’It Girl’ is slang for a beautiful, stylish young woman who possesses sex appeal without flaunting her sexuality.” Personally, I enjoyed the few episodes I watched when it was on Channel 4. Heiress Paris, who was once set to inherit £30 million, saw her inheritance drop to £2.5 million after her grandfather said that he would give 97 per cent of his $2.3 billion (£1.15 billion) wealth to charity...Barron Hilton whose father Conrad founded the hotel chain in 1919. Probably in order to donate or return the money to the Illuminati.

Chantelle Houghton was sent into the house as a fake. The “fake celebrity with the fake song and the fake band” convinced the housemates that she was a member of a fictional girl band called Kandy Floss even though nobody liked her singing. One might observe that Chantelle proved her worth not as an artist or entertainer but as a young woman who proved her worth in life rather than art or show business. People adored her personality since she was happy, humorous, civilised, down-to-earth, sensitive, sweet, strong, sensitive, open and adventurous. In contrast to ‘Maggot’ and the other celebs! One might also suggest that this is one of the good points about reality TV, that it provides environments that allow certain female personalities to shine, and to exhibit the love and intuitive wisdom that has been undervalued, even much-maligned, for too long in our society. And it has been argued that it is the fact that there are now many women running these television stations that is responsible for the bland, drama queen nonsense that has seemingly not lost its appeal for mainstream society. It’s just a shame that Chantelle’s dream was to become a pop star. At least it was only a one-off performance. Both the media and brainwashed society appear to celebrate these extremes between highs and lows, misery and elation.

 Celebrity Big Brother Series 14 - new eye logo, 6 August 2014

Q: You’ve been famous for...
Paul Weller: Five minutes...
Q. ...Over half your life. Is it like being in Big Brother?
Paul Weller: No, it’s never been that dull and ordinary – no pun intended on The Ordinary Boys. It’s drab, isn’t it? Do you watch that shit? Does your missus? Mine’s mad for it. It’s beyond me. It’s like watching that wall. For me, fame’s growing up in public with dodgy barnets.
(Interview in Q magazine, April 2006, p.60).

Q: Where do you stand on reality TV in general?
A: Like a lot of people, I’m very bored of it. It’s time to put a lid on it and open the doors to entertainers again. If TV bosses can make millions of pounds on something that hardly costs a penny to make, they’re not going to splash out on new creative shows. It’s easy money for them, so they’re less inclined to take risks.
(‘60 Second Interview’ with Vic Reeves in Metro, 22 September 2005, p.10).

Q: How long will reality TV last?
A: I don’t know. When you dumb down that much I don’t know what happens or if you can turn it round again. It’s never happened before.
(‘60 Second Interview’ with Ruby Wax in Metro, 16 February 2006, p.10).

“I have to leave. And you’ve been utterly brilliant for coming out this evening and not staying in watching a reality TV show, which is the best George Orwell doublethink name of something...but, you don’t watch in reality. [mimics using a remove control] Excellent. You can look out the window! Anyway.” – Australian comedian Steve Hughes at the RAW Comedy Club, Sweden, 2 November 2009. (You don’t watch it in reality but on the TV even though it’s reality and you just have to look out the window).

Big Brother Summer 2016 house, lounge

“This has been a glimpse of Britain’s future.”

A black TV presenter tells Andy Millman (a Ricky Gervais character) in a mock Celebrity Big Brother, “I haven’t handed in my dignity.” Then the chicken song plays and everyone (except Andy) follows the dance and passes huge, golden chicken eggs through their legs to each other. Rejecting the path of fame, Andy then tells the audience: “And fuck you for watching this at home. Shame on you. And shame on me.” (Last ever episode of Extras where Andy jacks it all in. BBC1, 27 December 2007). The comedian himself claims to only watch five shows “and they are probably all reality television.” (Metro, 5 September 2006, p.28).

Finally, here is a humorous post I came across on Facebook by Danielle La Vérité in 2014: ”Reason 10,653,281.7, why I don't watch mainstream terrorvision. A new 'reality' show that follows the everyday life of billionairess, Tamara Eccleston. Here's a message to every brain dead cunt that intends to watch said show: they are laughing at you. They are laughing so hard that you buy into this utter shite-infested flaptardery, that they probably piss their rat-infested kecks. They want you to strive to this vile specimen of existence, knowing that you never will because they won't ever fucking let you. You are the scum of the universe to them. As a side note - if you watch this, you're a moronic cunt of epic proportion.”

Extras - Big Brother Diary Room

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