Deborah Orr: This Shows Only How Cruel, Vacuous and Pitiless Our Society Has Become

By Orr, Deborah | The Independent (London, England), June 19, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Deborah Orr: This Shows Only How Cruel, Vacuous and Pitiless Our Society Has Become


Orr, Deborah, The Independent (London, England)


For one fan, Joe, so dedicated that he runs a huge Big Brother website, the main thing was that the wider world was sitting up and taking notice. Big Brother, he pointed out - mid-series and for only the second time in its five-year history - had made the evening news bulletin.

"ITV news sandwiched a report about the violence in the Big Brother house between a headlining story on hooliganism in Euro 2004 and a murder enquiry," Joe boasted, apparently without irony. But actually it makes you want to weep.

Maybe he's right. Maybe this highly controlled outbreak of bad feeling is being taken far too seriously. Why is a minor brawl between a few attention- hungry fools causing such shocked excitement, when our culture is clearly saturated with much more extreme violence already?

Primarily, of course, it is the cynicism with which the Big Brother violence has been deliberately courted in order to provide the most immature and uncivilised of "entertainment" for the most unsophisticated and immature of viewers (mainly young people).

The programme's makers, Endemol, and its broadcaster, Channel 4, have been criticised for years now about their attempts to manipulate contestants into on-screen sex. But by recruiting abrasive people and placing them in a deliberately claustrophobic environment, the producers this time around were clearly seeking the very sort of negative interaction that they got.

In terms of their own ambitions, their strategy has worked. The media coverage has been massive; websites have crashed with the clamour of people seeking further information, and the viewing figures for Thursday evening, when the whole sorry tale of anger and destruction was summarised, were the highest since the series was launched.

Things did perhaps get more out of hand than Endemol had wanted. There are now enquiries from the police and from viewers' watchdogs into the techniques employed by the programmers and the events of Wednesday night.

Most people are repulsed by these latest happenings on the controversial show. But still the company and the channel are attempting to milk the situation for all that it is worth. They insist that the contestants are safely being monitored by psychologists - the same ones, presumably, that helped them to assemble such an unstable and angry bunch in the first place.

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