Magazine article The Spectator

All about the Box

Magazine article The Spectator

All about the Box

Article excerpt

Television

Big Brother is upon us again, and Channel 4 kicked off the festivities with a fascinating programme called How Not To Get On Big Brother. Television really has now disappeared up its own cathode-ray tube. Big Brother itself is not about people, but about television, and how it alters not only our perception of life but our actual lives. This was a television programme about a television programme which is about television. Cameras were pointed at cameras which were filming people to see how they would appear on camera.

There was a gloating air to the programme. Look, it was saying, at all these people who are desperate to be on television. It's much harder to get into the Big Brother house than to become a member of Parliament. People who'd applied around 7,500 sent in videos of themselves - were described as 'contestants' but they were really votaries, petitioners at the court of a mediaeval king, and just as certain that his touch could cure all their ills. Some wanted money, some wanted fame, many wanted to prove themselves to their parents or win a strange revenge on a faithless lover. As the numbers were whittled away, one of the producers gave what he called `The Talk Of Doom', warning that being on television might not help them but could destroy their lives: they faced rejection on a scale no bored boyfriend could ever inflict, their failings would be magnified and broadcast to the nation, or, as he elegantly put it, `you might become famous simply for being a complete tosser.' Of course, they all ignored the Talk; you might as well have told Henry VIII's wives what had happened to the others.

The producers, or courtiers as I think of them, explained how you might offend Big Brother and so fail to be admitted to the palace. Many of the most obvious mistakes were on the videos. Puking on air may be huge fun, but doesn't get you to the next stage. Wearing a plastic penis on your nose while playing an electronic keyboard was a no-no, as was any posing pouch in the shape of a humorous animal. You should not sing a song, write a poem, be seen sitting on the toilet, or say anything like: `I'm a bit mad, me' or `my friends say I'm a complete lunatic!' Never beg them to choose you, or say `my father is such an arsehole!' Most of all, never 'diss' the two previous series of the show, or the earlier contestants. You must be seen to revere Big Brother - the lesson Winston Smith finally learned in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Yet there is a puzzle here. These people are all exhibitionists without anything to exhibit. That's why they put on Goon voices, or go in for cross-dressing, or introduce themselves as `the fat, psycho bitch from hell'. …

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