Celebrity Big Brother: Just one more dissection

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I realise this is a few days behind the curve, but having covered Celebrity Big Brother already, a few thoughts on its ending would perhaps be appropriate. And actually, there isn’t a great deal to say – the new, Ofcom-approved, cleaned-up CBB was deadly dull most of the time, and the fireworks we watch it for just didn’t materialise.

I must say, too, that I was as surprised at Ulrika winning as anybody – I firmly expected Verne to romp home. The Daily Star is crying fix, but then they always do. Possibly, and this is being a little optimistic about human nature, it had something to do with her being the last woman standing in a house where the women hadn’t had a great time of it. And while the contrast with the boos outside is striking, this might perhaps be explained by what psephologists will soon be calling the Eoghan Quigg scenario. Which is to say, there were questions raised about how the tousle-haired scamp from Dungiven could top the X Factor poll in six out of the ten studio rounds and not win the final. Actually, that’s easy to explain, and has something to do with turnout. In an earlier round, with two million or so votes spread among seven or eight acts, a couple of hundred thousand block votes from Norn Iron could propel wee Eoghan to the top; with eight million votes between three acts in the final, that just wasn’t enough. So it’s possible that the sort of people who appear in the Big Mouth audience or go to eviction nights – the hardest of the hardcore Big Brother fans – may be out of synch with the casual viewers from time to time.

There was also the question of the misogynistic bully Coolio, who I genuinely feared might win after Verne had gone out. It was frankly a little mortifying that the Star, of all media outlets, would run big splash articles attacking Coolio’s behaviour, yet this drew only the mildest of reactions from the two right-on socialist blokes in the house. Of course, Coolio shooting his mouth off about bitches and hos is what Coolio does, and what the producers should surely have expected. Condemning Coolio for that sort of talk is like condemning a dog for licking its balls – it’s just the nature of the beast. What worried me a little more was the attitude of the young women on Big Mouth, which could be summed up as, “Coolio is hilarious! Get the crybaby Michelle out!” One would look in vain there for sisterly solidarity.

And oh yes, Verne. I was struck by this point made by Remote Controller in Private Eye:

The severely growth-restricted actor Verne Troyer is the most disabled performer to be admitted to the home for limelight-denied performers. This could be seen as a progressive move – and Troyer played along with this idea in the early stages – but there’s an uneasy sense that CBB, not for the first time, is trying to have it both ways. The camera angles often seem calculated to achieve a comic effect from his tininess, a sort of documentary version of his shtick in Austin Powers, and a nagging feeling that he’s present as a test of the tolerance and liberal credentials of the other housemates… and that, if they fail it, C4 will milk the publicity while smugly telling the regulator that it was investigating attitudes to disability.

Very much as they did during the Shilpa Shetty race row. That didn’t happen, unfortunately for those of us who would have liked to see someone engage Verne in an Austin Powers-style punch-up. What was more interesting is that Verne was nearly as un-PC as Coolio – he turned out to be a right cheeky wee bastard – but he got away with it much more easily. Was it people cutting him slack out of liberal guilt? Possibly, but there must also be the factor of him playing up with a twinkle in his eye, a certain light-heartedness and an awareness of his own comic potential. And, after all, his sheer size meant that he couldn’t be loud and overbearing like Coolio was.

What do we say about the Tangerine Man, who was the main reason why I was watching in the first place? He was fairly dull even by this series’ standards, and got progressively duller, to the point where he spent most of the time sitting cross-armed on the sofa, refusing to take part in activities he thought would make him look undignified. This suggests he wasn’t aware that lack of dignity was the whole point of the show, and anyway a concern for how one appears sits oddly with his insistence on going about in shorts and treating us to extended views of his hairy legs. All in all, Tommy didn’t do anything as cringeworthy as Gallows’ cat impersonations, but nor did he really do anything to win the public over. Optimally, as Phil says, a few kids might wonder who this character is and find out something about his politics; on the other hand, the not inconsiderable number of people in Scotland who already thought Tommy was a bit of a tube will only be confirmed in their view. With each of his media adventures – the football commentary, the stand-up comedy, and now this – he looks less like a working-class champion and more like a minor celebrity with a vague interest in leftwing politics.

All right, that’s enough about the actual show. But if I may finally return to the question of impressions – and the Big Mouth audience is perversely fascinating here – it’s interesting to see how some of the dynamics work. Firstly, the fact that, of the five men and six women to go in, the first four out were all women. We’ve come to expect that from the regular BB, where on at least one occasion they’ve had to draft extra women in halfway through because the house was just getting too male for comfort. Partly this has to do with the nomination procedure. It’s fairly standard at the beginning of the show to notice the blokes bonding with each other and being generally blokey, while the women immediately start to compete over pecking order. So it is that the men nominate the women, and the women also nominate the women. And then there’s the public vote, where the (mainly female) audience isn’t usually very forgiving of female housemates.

There’s also the structure of voting, where until the final you can’t cast a positive vote but only one to evict. This makes it a system geared towards haters, and often very subjective and emotional dislikes of particular individuals, which people then go on to rationalise in quite striking ways. I’ve mentioned before the cleft stick Lucy Pinder found herself in – on the Monday the Big Mouth audience were deriding her as a bimbo because she gets her tits out for a living, while by the Thursday they were deriding her as boring because she wasn’t getting her tits out in the house. You could be forgiven for thinking that you can’t win, and indeed you can’t.

If you’re loud and stroppy, there’s a fair possibility you’ll go out at the beginning. If you’re loud and stroppy and by some miracle survive the first couple of weeks (vide Jade) the voters might keep you in on the grounds that you’re entertaining. Being boring is often a good survival strategy – you can more or less sleep your way to about week seven. But that too can be held against you. And I’m always amazed at how, when some housemate (invariably a woman) is nice and pleasant and completely inoffensive, some of the audience (almost invariably women) will start in with, “She’s so false! She’s got a game plan! Get her out now!” On one level it’s an amusing catch-22, but on another level you see some of these eviction crowds, booing and shouting at someone whose only sin was to argue over who nicked the custard creams, and it’s so easy to picture them with pitchforks and flaming torches.

Ah, well. And the most depressing thing of all is that the auditions are currently under way for this summer’s tenth series. To be brutally honest, the Big Brother format is totally clapped out, and has been for at least three or four years, no matter how many twists they add, and no matter how energetically Davina gurns and shouts. (The woman makes David Tennant look like Victor Garber.) But it’s such an enormous cash cow for C4 and Endemol that it can’t simply be put out of its misery. So it will drag on, year after year, until it finally becomes a liability. Low ratings notwithstanding, I fear that is a long way off.

1 Comment

  1. skidmarx said,

    January 28, 2009 at 10:40 am

    I would have thought the question of the moment is who will appear as prosecution witnesses in the Sheridans’ perjury trial.
    White males did well in BB up until Nadia’s victory at least. I wasn’t so shocked at Ulrika’s victory (wish I’d said this a couple of weeks ago so could appear as sage now).

    “This suggests he wasn’t aware that lack of dignity was the whole point of the show” – from whose point of view? You could be forgiven for thinking that you can’t win, and indeed you can’t.

    Coolio could have played the race card to deflect complaints about his language.


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