BIG BROTHER and Its Impact on Society

Reading about reality television, along with the public’s fascination on figuring out “clues” (spoilers) before they are displayed on TV, got me thinking about Big Brother, one of the first reality shows to make it big in both Serbia and Greece, where I grew up. Big Brother, and shows of similar calibre, can be analyzed to see how people react when brought into contact with each other, lacking privacy and simultaneously providing entertainment to an over-excited public. Reality TV allows its viewers to fantasize about gaining status through overnight-acclaimed fame. Despite there being no conclusive evidence that the viewers will act out on these fantasies in their everyday lives, it is clear that we have accepted a much broader range of what is normal and permissible in the non-TV world.

Big Brother can be perceived as a mass media experiment in watching people deprived of the mass media. According to the producers, the intent is anthropological and socially therapeutical. The basic foundation of the show is that the cast members live with the knowledge that not everything they do is necessarily broadcasted but could be at any given moment. The appeal of the real, in this context, becomes the promise of access to the reality of manipulation, which the viewers already knew to be the reality of entertainment programming.

My hypothesis is that when ordinary people watch reality shows such as Big Brother, they see participants alike themselves, and imagine they too could become celebrities by being on television. Participation in reality TV becomes a synonym for a shot at stardom with minimal efforts.  Thus, when an ordinary Mary wins, it gives people hope that one day they could be winners too. Furthermore, the constant observation of the participants invites the viewers to look at the participants not only as experimental subjects, but rather people with whom to identify and learn from.

As Andy Warhol’s famous observation about fame suggests, the erosion of the boundaries that separate celebrities from the mass doesn’t just allow for the details of celebrities’ private lives to flood the airwaves, but creates the potential for an inversion of the celebrity equation: willingness to expose one’s private life could lead to celebrity. If the limelight that revealed the most personal details of celebrities’ lives demystified them, if it brought them down to the level of ordinary people, the corollary was that ordinary people could, through as mediated self-disclosure, attain a degree of celebrity.  

To sum up, Big Brother has been shaped by promising the democratization of creative control and productive power based on increasingly unequal access to media’s information. Willing subjection to surveillance on the BB show comes to serve as a demonstration of one’s comfort level with oneself, furthermore promising that the persistent presence of the camera signifies authentic display of reality.

Rationale proposed suggests that (1) people are affected by reality TV they swear to, in terms that shows such as Big Brother allow them to fantasize about gaining status through automatic fame achieved by appearing on TV; (2) constant surveillance is presented as one of the hip attributes of the modern world where being exposed to transmission of all our facts and gestures on TV is no longer experienced as police control but self-promotion; (3) the celebrity status attained by participants on the show highlights the promise that authenticity via surveillance has its rewards, where Big Brother’s gaze promises an ironical mass individuation.

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3 Comments »

  1. revealpr Said:

    Reality TV has always seemed to be a very interesting concept to me. Shows like Big Brother still remain phenomenally popular around the world regardless of nation or culture. A wide audience consisted mostly of teenagers and young adults enjoys watching the lives of regular people while wishing to play their role once. I think that the notion of being able to influence others’ lives by voting makes the shows even more absorbing. As you mentioned, these regular people often become celebrities and set an example of behavior for their fans, thus opening great possibilities for communicators to spread their messages and have a positive impact on teenagers.

  2. Big Brother, Jersey Shore, RuPaul’s Drag Race….. Reality TV is the new television norm. Real people, allegedly unscripted, acting and reacting live in front of the masses and instantly rising to fame. But what is it about “The Real World” formula of television programming that is so alluring? I think you’re right Sara. We imagine that if given the chance, we could do it ourselves. It’s the fact that even the losers on American Idol, either end up on a 2-hour prime time special of horrible b-roll singing, or get to tour as back up singers for the real winner, either way, it’s instant fame (although not always instant fortune).

    Reality tv brings out the voyeur in us all. I’m a Jersey girl, therefore the partying at the Jersey Shore, and especially Seaside Heights are a right of passage. I like knowing the clubs that they frequent because I’ve been to them a hundred times; it made a connection between me and the show. And it’s that connection that we crave. Having that link, which gives me something in common with Snooky and The Situation… (they call me The Solution). To think that those 5 people just so happen to have their particular experience taped, and are now gracing the covers of OK! Magazine and making guest appearances on Jimmy Kimmel, makes fame and fortune seem attainable to anyone in the right place at the right time.

  3. Orwell's Dreams Said:

    “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face-for ever.” – George Orwell


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