Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Musings on Big Brother

So Vanessa Feltz went into the house on Friday, and it got me thinking: isn't there a reason why we're meant to dislike her? I'm sure there is. Isn't there a reason for all the sniping about her? In particular about her appearance? According to her Wikipedia page she was once voted Britain's 93rd worst subject after all. What did she do? But all I can really gather is that she's a woman in the public eye who's dared to have more than one marriage, have a slightly gregarious personality and be overweight. God forbid! While I realise Feltz's relationship with her weight has been very public, I can only imagine this scrutiny would (and did) arrive at her doorstep whether or not she courted it. As such - if she is forthright about her weight "battle" - who can blame her for capitalising on it? She has little choice anyway, since it is well known that women's bodies are public property (see Ffion Hague's womb). And if making low rent TV appearances or writing low-brow columns is reason enough to be mauled by the press, then half of the 'TV personality' stock is fair game. Which middle range media personality truly has an unblemished CV? As it is, she seems like a competent presenter and interviewer, with a popular and credible BBC London show. Please fill me in if I've missed something. But to me it just looks like the usual misogynist backbiting, for which unmitigated commentary on physical appearance is the most effective power tool.

Since Nadia left the house, reports have abounded about her being suicidal; she claims she has been unfairly edited and feels like Big Brother producers have systematically set out to discredit her personality. First of all, I don't doubt that BB producers do indeed cleverly edit the reams of footage they amass to produce something 'exciting' for the daily one hour show (which frankly, for me, hasn't been all that "ultimate" or exciting at all) - of course they do. And of course particular individuals can be made to look more or less argumentative, moody or what have you. That said, unless the producers have edited at the level of the sentence - word by word - then I don't think it's fair to deny that Nadia is a volatile person prone to antagonistic behaviour and bizarre outbursts.

That aside, what's far more serious is the claims made by many that a lot of the discussion of Nadia, and her personal treatment, has been transphobic. I do think this is the case. From Davina's joke that she has "boyish good looks", to (resident imbecile, halfwit, overgrown child playing caricature 'pimp', of one hit fame) Coolio repeatedly asking her personal questions about her surgery, to commentators and fellow contestants generally going "urggh" at the prospect of getting physically intimate with her. When she won the show first time round, it seemed like BB audiences were doing what they actually do quite well when choosing a winner: embracing people from all kinds of backgrounds and with different histories, providing they are a 'genuine' and likeable enough character. That Nadia was transsexual was just part of the package, and people accepted her for it. On the contrary, now it seems to be used as another reason why she is labelled 'weird' and relegated as just another reality TV show freak. This is sad and disappointing and really changes the dynamic for me as a viewer, in a way that makes me feel deeply uncomfortable. But perhaps the dynamic was always wrong?

In all honesty, we do know that producers of reality TV shows like Big Brother and X Factor do toy with the kind of people commentators have argued are exploited and emotionally damaged by the process. Audiences are not without culpability though; this kind of thing is readily soaked up as just a bit of a laugh. I guess it's much the same logic as throwing tomatoes at the village idiot. I don't doubt the whole Big Brother experience does 'mess people up' - it must do, not least for those with what verge on delusions of grandeur. Whose fault is it? Well, it's partly mine, because I watch all this shit.

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