Racism is stupid. Abuse towards women, on any level, is wrong. Homophobia is just another word for hatred. In our modern world today, what is it about race that defines a person’s worth? What does gender or sexual orientation really have to do with equality anyway?
It seems these days that CBS’ Big Brother believes they have the answer – some quantifiable truth about what makes HIM better then HER, or YOU better then ME. Anyone who’s read this blog, and anyone who knows me, knows I’m a huge fan of the Big Brother series (I even sent in an audition tape for the Canadian version of the show). As entertained as I’ve been by the show in the past, I’ve always been most fascinated by it from a social experiment perspective. A bunch of strangers, forced to live together in a house, cut off from society and the outside world, from all the things they know and love…video taped and audio recorded…as we WATCH and LISTEN to them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week…. until one by one, through some wacky competitions, tests of endurance and trying (and crying!) emotional games, you eliminate them all until one player is left standing, crowned the winner, given a prize of $500,000.00. I’ve both cheered and despised characters in the past such as Rachel and Brendan, Dr. Evil, Brittany, Mike Boogie, Janelle, and Dan. And as memorable as they are, this year’s cast will likely become the most famous of all…. and all because of the toxic, harmful and hateful environment they bring. Big Brother’s no longer fun…. it’s just mean.
Social experiments by nature can have strange outcomes given that they involve humans, those unpredictable and complex creatures that we are. Sometimes social experiments can expose more then they bargain for due to the nature of the individuals involved. And so if you consider BB a science experiment, it’s safe to say it’s one that’s now gone horribly, even viciously wrong. It started out innocently enough. Aaryn, the worst offender of a pretty damn offensive bunch, started out sort of Lindsay Lohan Mean Girls like, but then quickly turned…some sort of Amanda Bynes, pre Civil War maybe. Aaryn viciously makes fun of Asian and African American houseguests by resorting to cruel and untrue stereotypes, and mocks a gay houseguest while constantly attempting to out another she suspects is a “homo”, all the while denying she does any of it. Her surfer boy toy David complained his dirty sheets were the result of African American Candice sleeping in them. Her klansmate…I mean housemate GinaMarie is just some awful caricature of what Brooklyn pageant queens would be (I’m sure there MUST be some nice ones -it’s a big city and a big industry, right?) who perhaps has watched one too many Sopranos episodes and thinks she now lives in one. Big dumb Jeremy, a Native American himself who seems to laugh loudest and longest at the racial jokes, has introduced the lovely word “meat wallet” into our collective lexicon. We can thank him for that, along with “don’t trust the queers” Kaitlin, for sharing said meat wallet with that ol’ romantic test-driving Jeremy. Then there’s Hitler lovin’ Spencer, who admits to bruising his girlfriend, and waited for an audience to call gay housemate Andy “Faggot Andy” to his face. Andy himself has made fun of Asian American houseguest Helen, although at least has had the sense to look pained and uncomfortable during a few others’ racist tirades, while Amanda, self professed fag hag and lover of all things queer, likes to poke fun, a.k.a. humiliate her best gay pal as often as she can. It seems, from what we’ve seen, that perhaps Howard, Elissa, Helen, Candice, Jessie, MacRae and Judd as the only “decent” people in the house (with Judd noting “don’t these people know they are on TV and there are things you shouldn’t say”). At the very least, they haven’t felt the need to demean and disrespect their fellow houseguests over and over again and instead seem to have chosen to take a higher ground. Or wait…. is that their actual stance, or is it game play?
If you were to consider – and stay with me now – the game, as a microcosm of American society today, is a higher ground what we truly need to see represented? As a strong African American male, does the fact that Howard knows how rampant the racism runs in the house yet chooses to do nothing about it, keeping his head in the game and the eyes on the prize, make him weak? Is the end result, the prize money, the endorsements, whatever might come…. worth all the hurt and the hits his pride must take time and time again? I suppose the same could be said for all the houseguests under Aaryn and gang’s vengeful wrath. What does it say when Helen puts aside her feelings and tries to form a secret alliance with Aaryn, the woman who condescends and viciously makes fun of her at every turn? I wonder first what it does to her psyche, but then I wonder what it does to ALL of our psyches. I watched a teary eyed Julie Chen respond to the racism controversy the other day, stating that hearing Aaryn’s comments brought her immediately back to the ‘70s and being teased and verbally abused by her peers, and how shocking it was to realize that those ideals still exist today. I remember hearing Spenser use that charming term “Faggotty Andy”, which quickly brought me back thirty years to a couple of female classmates pointing at me and flailing their limp wrists and mouthing the word “fag.” But not like it happened thirty years ago…. but as though it happened just yesterday. Somehow I doubt Julie Chen and I are the only one flashbacking amongst all of this. CBS seems to feel that these contestants will suffer consequences for their behavior on the show and in real life, and that whatever those consequences will be will somehow be enough. And sure enough Aaryn, GinaMarie, and possibly Spenser will all find themselves jobless upon exiting the house, and unless the KKK is recruiting poster children I doubt we’ll see many endorsement deals. But even that doesn’t satisfy me, or seem quite enough, and it shouldn’t satisfy you. I believe they need to set a reset button on the whole thing. Cancel it. Or if the show must go on, start over, fresh and new with a whole new group of people. Or as a ratings grab, bring back some old favourites. Bring back the Brittanys and the Dans – hell, bring back Rachel – but get these vicious, dangerous people out of the house. They won’t lose viewership. Fans WOULD watch that. Stop giving these terrible people airtime to spew their horrible, hateful beliefs. There is a precedent. A UK version of Big Brother has done this in the past, cancelling the show after a large public outcry against blatant racism towards an Indian contestant which eventually resulted in both a lost season and sanctions against the network responsible for airing it. But of course CBS won’t do anything of the sort. Ratings of a once struggling show are on the rise, and everyone (including me, obviously) can’t stop talking about Big Brother these days. Part of me wonders if CBS KNEW the firestorm that would likely erupt in the house. How could this many bigoted, self centered, ignorant people get past network censors? How could someone like Aaryn possibly screen as SANE and pass a psychological exam? Perception once was that CBS was hiding the racist, editing people like Aaryn in a positive way until outcry began over the live feeds. But was this a strategic move by the network to spark the controversy, and light the flame? Controversy brings attention, attention brings ratings, and ratings bring money. Period.
I feel sorry for these people, both the victims and the perpetrators. I guess, unlike them, I count myself lucky in that I grew up in a family that taught me good ol’ right from wrong, in a house with very strong female role models in my mother and my sisters. I’m blessed to have attended a school with children of many different cultural backgrounds and ethnicities, from whom I learned how rich and diverse our world could be. I’m so fortunate I reached a place where people of the same sex could feel safe and discover feelings or explore relationships with another in an accepting environment. I’m not racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic….you won’t find an “ist” or an “ic” here, no matter how hard you look, and I’m proud of that. Big Brother’s a train wreck, yet I can’t look away, as much as I wish I could. Part of me wants to see the day when Howard or Helen finally snap and right all the horrible racist wrongs that have happened. Or that ultimate comeuppance or just desserts that will fall people like Aaryn, GinaMarie, Jeremy, and Spenser. Because surely that day will come, right?
Kudos to Big Brother Canada for avoiding this kind of drama and playing the game with a bit more class. I mean, they made a breakout star out of a 6 foot queer black man with a love of cross dressing and glitter….let’s see BB US try THAT.
It’s sad that in 2013 THIS is the world we’re shown. And I for one am so glad it’s NOT my world. I truly hope it’s not yours either.