3 Jul. 2006

The Big Brother controversy

or 'Let's get sexual abuse off TV and back into the kitchen'

The entire affair is appalling from start to finish, from the act, to the cover-up, to the backlash. Two guys inflict an intentionally degrading 'joke' on a woman in the Big Brother household. There is no reaction to speak of for a while, but eventually the bosses decide to take action and remove the perpetrators. And that's it. They don't release any details of what happened and they send Gretel Killeen out as usual with a brief spiel, wishing the boys the best and going on with business as usual. Back in the house, Big Brother encourages the housemates to blame the victim to ensure that she stays on message and doesn't kick up a fuss.

On the outside, outrage. Bipartisan, populist outrage. Howard calls upon the network to police themselves and remove the program. Beazley takes approximately the same line. Not censorship, just censure for now. There's no talk yet of there being a problem that the police cannot or will not take action on the basis of the recordings of the incident.

The problem is not the incident, of course. It's that it was on TV. This was so mild compared to so many experiences of women in Australia, the country with the highest incidence of rape in the industrialised world (of course, one must always be cautious about crime statistics, but other statistics indicate Australians report crimes at the same rates as like societies). The pollies aren't up in arms about Australian society.* Australian society is A.O.K., as long as that's what the voters want to think; you get more votes with candy than with social critique. Indeed, Big Brother is ruining the game. It's true that they've kept the wogs off it to the extent that that's not alarming anyone, but bringing up confronting issues like the fact that young Australian males view women as objects for their use to the extent that they'll smack their tackle in an unwilling woman's face while being filmed and potentially viewed by millions of their compatriots.

Yes, Big Brother takes some very young people of average intelligence, plies with them with drink and puts them in some nasty situations for our delectation. It's exploitative, but that's simply the logic of capitalism at work (something else they don't want us thinking about): dangle some money in front of them and throw your workers' interests out of the window on the basis that this is in fact to the benefit of everyone involved and society at large. In the process, the still somewhat-novel form of reality television is revealing new things, and changing society in that process. Now, we don't want impressionable young Aussies getting the impression that it's OK to turkey-slap your gal-pals. But since they're getting these impressions anyway without seeing it on TV, it doesn't seem that this is the likely effect of taking BB off the air.

Australia: where prostitution is legal, to keep it behind closed
doors, and where pornography is banned, for the same purpose.

Update: Video; in a way it seems more innocuous in context; on the other hand, she explicitly asks that they not turkey slap her before putting herself in a position where they might be able to; you don't get much more non-consensual than that: