Phil Gyford


Tuesday 24 June 2003

PreviousIndexNext The Big Brother universe

Big Brother is the only such “unreality” type show I’ve ever got into, and every year it has me hooked. This week one of the housemates in the UK house, Cameron, has swapped places with one from the Big Brother Africa house. With the travellers’ fellow housemates not knowing until the new arrivals turned up.

This is amazing stuff, really. It’s as if a load of science fiction authors all announced their novels actually happened in the same universe and all their plots and characters began intertwining. It’s so much less random than previous years’ gimmick of introducing an apparently random new housemate to shake things up. It can’t be long until the first truly global (but, presumably, English language) Big Brother.

While fun to watch, the event is a massive upset for people who have practically forgotten there’s an outside world. When Cameron left the house his fellow housemates assumed he was being held in solitary confinement in the “reward room” (a treat-filled room unlocked once a week for those who complete an assigned task) for 24 hours as some kind of challenge. This room is as “outside” a location as they can imagine right now. It was amazing to watch first the disbelief on Cameron’s face as his journey dawned on him, and then the shock of the others as they reimagined their little worlds after this upset.

The outside world’s become a scary place after weeks of comfortable isolation. One of the most touching things I’ve seen in some time was Cameron, waiting alone in the house’s temporary “departure lounge,” using the courtesy phone to ask Big Brother to let his family know he loves them, should anything happen to him.


It reminds me of Wim Wenders movie 'Wings of Desire' and Michael Frayn's book 'A Very Private Life'. In both stories the central character voluntarily leaves their comfortable, familiar closeted gold fish bowel to live in a world that is more dangerous, stimulating, uncomfortable and earthy. A world in which people die on the streets, get sick and are hurt, feel pleasure as well as pain,a world in which the participants get inordinate joy just from 'being' rather than observing. The transition in these stories has such resonance because in many ways it echoes the move from observer to participant, the transition many people make when they go from being rich to poor, dependent to self sufficent, from developed world to developing world. If I read you right, the difference with the Big Brother thing is that the guinea pig did not make much of a choice and what occured was more of a dislocation of expectation.

"Did they get you to trade? Your heroes for ghosts
Hot ashes for trees
Hot air for a cool breeze
Cold comfort for change
And did you exchange?
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in the cage"

Wish you were here, Pink Floyd

Posted by Richard Hyett on 24 June 2003, 11:40 am | Link

Hmmm - 'cept Wim Wenders' film is actually an allegory about the divide between West and East Berlin.

The angels device is used to expose common human traits (such as love) and their centrality to our existence, regardless of our environment.

The lead character angel decides to forego the immortality of his life to experience a familiar human emotion, ultimately discovering that everyone is the same, loves the same, worries the same.

It's wonderfully dealt with in the film. The angel decides to become mortal whilst walking through Berlin's no-mans-land, becomes mortal when he realises that he has left footprints in the ground, and comes crashing into the (colour) world of West Berlin.

Man, that's a wonderful film.

Posted by Chrislunch on 24 June 2003, 11:52 am | Link

I don't have a television, so I've never seen Big Brother. But I heard the African housemate is from Uganda, and I wondered if there had been any discussion on the show about the situation in his home country. Yeah, yeah, I know -- the show's full of Ugandan discussions -- but really, the stuff going on in Uganda right now is not funny. It would be good for more people in the UK to hear about it.

I've never seen 'Wings of Desire,' but I certainly hope it's better than the American remake that came out a few years ago.

Posted by Laura Brown on 24 June 2003, 10:01 pm | Link

If an allegory is a description of one thing under the image of another, how can it be an allegory? The wall is featured in many of the scenes. If you want to focus on the political diferences between east and west berlin you miss the whole point of the film.

"When the child was a child,
It was enough for it to eat an apple,

Posted by Richard Hyett on 25 June 2003, 12:06 am | Link

"It can’t be long until the first truly global (but, presumably, English language) Big Brother."

That would be good; or go the other way and have a global BB where it is guaranteed that none of the inhabitants share any common language. Could they get along just with non-verbal communication?

Regarding Science Fiction: I keep fantasising that while they're all in the Big Brother house the Earth is conquered by aliens who decide to take over the experiment without letting them know what's happened. Perhaps they wouldn't release them at the end of the experiment, or just put them into a larger Big Brother cage. But that's probably a common story idea.

But surely Big Brother must be psychologically harmful to the contestants. Yes, people really are scheming about them behind their backs; and yes, people really are talking about them; and yes, this time, they really are the centre of attention. They wouldn't be paranoid - people truly are out to get them.

Has anyone ever commented about the lack of people with disabilities in the programme? Is that because they would be expected to be voted winners, so it wouldn't be fair on the others? Or that, no-one would ever nominate them for fear of seeming unsympathetic? Either way, I think it's wrong that we've never had a blind (or whatever) person in 4 (?) series - they should be included as a part of normal life.

Posted by Glyn on 27 June 2003, 8:23 pm | Link

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