Inflammatory Mr Ben Harvey returns this week with a look at uber-popular reality show, Big Brother. The eigth series begun on Wednesday (you can get the whole shebang at www.channel4.com/bigbrother/. There’s always been speculation about housemates with secret mobile phone stashes, so Ben’s given the issue a bit of Friday afternoon treatment.
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This week sees the launch of the yearly Freak Parade – for the next seventy or so weeks, Big Brother will dominate the British TV schedules, sucking the life out of our nation like some ravenous cultural tapeworm. Now, because SMS Text News is very popular with people from all across the world, I should take a moment to explain the basic concept of the show: twenty people enter a house, only one leaves alive. It’s like Highlander, but with more swords and a louder Queen.
One of the central tenets of BB is that those on the inside should have no contact with those on the outside. Rather like the Truman Show, really, except that the acting’s worse. Every year sees two things happen in BB; the first is that something nasty will happen on the outside world and the broadsheet media will wring its hands about whether or not the inmates should be told (a contestants’ father having a heart-attack, cretins riding the Tube network with semtex waistcoats, whatever). The second tradition is that the tabloid media will pull stunts to actually communicate with the housemates, such as catapulting walkie-talkies into the house’s garden, or playing subliminal messages in the hypersonic frequencies, thus causing Jack Dee to go mad and flee.
Now, this has perplexed me a little, because, given that the Great Unwashed has always had an insatiable, insane need to know more about the inmates (right up, that is, until they actually get out. Then the nation does the equivalent of waiting until they’ve fallen asleep, deleting our telephone number from their phone and then catching the night-bus home) and it’s not as if an eight-foot wall and a couple of puffy security-guards is that troublesome an obstacle to overcome. The over-riding golden rule of all of this is that the inmates in Big Brother do not have access to telephones.
But why not? Human history is full of instances when small groups of people are isolated physically but allowed to chat over the airwaves. Astronaunts, Biospherians, even nuclear submariners when they have to phone their girlfriends to explain that a certain rash, caught in Bangkok, might actually be more than an allergic reaction to talcum-powder, and a fatally infectious one at that. So, to find out why mobiles were really banned, I placed an imaginary call to Endemol’s PR department, and their answerphone gave me the following reasonsÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
1. Carphone Warehouse isn’t sponsoring it anymore, so there’s no financial motive for the show’s producers. Contestants are told whether or not they’re going in only two weeks before the show starts, and are instantly quarantined from the outside world in halfway-houses. This used to be to stop them selling their stories to the press before they even entered the house but, in these less innocent times, it’s actually more to do with them not getting the Nike or Apple logo tattooed onto their foreheads. After all, if anyone’s going to get ad revenue it’s bloody-well going to be Channel 4.
2. The producers have enough trouble stopping the sex-mad contestants taking matters into their own hands as it is – there was even talk about banning bottles last year. So, letting them take vibrating tools into the house just isn’t on the agenda. At least, not until week 8, when the ratings have gone down the toilet.
3. They bitch and gossip and back-bite quite enough as it is, thankyouverymuch. Letting them text each other really won’t help.
4. How will the Welsh one top-up her credit?
5. Unfortunately, the production crew use radios that broadcast out on the same ranges as mobiles. Imagine the twins, Sam & Amanda, in a conference-call to their literary agent (their new book, ‘Exhistential Nihlism – Kant and the Philology of CertitudeÃ¢â‚¬Â is out next year, apparently), when they hear the following:
‘Camera 8, this is control, go for Sam’s cleavage, please, over?Ã¢â‚¬Â
‘Control, this is 8 – no problem. Panning in. Sorry – which one’s Sam?Ã¢â‚¬Â
‘8, Control here, it’s the idiot blonde one.Ã¢â‚¬Â
‘Roger, Control. Thanks. Not getting much in the way of nipple-shadow here. Can you ask Environment to turn the temperature down a bit?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Â¦it’s a nightmare waiting to happen, isn’t it. They’d be outraged at the insult to their deeply-held feminist convictions and would riot. Endemol would be forced to tear-gas their own show, and then, in the confusion, one of the contestants would crash a yacht into the side of the enormous dome that the show is contained in and escape. Or am I getting my cultural references confused again? Oh dear.
Anyway, ex-inmates of the house have said that the nicest experience of the whole drama is when they’ve left, when they’ve done the press-conference, when they’ve done the interviews with the Sun to ‘set the record straightÃ¢â‚¬Â, when they’ve actually gotten home and turned on the handset they’ve not actually seen for three months. Belated texts received by their phones, hundreds of miles away from their dippy, fame-seeking owners, include such gems as:
+++OMG OMG YORE ON THE TELLY TURN ON THE TELLY YORE ON IT!+++
+++Jack, Jack, it’s your wife. Where are you?+++
+++This is a Detective Nigel Skinner. Please present yourself to a police station as soon as you can. Also, bring a lawyer+++
+++Fancy a pint after work? Oh. Shit.+++
+++Shell is SUCH a bitch. Just punch her when no-one’s looking+++
+++It’s Nick Griffin here, from the BNP. Look, can you wind your neck in a bit? You’re giving the rest of us a bad name. Thanks!+++
Ã¢â‚¬Â¦I’m actually beginning to see the logic behind their decisionÃ¢â‚¬Â¦