Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Big Brother 13

I despise 'Reality TV', and in particular I despise Big Brother. I'm not talking here about finding it dull, or mildly offensive. I'm talking about a deep, dark, raw and undiluted hatred for the programme. I have nothing but anger and contempt for those who make it and those who appear on it. They cheapen what it means to be human... they pollute our culture with the foul propaganda of selfishness, mediocrity and empty celebrity. If I were made God-Emperor tomorrow, Big Brother would be banned by tomorrow evening. And that fricking house demolished by Monday.

Back when Big Brother began... even before the programme had aired, in fact... I was already fuming. In my view, anyone who has read and understood Orwell cannot be anything other than furious at their choice of name.

George Orwell's "1984" is one of the finest and most important novels ever written. Far from being an historical novel making a specific attack on Stalinism, as was Animal Farm, "1984" was written as a warning to future generations. Written just as surveillance technology (the television) was beginning to develop and spread, Orwell could clearly see the incredible dangers that such technology holds for society. Not merely the ability to constantly monitor private individuals... but to force-feed a stream of messages into every home, about how to live your life, what to aspire to, how to think and what to dream of...

And at the heart of Orwell's message was the incredible power that language holds over all of this. How by eliminating the language of rebellion, so rebellion itself can be controlled. A modern car advert is merely a sophisticated version of "We have always been at war with Eurasia"... it reinforces the status quo and it reinforces within us the things we need to desire (victory over Eurasia) and the things we need to fear (not being able to afford the car).

Right at the end of "1984"... after the bleakest ending in literary history... Orwell attaches an appendix. It's a bizarre thing to do for all manner of reasons, and a singularly intriguing one. The appendix is entitled The Principles of Newspeak and I believe that one of the reasons for its inclusion is - oddly enough - to snap the reader out of the specific story of Winston Smith and remind them that "1984" should not be viewed as a potent piece of speculative fiction about one man's tragedy; but as that warning to future generations which Orwell clearly felt it to be.

And without a shadow of a doubt, the most potent and vital symbol of that warning is "Big Brother". The phrase "Big Brother is Watching You" appears on the opening page of the book. And the novel ends with a line containing "Big Brother" (which I'll not mention in case you've yet to read it). By planting that phrase in the English language - which he did so very well, and for which we should be grateful - Orwell was himself using the principles of Newspeak to try and provide us with an innoculation against surveillance culture. He gave us a powerful and simple phrase, which we could always use to remind ourselves of where certain roads can lead.

That's why I say that if you genuinely understand what Orwell was trying to say about language, that you cannot help but be horrified at how a vile and crass group of media fucks have ripped the heart out of Orwell's warning and neutralised the potency of the words "Big Brother" forever.

I was standing in the supermarket checkout line a couple of days ago. Behind me were two women in their 30s. My age. They were chatting about the upcoming new series... Big Brother 13. One of them said the following, "I can't wait 'til it starts... I love Big Brother!"

Above the beeping checkouts and the background hum of a busy supermarket I felt sure I could hear the faint rumble of George Orwell turning in his grave.

There's more to read...


Anonymous David Duff said...

Jim, this cannot last, but I agree.

29/5/05 22:14  
Blogger Kathryn said...

Bloody hell! You mean another member of the British public besides myself has actually got a clue where the phrase Big Brother comes from? Thankyou! You have restored my faith. I completely agree with your post- and it is refreshing to hear that such an important phrase from such an important book isn't lost on EVERYONE! Also want to thank you for pointing out that appendix. I first read the book online, before rushing out to buy a gorgeous hardback copy, and as such had not seen the appendix. I've just read it, and it has added to my understanding of the concept of newspeak. Nice one!
Oh, and in response to your comment on my drugs post the other week, you make a good point, but I did have to generalise my post more than I would have liked to. It was part of a uni assessment which was being archived at midnight, and I lost the more detailed version with no time to re-write it properly. I do not usually generalise on the subject of drugs, and agree with your objection to my doing so :-)

30/5/05 15:49  
Blogger L said...

You're right. Shows like Big Brother are terrible! They just never seem to achieve the greatness of COPS


.... I always loved Orwell's take on political doublespeak.

31/5/05 04:35  
Blogger merrick said...

I share your hatred of the use of the name for Big Brother. The fact of the modern telescreen being used to make a real person say 'I love Big Brother' is indeed chilling.

The average Briton watches 4 hours of TV a day. Factor out work, travel and sleep (and those of us who keep that average down), and you realise it's prety much all many people do. It is truly an Orwellian device for keeping the population under control, taking their time and their will whilst making them say they like it.

However, I don't really see Big Brother as any worse than, say, EastEnders in this respect.

Indeed, there are aspects of the reality shows that make them one level of hell above EastEnders. There's been an interesting thread throughout the reality shows, namely that people get on with each other.

The vicious, mean-minded, bigoted attitudes that soaps and tabloids would have us believe are everywhere just don't crop up.

In EastEnders all you get is people shouting at each other or doing nasty scheming, or both. If, as happens, people are taking lessons in social norms and behaviour from soaps then this is really worrying.

Whereas in reality shows we see that when you put a bunch of people together then they find ways to get along. People - even the ones in the celebrity versions - are a lot more understanding and co-operative than you'd have thought.

On of the most remarkable things I've ever seen on TV was the eviction of Nick in the first Big Brother. He was a posh guy with a well-paid City job who got caught making notes about how to play other contestents off against each other to increase his chance of winning.

The others, who had trusted him and been cheated by him, were only briefly angry. Rather than exact revenge, they sat around a table with him and explained why it was bad to do that to people. 'If you live like that then you will end up winning everything, except friends' is a line that sticks with me.

To see this well-heeled 'successful' guy being challenged so eloquently by a scouse brickie who held the moral highground with compassion, then having made his point wrap it up, explaining that any going over it would start to look like humiliation and revenge, was amazing. It genuinely felt like there was something real and human going on, something affirming that I'd never seen on TV before.

The fucks who run Big Brother agreed and pulled the plug on the broadcast. It was outside of their plans and control and worst of all, it was a compelling humane, intelligent and compassionate voice against selfishness.

This getting-along has been deliberately undermined by those fucks, and as the shows have gone on there are more and more artificial methods for stirring up strife and disagreements.

We need to be told that life is all about selfishness, scheming, and winning. Fear of losing must rule.

The fact that the majority have to lose will keep us feeling inadequate, and therefore happy to try anything that alleviates our inner sense of worthlessness.

This low confdence removes any will to get out and make change happen, and instead we stay in wanting to be sold things that offer a fleeting moment of happiness. It makes us ideal targets for the advertising space in the shows.

31/5/05 13:22  
Blogger Andrew said...

One of the more distressing parallels/crossovers was the vogue for talking about 'making politics more like Big Brother' in some sense a couple of years ago, purely on the strength that more people voted for evictions than voted in elections in 2001.

31/5/05 14:18  
Blogger Oscar Wildebeest said...

I can't disagree with anything Jim has posted, but I think it's fair to point out that Big Brother is merely the natural extension of circus freakshows into a medium with wider access. The people who planned and who make it (I've worked for them in the past, but not any more) didn't think about Orwell beyond pinching the title - which is part of the problem. But such things will always be with us, just as little boys in the back garden will always poke toads with sticks to see how they react.

(Oh, and I'm afraid BB will last for as long as there are freaks to fill the circus with, and as long as there are people who buy the magazines which gossip about the freaks in the circus, and as long as there are record companies which want to make 'novelty' records in which the freaks sing along badly to well-known football chants, etc, etc, etc...)

31/5/05 15:48  
Blogger Larry Teabag said...

Just in case you've calmed down, don't forget that there's another shitty TV programme called "Room 101".

31/5/05 18:38  

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