Big Brother does epitomise the worst of society – but not in the way you might assume.
Celebrity Big Brother is drawing to a close, and it might well be the last season we get in the UK. ‘The Year of the Woman’ might feel like a redeeming theme to end on for a show that is regularly criticised, but the series has been anything but empowering. No matter what the producers try, the show seems to fail, but perhaps that isn’t because of the show itself, but the public.
Audiences of Big Brother are used to criticism, and to be clear, this article isn’t attacking people who watch the show, but it is calling for introspection of society as a whole. Those who watch the reality series are often mocked for their tastes, as though, the obsession with Game of Thrones shows great literary taste. There is nothing inherently wrong with Big Brother as a format. It’s a popularity contest, much like elections, if you will, but for entertainment. Perhaps the series was aired far too soon. Back in the early 2000s, people didn’t spend as much of their existence on social media. Seeing people stripped back of that might have an impact if the show was just airing now. The longevity of Big Brother has created a generation of people able to utilise social media and reality TV to their own ends, and good for them. The problem isn’t that culture of reality TV, it’s the bigger and more profound questions we skip on over in the name of “free speech”.
Big Brother and its celebrity sibling have welcomed wins from people who have been accused of queerphobia, bullying and/or just generally been utterly horrid people. From Helen Wood, ‘Bear’, Jim Davison and Gary Busey, the list is hardly inspiring. Fans are often quick to dismiss their behaviour as just entertainment but the impact is far more pervasive than that – the latest series has highlighted that.
“Big Brother and its celebrity sibling have welcomed wins from people who have been accused of queerphobia, bullying and/or just generally been utterly horrid people”
This series has been dogged by underhand queerphobia, and it has been disgusting to watch. Ann Widdecombe pretty much has a problem with everyone, unless they are agreeing with her. Ann Widdecombe, by no measure of decency, is not a compassionate person. She is prejudiced. Her legislative record speaks for itself. She has either abstained or voted against every single bit of queer legislation that she ever came across. She has been true to her ‘beliefs’ in the house; stating concerns over Meghan Markle’s suitability due to her “background” and “attitude”, calling the love between Andrew and Shane (a queer man) “disgusting” and rolling her eyes every single time anyone mentions intimacy and trying to shut down conversations around queer identities. Every time she is challenged, she is defended by fans and housemates alike who claim she’s allowed to have an opinion. This is bullshit.
Ann Widdecombe does not just have an opinion. She has decades worth of experience of voting down legislation that would have made life better for queer people (as well as disabled people and people of colour). That’s not ‘an opinion’, that is spending your career actively targeting marginalised people. It was her bloody job. Furthermore, as much as the allocishets might like to claim otherwise, their opinions don’t live in a vacuum (unfortunately). Their insipid hate has real consequences. Otherwise there would never be discrimination against queer people in the first place. Anti-queer words contribute to a climate of queer oppression. Without those attitudes and words, we would have equality. Not everyone is allowed an opinion. The fact is, queer people are as deserving of rights and respect as everyone else. The myth Ann Widdecombe endorses is that they don’t. Facts matter more than flippant bigotry.
“Not everyone is allowed an opinion”
Yet, Widdecombe has become the star of the show. She’s doted on by the housemates (except for Shane J who is the only one with any strength to stand up to her hate). Her age is used as an excuse. She is not a dotty old lady. She is an older person who knows full well the impact of her words because she spent years contributing to debates that dictated what laws we would have to live by. Older generations don’t get a pass for being cute and liking chocolate biscuits at bed. Ann Widdecombe was alive throughout the civil rights movement, Stonewall riots, the AIDS crisis and many other historic moments that saw marginalised people have to fight for their lives. In all of that time, what has she learnt? To protect white allocishets. She’s been around long enough to know that all people should be treated with respect. Her age isn’t an excuse. It’s a reason why her brand of hate is so utterly disgusting.
By normalising figures of hate, we make it mainstream. We saw this with Nigel Farage constantly appearing on the BBC. Ann hasn’t even so much as had a warning for nominating Shane and Andrew when they were wrestling on the floor, fully clothed and she claimed it was inappropriate and implied Andrew’s family would be ashamed of him. The fact Ashley slipped into Genuwine’s bed didn’t seem to bother Ann at all. Ann has been defended constantly for her right to an opinion, but Shane’s safety and mental wellbeing hasn’t been considered despite the fact he is routinely exposed to queerphobia. Amanda Barrie even came to the defence of Ann Widdecombe, claiming because she was in a civil partnership and Shane wasn’t, she knew better and that because she didn’t care about Ann then nobody else should. Barrie even seemed to forget that Ann Widdecombe doesn’t even support her right to a civil partnership. It was a staggering display of the selfishness the queer community has come to expect from white cis people who don’t care about other queers so long as they get what they want.
Yet, it was Andrew Brady who was made the villain. He wasn’t pulled up for his crass comments, but he was public enemy number one for calling Ann a “c***”. It seems everyone is allowed to be misogynistic, queerphobic and racist as they’re just ‘opinions’, unless you call someone a bad swear word and then you’ve crossed a line. Andrew deserved better because he was the only one who showed an ounce of solidarity to Shane. If more allocishet people were like Andrew, then queer suicide rates wouldn’t be so high. We’d have a culture of acceptance.
It really doesn’t matter if Big Brother ends now. The show is irrelevant because it tells us nothing new about society. It’s just another medium to show how hate is so normalised. The problem isn’t Big Brother – it’s the public.
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