Why CBS’ predictable statement about Jeff’s homophobia is bullshit

CBS has issued its predictable and absolutely bullshit statement about Jeff Schroeder’s homophobic rant in the Big Brother house last night. It said:

“Big Brother is a reality show about watching a group of people who have no privacy 24/7 — and seeing every moment of their lives. At times, the houseguests make comments, reveal prejudices and other beliefs that we do not condone. Any views or opinions expressed in personal commentary by a houseguest appearing on Big Brother, either on any live feed from the house or the broadcast, are those of the individual(s) speaking and do not represent the views or opinions of CBS or the producers of the program.”

First, the statement doesn’t say anything about whether or not this will be broadcast, but like every other incident on Big Brother, I’m assuming it won’t be; the network’s publicists have issued nearly identical statements in the past to justify not airing something. So this kind of statement, while it seems perfectly agreeable, actually masks a more insidious attitude.

CBS is absolutely right that, on a reality show, real people might make really offensive statements or have attitudes and beliefs that aren’t typical. That’s part of what makes reality TV so fascinating: its cast of real people brings up real issues in a way that’s more difficult to dismiss than when scripted shows do the same thing. (Of course, considering the bigotry throughout the show’s history, you could argue that they are intentionally casting people with awful viewpoints, but that’s another argument.)

While I appreciate the network’s condemnation of “prejudices and other beliefs that [they] do not condone,” the problem is that they end up condoning it because of the way the show is edited and broadcast. As I’ve pointed out before, the show could easily air exchanges with offensive words bleeped out, just as they do for swear words. But they don’t, so the majority of the show’s audience doesn’t know what happened, and that’s the real problem. And simply dismissing it via a statement released to the media that only a fraction of the show’s audience will read does not go far enough to condemn what happened. They need to do that publicly, on television.

But the biggest problem is that executive producer Allison Grodner consistently edits the show to create characters that don’t exist in real life. Part of the reason why some people have an angry response to criticism of Jeff is they see him through the eyes of the editors: an affable guy with a crush on a nice girl, not a person who has hurled gay slurs, angrily dismissed a fellow houseguest’s confession about a family member, and believes that gay men shouldn’t be around children.

Another critic and I asked Grodner about this last summer, and I’d encourage you to read her full answers. The gist is that she doesn’t want to “put out” awful opinions and beliefs onto the airwaves, and thinks that their edit preserves the “intent,” which she and I obviously disagree with: the fight in which Jeff hurled gay slurs was edited in a way that made him look like the victim.

And—again, assuming this never gets aired, which I will humbly apologize for if it does—let’s not forget CBS’ blatant hypocrisy here. While this is the network that has closeted gay cast members before, they also broadcast some ridiculous homophobia at Tribal Council on Survivor last fall. In other words, the network absolutely does and can air this kind of content if they want to. They just pretend to take the high road with these kinds of statements while avoiding complicating their light, fluffy, trashy summertime series.

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