Responding to Big Brother 8 houseguest Amber Tomcavage’s anti-Semitic rantings, Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman told TMZ, “Anybody can say what they do — but reality shows are now giving license to these expressions of anti-Semitism. Now, all of a sudden the world is privy to their bigotry and its on national television… then enhanced on YouTube. What they’ve done is distributed anti-semitism — which started as a private conversation — and by putting it on a reality tv show broadcast it to the world at large. I want CBS to understand they are facilitating anti-semitism. They should act responsibly to the community; they are legitimizing bigoted conversation.”
That’s an interesting point, particularly about a private conversation suddenly being broadcast to the world. Of course, Amber knows she’s on a reality show in a house full of cameras that broadcast 24/7, and she has no excuse.
The more disturbing trend is that this is nothing new for Big Brother. The show has a history of houseguests saying horrific things about groups of people nearly every season, and those people have even gone on to win the show. That tradition goes back as far as the first season seven years ago, when Eddie told racist jokes.
On Big Brother 2, Justin Sebik, who was eventually evicted for holding a knife to Krista’s throat, “expressed violent sexual fantasies about at least two of the women in the house” and said “he would trick into performing oral sex on him in the house, so he could ejaculate, and then spit, in her face and walk out. The other, he fancied raping after the show and throwing to the gators,” Salon reported back in 2001.
The winner and runner-up of Big Brother 4 both said horrific things. Winner Jun said houseguest Robert’s “father should’ve stayed in Cuba. His family is like … No speaky English,” while the runner-up, Alison, called him a “Cuban faggot.”
Sometimes, but all too rarely, the houseguests actually confront one another on their behavior. On the finale of Big Brother 5, contestant Marvin asked finalist Cowboy if he was “a racist liar or a lying racist.”
During Big Brother 6, Ivette called Kaysar a “sand nigger.” This season, besides Amber’s bigotry, Dick is particularly fond of throwing the word “bitch” at women (although so is Gordon Ramsay on FOX’s Hell’s Kitchen), which is broadcast without bleeping.
I repeat these things not to be sensational, but to illustrate how horrific the speech coming from the house has been over all eight seasons. And these are just the well-reported comments; with three months of conversations every season, the feed watchers have probably observed much more than this. Equally troublesome is that more often than not, these comments never make it on television, so the majority of TV viewers are unaware that the contestants they may like actually deserve their scorn.
Producer Arnold Shapiro, who’s no longer with the show, explained two years ago that he’s “appalled by any racial or religious slur, personally” and producers “and CBS do not want to put those kind of comments on national television. There’s a bigger purpose and picture here, and I wouldn’t want my name on a show that was having those kinds of things spoken,” he said.
That makes sense, although there’s plenty of comments (see Dick) that are broadcast, and viewers could still be made aware of a contestant’s feelings without the show broadcasting every hateful word. In the UK, where the show originated, a contestant was removed by producers for using the n-word; in the US, producers ignore it.
Most significantly, why is this happening so frequently on Big Brother? Perhaps producers just (accidentally or intentionally) cast some crazy racist, sexist, bigoted assholes. More likely, this is a product of the show’s unparalleled transparency. No other show has so many cameras recording so much, and no other show lets the world eavesdrop on every conversation. More likely than not, some of the stars we’ve grown to love on other shows have said similar things. The question is, would we rather know what they truly think or remain blind to that reality?