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Julie Chen, Allison Grodner, CBS: Big Brother only aired racist comments because of “story”

On The Talk today, Big Brother host Julie Chen addressed some of the cast members’ bigoted comments, as last night’s episode surprisingly did, while CBS and executive producer Allison Grodner also did the same.

At the top of the show, Julie said in the teaser, “for the first time, I address my feelings on what’s been said.” (If only Julie had access to a national prime-time live program on which to do that last week, instead of a week later, especially one on which she could talk to the cast members directly. But I digress.) Here’s what she said during the segment:

“When I first found out that Aaryn, who is a 22-year-old girl, made anti-gay, anti-black, and anti-Asian comments, I have to be honest, you know, the Asian ones hit me the most. I heard about her describing Asians as ‘squinty-eyed’ and ‘go make a bowl of rice.’ She said that about Helen, who is Chinese* and in the house. It stung. I took it personally. I’m a human being. And the really sad part, it took me back to the ’70s when I was growing up in Queens and when I was 7 years old getting bullied, being called a chink, and people pulling their eyes. But it took me back so many years, and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I haven’t heard comments like that–the year is 2013. And then I felt ignorant. There are still people in the country who feel and act that way? Yes there is, yes there is. And afterwards, it made me sad. She’s 22 and she’s college educated.”

*Helen is actually Korean.

Later, Julie acknowledged joking about Asian stereotypes on The Talk, and said,

“You’ve seen me make jokes about being Asian-American. Number one, but I’m Asian; number two, it’s always in good fun. Those things, in my opinion, watching her say, ‘Go make a bowl of rice,’ it felt mean-spirited. It felt ugly and it felt mean.”

The Talk co-host Sara Gilbert said, “I’m happy that CBS and Big Brother aired the comments, because I feel like it’s good for people to see it, and let these people deal with the consequences when they get out of the house.” That prompted Julie Chen to clarify:

“CBS and Big Brother showed it because it is now driving a story. It is now affecting how the other players want to see her gone. If it didn’t drive story, and it didn’t have a dynamic on what it is to the elements of the game, it may be–you can’t just put it in there and say, ‘Judge her, everybody.’ It has to have to do with the game and the rules of the game.”

Executive producer Allison Grodner said essentially the same thing in a The New York Times story appearing in Tuesday’s print edition: “It was ultimately part of the story in the house. … [Aaryn’s head of household win] gave us a launching pad to be able to tell this story. … I do feel it would be irresponsible to put hate on the airwaves just for hate’s sake. You need to have some sort of context.”

Identifying “story” as the reason for the comments’ inclusion is interesting, considering that when CBS golden boy Jeff Schroeder used gay slurs during a fight in the Big Brother house, they were edited out, even though doing that made Jeff seem more like a sympathetic victim. Here, week-old comments were included out of their actual context; there has been no evidence yet that Aaryn’s racist comments have affected her game after becoming head of household on Thursday.

Again, I’m glad that the comments aired, but let’s not allow the network and producers to get all self-congratulatory. Speaking of, CBS gave the New York Times a brand-new statement today:

“We are very mindful of the important issues that have been raised by these recent comments. With regard to the broadcast version, we are weighing carefully issues of broadcast standards, an obligation to inform the audience of important elements that influence the competition, and sensitivity to how any inappropriate comments are presented.”

If you choked on your saliva during the part about their “obligation to inform the audience of important elements that influence the competition,” you are one of those who have been watching and paying attention to Big Brother for years, as the dumbed-down, edit-by-numbers broadcast edition constantly misinforms its audience about what actually happens in the house.

Finally, and perhaps most bafflingly, Grodner told the paper that the producers and network don’t “look for people who might say things like this,” and added,

“Your neighbor is probably using racial slurs behind closed doors, no offense to your neighbor. There’s a very important discussion here that people will hopefully have as a result of all this.”

Yes, there is, but let’s not kid ourselves that Big Brother is going to prompt a national discussion about racism, homophobia, and sexism. The important discussion that I hope people have as a result of this is about how a broadcast television show has for years been presenting a different reality and hiding behind a pretend moral high ground while continuing to profit off awfulness.

Most of all, though, is that Big Brother‘s live feeds give us an unparalleled opportunity to see how reality TV shows are constructed, and to think about the role networks and producers have in presenting reality as reality.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.


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