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Big Brother will stay toxic until we stop watching

Big Brother will stay toxic until we stop watching
Big Brother 18's Paulie Calafiore during the July 10 episode, playing the "Horn Star" roadkill competition.(Photo by Cliff Lipson/CBS)

It’s been another summer of light, silly Big Brother fun: half-naked hot people in ridiculous costumes, sloppy competitions, unpunished rule violations, grotesque sexism, blatant misogyny, atrocious editing that makes heroes into villains and vice versa, and a young cast with little life experience that laughs about animal abuse and brags about not knowing the game they’re currently playing.

Of particular horror this summer has been the treatment of women by some male cast members, and by the television show itself.

Revelist’s Shaunna Murphy wrote a must-read essay that details all of that: Can ‘Big Brother’ solve its problem with women?

She discusses how “CBS has shown repeatedly that it cares way more about building a season of catchphrase-happy bromances and showmances” instead of strategy, and worse, how “seeing women give and take so much abuse has put a major damper on this summer.”

In the piece’s conclusion, Murphy asks:

“Does [CBS] want a heavily edited, showmance-obsessed Big Brother that allows toxic bro-dudes to win comp after comp and run the house, while women get left behind, bullied, or worse? Or — and I hope this is the case — do they want to make a ‘social experiment’ worth watching, and show us what really happens when 16 strangers are together 24/7 with virtually no contact with the outside world?”

The answer, alas, is already clear.

Big Brother is too popular to change, even if would mean going back to its core.

Julie Chen, Big Brother 18, cast, BB18
Big Brother 18 host Julie Chen. (Photo by Bill Inoshita/CBS)

This fall season might experiment with changes (here are 200+ things fans want to change) , but you can bet it’ll go right back to the same next summer: a young cast, with editing that will continue to make the idiot men look good, and continue to place blame on women and others.

That’s what this show does. It plays to the worst.

The show has lost some of loyal viewers, but if they’re not Nielsen families, it just does not matter.

I keep tuning in year after year—though I dropped this season more than a month ago—and covering it because:

  1. I know the format has potential, and
  2. toxic behavior on the part of a high-profile broadcast network, producers, and contestants needs to be called out and held accountable, not ignored. (I’m also not a Nielsen family.)

Even in weak seasons, I can appreciate and enjoy parts of the show, moments of surprising strategy and game play, or great production decisions, such as this year’s improved competitions.

But it’s time to stop kidding ourselves that this is ever going to be different.

CBS entertainment president Glenn Geller, summer TCA 2016
CBS entertainment president Glenn Geller during at the Television Critics Association’s press tour in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS)

CBS’ new president, Glenn Geller, despite being a fan, has offered the same basic company line about the garbage he funds and airs.

But of course he defends it. What CBS wants is ratings, and unfortunately, the “toxic bro-dudes” get ratings.

So until we stop watching—or more specifically, until those whose TV habits are monitored by Nielsen stop watching—there will be no change.

This one show usually produces one-third of the top-10 broadcast TV shows in the summer, and that’s too good to mess with.

To the network, a change would feel like grabbing the wheel of a car going 75 miles per hour and yanking it for no reason at all.

Why not just keep going in the same safe, easy direction, even if that means staying deep in the gutter?

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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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