top of page

Big Bother


[originally published August 31, 2009.]


When people bother you in any way, it is because their souls are trying to get your divine attention and your blessing.


 Catherine Ponder


I do not know why I watch the television show Big Brother: "Contestants must compete against each other for a chance to win $500,000 in a house wired with cameras and microphones, capturing their every move for a TV and Internet audience." (IMDB) I imagine it is like slowing down on a freeway to see an accident. You know it's going to be gross, a mess, ugly and suggest violence but you do it anyway. 


I'm sorry to offend anyone but to me the show is Jerry Springer-esque. In general, I would never associate with anyone on Big Brother. I would never enter a sealed house with strangers and cameras for a chance to win money. There is obviously an allusion to the well-known saying: "In the society that Orwell describes, everyone is under complete surveillance by the authorities, mainly by telescreens. The people are constantly reminded of this by the phrase "Big Brother is watching you", which is the core "truth" of the propaganda system in this state." (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia). I watch it despite myself. The fact that I'm a Pop Culture critic helps me justify my decision to watch but really...I don't watch reality shows like The Bachelor (2002 - ) or The Bachelorette (2003 -).


I do like to watch dance programs on television such as So You Think You Can Dance Canada (2008 - ). I watched the less good American version this year, So You Think You Can Dance (2005 - ). While I hoped that Kayla Radomski would win (Jeanine Mason won) I honestly felt like they would all be an excellent choice - no matter what. I find feats of the body inspiring and hopeful. Watching people defy gravity and contort against seemingly impossible odds is rewarding to me. Because my own body is severely limited, I enjoy the examples of surpassing limitations and breaking through boundaries.  I am the furthest from being a dancer or gymnast yet merely the act of watching enables possibilities for me. An expectation might be that I would feel sad watching this stuff but I do not. I take pleasure in watching the freedom of movement and the agile bodies. I mean even if I were able, I would not be half as good as them. Watching Nico (Canada - 2008) dance made my heart soar.


This year the contestants on Big Brother (2009) are divided into 4 groups or "high school cliques;" the athletes, popular, brains and off-beats. I guess that I'd be put into the brains or off-beats but I do not identify with any group - no surprise. In my article POP goes the TEEN ( I delineate the contentious divisions in high school; "The gender division has a metaphor; in the cafeteria the so-called "brainiacs" sit together, same with "surfer-dudes" and jocks. All sing about maintaining the status-quo while one from each group "confesses." A "brainiac" likes rap, a "surfer-dude" plays the cello and wears a tie, and a male jock bakes." My watching Big Brother gets weirder and weirder, eh?


Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia says; "Reality television is a genre of television programming that presents purportedly unscripted dramatic or humorous situations, documents actual events, and usually features ordinary people instead of professional actors. Although the genre has existed in some form or another since the early years of television, the term reality television is most commonly used to describe programs of this genre produced since 2000."


Because Big Brother completely belies my belief system, you'd think I'd stay away. Since the Adam Lambert fiasco on American Idol I try to divest from Reality TV; "I was so mad when Adam Lambert didn't win American Idol (2009). It is just a TV show but it says a hell of a lot." (See my rant:  People seem to abhor 'difference.' I watched a lot of reality television so my hospital experience was heavily influenced by this and in my book You Never Know: A Memoir, I say; "I watch so much television, including medical shows, so I am sure I was influenced by a bit of melodrama. My entire experience felt like Reality TV." (p.61) While I may watch a lot of Reality TV I'm usually suspicious of it and I expect that a hidden yet motivated attempt at manipulation will take place. Someone is deciding what we see after all, and ratings count. Reality TV is actually no more 'real' than regular TV. Sorry to burst your bubble.


Ideas of 'the real' we hold are very interesting to me on many levels. Reality television exemplifies a level that suggests that if an actual person, not an actor, says or does certain things, it is fact and genuine. Things like editing or producing are invisible. I was in a mini-documentary ("Modern documentaries have some overlap with television forms, with the development of "reality television" that occasionally verges on the documentary...Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia) and sure what I chose to say came from my own mind but I had no choice in what was used, I had no say in how it was put together and it followed a predetermined aesthetic in keeping with the news-show airing it (even though the fabulous woman filming it had her own style). I would gladly do it again and was asked to be in a feature-length film documentary, but I am under no false illusion here. Even documentaries are 'unreal.'


Perhaps watching Big Brother is like looking at a different species in a zoo (so sorry). From the safety of my room, protected by a television screen, I can witness bizarre and at times, dangerous behavior with no chance of physical harm. In my own private world I am anonymous and hidden - completely the opposite of the contestants. Maybe that's it - I'm opposite! Let's go with that - watching the show ironically validates me. I am a big believer in exploring what we are not. In my book Again, about reincarnation, I say. "As usual, I am not about changing minds; I am about integrity in the face of opposition. If I try to be honest and truthful and if what I say belies one's belief-system, I feel I am like a mirror - one can see who they are or who they are or are not in me. I do not need anyone to agree with me or believe what I believe. I am not trying to convince anyone of anything. I am simply writing my truth." (p. 11)


I like that I don't identify with a group or person on Big Brother. My "mirror" is the television set. I do not see myself reflected back in this show. Wow.






American Idol. Creator, Simon Fuller. Fremantle Media North America. 2002 - ?


The Bachelor. Creator: Mike Fleiss. Next Entertainment. 2002-.


<>. Accessed July 30, 2009.


The Bachlorette. Creator: Mike Fleiss. Next Entertainment. 2003-.


<>. Accessed July 30, 2009.


Big Brother. Directors: Curnal Achilles Aulisio, Adam Christian Clark etc. Evolution Film & Tape. 2000-.


< Accessed> July 29, 2009.


Shiller, Romy. Again. Victoria, BC: Trafford. 2009.


    ----------------People seem to abhor 'difference.'




   ----------------POP goes the TEEN.




  ----------------You Never Know: A Memoir. Victoria, BC: Trafford. 2008.


So You Think You Can Dance. Creators: Simon Fuller, Nigel Lythgoe. 19 Television. 2005 - ?


<> Accessed July 29, 2009.


So You Think You Can Dance Canada. Director: Nigel Lythgoe. SFA Productions. 2008-.


Accessed July 30, 2009.


Accessed July 29, 2009.


Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia


<> Accessed July 29, 2009.


Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia


<> Accessed August 1, 2009.


Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia


Accessed July 30, 2009.


Romy Shiller is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance, camp and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing. All books are available online.

bottom of page