Thursday, 18 July 2013

My Big Brother and Me...

Hello Friends.

It seems I'm afflicted with a kind of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or alternatively, Dumb Bullshit Non-Syndrome. I've never lived so far north and, though I was warned, didn't really believe that the corollary increase in daylight would mean a hill of beans. But short nights of perpetual twilight, living behind a busy hospital, and summer's dry heat has created quite a beany hill of insomnia this past week or so.

Not sleeping isn't the worst thing in the world. I got a lot of late night writing for various projects done, and a lack of rest has me stupid and giggly at my day job. The other day, I meant to ask a customer both if she was finding everything okay and if she was still doing all right. What groggily came out was, "Are you still doing everything okay?", which the customer had no response to, but made me laugh uncontrollably right in her stunned face.

The other thing I do when I can't sleep is veg out even more than normal. Thanks to Netflix and various online streaming sites, I binge-watch television that a well-rested James would dismiss readily. I'm ashamed to say my new guilt-watch is the horrific display of human garbage that is Big Brother.

Some necessary backstory to make my position somewhat defensible: two friends at work have been devouring and recapping this show for weeks. Something you should know about me is that I hate being left out of fun small talk. I breastfed my ferret in a mall food court once in order to get kicked out, just so I could join the ongoing raging debate. Plus, I am a proponent of hate-watching. Whole franchises have started up predicated on the idea that you loathe the characters, and yourself in turn, but you tune in every single week. As it happened, I was staying out of town a few weekends ago at the Doc's brother's home. Doc Bro loves Big Brother and insisted on watching an episode. While I pretended to busy myself with activities like checking my emails and lotioning my supple calves, I quickly became entranced in the drama. Now, as I watch more and sleep less, I have become a cunning analyst (I'm sure there's a cheap joke in there somewhere but I'm too tired to find it), I want to do much more than watch every episode.

Dream: Become a contestant on Big Brother.

Goal: So completely achievable. Besides paranoia and rampant narcissism, I share some commonalities with the kind of people that routinely get picked to be on shows like these.

1) I have a job I can leave for an indefinite amount of time. Where do these Big Brother people work? Some of them have vague job titles like "Boat Maintenance Specialist" and "Surfer", but some are (supposedly) political strategists, speech pathologists, and supermodels. I think I would insist on being labelled "Writer" or "Gadabout", but they'd probably contact the store where I work and call me "Stockboy".

2) I have a "hit." In television and film, having a "hit" is very important. It basically means a certain definable characteristic where, based on your look and/or the immediate impression you give off, you are castable in a particular way. A muscled bald guy's "hit" is as the Heavy, the dainty blonde is the Ingenue, and I am the Gay Friend. If there is more than one gay person on my season of Big Brother, I will be the Ugly Gay One, or simply, The Wettest Blanket. I don't care. Put me in, coach!

Plan: Use all I know from a few sleepless nights of binge-watching to determine what makes a good, long-lasting, Big Brother contestant.

I must strike a balance between incredible, ceaseless self-interest and zero self-awareness. This has to be a difficult to do, but reality show personalities pull this off brilliantly. Contestants say things like, "Now it's time to deal with Jason!" or "Time to serve these suckers a spoonful of Martha!" and then they brashly confront each other despite the fact that there success in the competition must depend, at least in part, on being likeable and agreeable. In this current iteration, blonde model Aaryn keeps saying really racist things. Not even subtly, either! I will not reprint them here, because they are vile, but when confronted about her statements, she said, "I'm not going to defend something that didn't happen. You can spread rumours all you like." But darling, there were cameras on you! Not only did your housemates catch you, so did the millions of people watching. To deny when there's no proof is risky, but denial in the face of videotaped evidence is pathological!

Years ago, my friend Sarah and, it should be noted, her entire family, watched Big Brother's second season. Much like my coworkers this time around, I couldn't stand not to be a part of the zeitgeist and watched episodes with her weekly. It was the same format as this series, except Big Brother Season 2 ran from July to October of 2001. In the midst of the back-stabbing and interpersonal dramas, the attacks of September 11th took the show (necessarily) off the air for a week or so. When it returned, footage was shown of the contestants being spoken to by producers, informed of the terrorist attacks. One contestant, Nicole, even had cousins who were among the missing at ground zero. She and everyone else in the house voted to stay and continue the game. Can you even imagine? What must Nicole's family have thought, knowing that she decided to stay and participate in barbecue-sauce-eating contests and water balloon fights instead of attending vigils and later, funerals, for her relatives? It takes a special brand of narcissism to not only put yourself on television, but stay there in the wake of the greatest act of terrorism your country has ever known. And by the way, Nicole lost the game.

I must also be adept at filling hours with absolutely nothing to do. Though the players are all in a big house with food and comfy beds, they are locked in what is ostensibly a prison. They have no television or internet, and I'm not sure if books are banned, but there's certainly no one ripping into an Erica Jong novel on fajita night. In the absence of stimuli, everyone becomes a strategist, questioning the motives of each fellow player, and becoming increasingly suspicious of one another.

Wouldn't it be amazing to watch a season where no one decides to play along? If, after Julie Chen says, "You must place this egg on your spoon, run ten yards through the mud, sketch a portrait of Rue McLanahan, and then hand off your egg in the fastest time..." everyone said, "No, we're not going to do that." Or they agree to participate, but drag the game on for hours, deliberately erring at every turn, making it impossible to declare a victor. That would not only drive the producers crazy, it would make for far more interesting television. They can't kick everyone off at once for bad behaviour, and viewership would undoubtedly spike once word got out that no one was playing along. A coworker watches a live feed of the contestants on the Big Brother website and she says that so often a producer comes over the microphone and yells, "No singing! Stop singing, please!" I guess a lot of us hum absently without thinking, but of course the tv network doesn't want to clear the rights to Rhinestone Cowboy if you're humming it in bed with your showmance lover. So if I were on the show, I might form alliances with fellow players by singing my intentions to the tune of Call Me Maybe. They could never show that, and my motives would be perpetually shrouded in mystery.

It's hard to tell who the joke is really on, when it comes to shows like these. Do we pity the contestants, who voluntarily imprison themselves for months for a potential $500,000 prize which, after taxes, barely makes up for the lost wages a model might incur after being dropped by her agency due to racist comments she made on a tv show? Is the joke on television writers who, despite their best efforts, can't write scripts universally compelling enough to compete with ratings garnered by twelve sexy idiots every week? Sadly but surely, the joke is on us, the viewers. Rather than worrying about our own very real conflicts, challenges, and goals, we'd rather live vicariously through the manufactured trials of other people. I know this, but I tune in every week, anyway, or at least I will until I can get some shut-eye. Subsisting on a diet of garbage entertainment is probably not great, but there's no rule that says I have to still be doing everything okay.

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