• Category: Features
  • Written by Rick Ellis
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Why You Should Boycott 'Big Brother'

Big Brother 15
As even the most casual viewers of the long-running CBS version of "Big Brother" can tell you, the participants of the show aren't generally drawn from the deeper end of the intelligence pool. Aside from their often inexplicable behavior as they try and manipulate each other, the houseguests have been known to make some rather jarring racial and homophobic comments during their time in the "Big Brother" house.

Those comments can only be heard if you watch the live feeds from the house and in past seasons CBS has been careful to never allow any hint of the comments to bleed onto the episodes that air on the network.

But this season there seen increased calls for the network to deal with the comments, with live feed viewers reporting a long string of loathsome comments about each other. There have been multiple racist, misogynistic and homophobic comments, so many so that it prompted CBS to release a statement on Tuesday.

"Big Brother is a reality show about watching a group of people who have no privacy 24/7 — and seeing every moment of their lives. At times, the Houseguests reveal prejudices and other beliefs that we do not condone. We certainly find the statements made by several of the Houseguests on the live Internet feed to be offensive. Any views or opinions expressed in personal commentary by a Houseguest appearing on Big Brother, either on any live feed from the House or during the broadcast, are those of the individual(s) speaking and do not represent the views or opinions of CBS or the producers of the program."

It's an understatement to describe the CBS statement as missing the point. I don't think many people believe the comments represent the views of the show's producers or CBS. That isn't the point. The question is whether the network will do anything to acknowledge the comments in the context of the show. In an era where Paula Deen is raked over the coals for comments she made several decades ago, how can we as viewers condone ignoring comments made by the "Big Brother" contestants?

From referring to one fellow housguest as "Kermit the fag" and "Faggoty Ann" to commenting that an Asian houseguest should be "kissing our ass and serving us rice" to multiple comments about the African-American houseguest Candice, this season's participants have been inventive in their ways to shock and disappoint. And if we accept that behavior has taken place, then what should the network do about it?

As Reality Blurred's Andy Dehnart notes, shows such as "Survivor" have successfully dealt with similar bigotry on their shows. There is a way for CBS to deal with this that would not just address the problem, but illustrate that they are willing to make the uncomfortable choices when necessary. Instead, CBS and the show's producers have opted to take the "hear no evil, see no evil" approach to the situation. As Tuesday's statement shows, CBS apparently believes that "kids will be kids," but as long as the comments don't make it onto the network broadcasts, then everything is cool.

The reality is that there is only one way to force the network to make the hard decisions they should be making on their own volition. The only way to make an impact is to actively campaign against it. To declare that as long as this behavior goes on, we're not going to watch the show.

I'm not an especially politically correct person and I can't recall the last time I argued that someone shouldn't watch a show based on a decision of morality. But that's what I'm arguing for in this case and I think it's justified.

So I'm not watching the show until CBS makes this right and I don't think you should either. Encourage your friends to do the same and ask them to spread the word.

We live in a world that sadly seems to get dumber and more offensive every day. While we can't do much about that, maybe we can make a small impact on this little corner of world of reality television.

UPDATE: Wednesday, 10:38 AM CT: Self-described "Big Brother superfan" Ed King has started an online petition on Change.org asking CBS to expel BB15 houseguest Aaryn Gries over her comments. At this point, it's garnered close to 3,500 signatures.

UPDATE: Wednesday, 11:01 AM CT: Salon staff writer Mary Elizabeth Williams has a great piece on the behavior on "Big Brother" this season. I especially like this point:

Like the Paula Deen mess and the alarmingly vitriolic reactions to Trayvon Martin trial witness Rachel Jeantel, what’s going on in the “Big Brother” house right now reveals our parallel national narratives. There’s what’s said in polite company and there’s what’s quite casually and unquestioningly uttered elsewhere. And it’s the barely concealed, simmering hatred and suspicion that infects our relations with each other, that poisons our politics and our policies and our school halls and our neighborhoods. What’s being spoken in that dollhouse full of idiots is a reminder of how pervasive ignorance really is. (But should you need further evidence, I offer: Twitter. YouTube commenters. Commenters in general.) But that doesn’t mean it should be tolerated.