Friday, July 21, 2006

Big Brother - fascist TV

(NB some of these points have been made beautifully before, I now recall!)

When historians of the future are describing the inexorable deterioration towards fascism occurring in the first half of the 21st century in the Anglo-Saxon imperial countries, Big Brother will be sure to claim pages of reflection as an important early signpost.

The fascist connotations of Big Brother's control over its inmates, its ability to see everything and to impose arbitrary or reasonable (in practise it's a deliberately disorientating mixture of both) rules on them is obvious, and knowingly checked of course in the name; and played with by the programme producers. First objection: this knowingness doesn't make it any better. Indeed it smacks of insouciance about the openness with which the tropes and modes associated with fascism can be deployed and got away with - which will precisely be the quality of the coming fascism (i.e. it's in your face and there's nothing you can do about it; furthermore it's not really fascism; and most people don't mind and it's fun).

In this context everything seemingly sinister about the show must be seen as sinister; it can't be laughed off with the "knowing" gesture that the producers want us to make. Impressionistically - the huge outer walls of the house, from the outside, are reminiscent of nothing so much as the Israeli 'defense' wall (at the same time reminding one of military and industrial and commercial formations - which become familiarised, glamourised and normalised by association); with rolls of barbed wire above them; CCTV cameras are the very medium by which our viewing of the 'inmates' is presented ("we" are Big Brother in this fantasy, this inversion of the reality in a country in which every citizen is caught on CCTV on average 300 times a day; while we're glued to our TV sets as the advertisers know we are, in what is, for the programme makers and C4, a highly profitable transaction, renting out our eyeballs); the way we're encouraged to revel in, to anticipate and clamour for and enjoy the prospect and the act of eviction. This is the site of the event in Big Brother - no matter how intrinsically interesting watching people interact in a social environment may be, it is made very clear by the producers that this is not the main focus - Davina on Friday nights whips up the crowds by mentioning the eviction over and over again ("after the next break but one, it'll be time for the eeeviction") and fully plays up the sadistic aspect and the unfortunate nature of it for the pitilessly-treated evicted.

Of course this has the real-life referent of evictions in the outer world; those of the enclosures; of people who can't make the mortgage payments on their homes; of squatters; of displacements of people such as occur and have occurred in countless conflicts and crimes. It doesn't just mimic evictions however; as the evicted comprehensively disappears from view; this is more like offing; ethnic cleansing by murder not by displacement. Solve the problem by getting rid of the person. We don't have to live together and get along. Those who don't make the grade can be made gone in a single satisfying shot. No pity. No questioning. Just watch it as a crowd. Just do what Davina says. Anyone familiar with twentieth century history knows that in a context before or after or outside late capitalism in the imperium centre, where our chains are dressed in glitz and glamour, Davina would not be an attractive, if (or is it just me?) increasingly dead-eyed young woman, but would revert to a more familiar type, with a gun and no smile; and anyone who doesn't believe in neocon dreams knows that history is not over but is looking all too prone to repeating itself.

We, the viewers, always remain in our privileged position; not participating in the eviction; somehow always surviving; identifying with the stayers and not with the departed. This is a position not held in the real world by any to any degree except the elite (everyone else is at some kind of risk of bankruptcy and dispossession or depradation by capital; especially if they consume as avidly as we have been trained to), but even the elite don't have this completely - no human being does; the only existing body which does is capital; which is continually renewing itself, continually new and strong and shiny while the human bodies it associates with as consumers or workers may age and weaken or be imperfect and be discarded. The trick in Big Brother is that we have the position of this timeless and eternally living force, and are encouraged to feel we identify with it and want it (then go and buy that shiny car from the advert). The reality is that this is very far from being the case, and of course we should celebrate and reclaim the human social reality of mortality and organic, fleshy, imperfect existence, not wish to be abstracted into pure observing phantasms in the spectacle.

There are other ways in which the programme reinforces the imperatives not, here, of fascism, but of its parent, capitalism. Putting the housemates in the context of the world situation for a second - here they are, they have willingly chosen to come to a place where they can do nothing and know nothing about the world, where they cannot work on anything or be aware of anything that's going on around them. Instead they are presented with banal and ridiculous tasks and are required to be excited about being given shiny objects or alcohol or cheesy music, all of which absorb their attention entirely. All this is celebrated. Isn't this the world of the modern consumer? We're continually distracted with shiny baubles, imprisoned in offices or shops or factories for most of the day and then required to shop or spend money on entertainment in the time remaining to us; not to think or do anything about reality; not to pierce the spectacle and discover the truth about the world.

Of course it almost goes without saying that Big Brother is the most vivid and uncompromising enactment of the spectacle going; the inmates are imprisoned in the spectacle, just as we are when we watch it, and when we follow exactly the same modes and consciousness in our everyday lives; reaching an apex when we spend our time discussing Big Brother.

The inmates are nearly all working class, and this is the point, these are normal people; this is normal modern British reality; from Davina's estuaryishness to the horrific flat dulled impassive tones of the Geordie voiceover presenter. The participants are given nearly unlimited leisure, to express their individuality in any way going. But they are as constricted and as exploited, and by the same logic, as our class ancestors who worked in the earliest capitalist factories, when among the UK population 39% died by age 17. All outward empowerment and freedom and right to expression and to leisure time is a sham and becomes horrifically inverted when subject to the workings and logic of capitalism, and are removed and replaced with chains of the mind and of the soul for people who are imprisoned in the spectacle, whether they are the working class participants or the (almost uniformly as far as one can gather) middle class production staff, or we the viewers, who feel empowered, while our worst potentialities are encouraged and abetted, allowing the enrichment of the elite to continue, in an ahistorical dream.

6 Comments:

Blogger Bruce said...

Hey, came over here from Lenin's Tomb.

Thanks for this fantastic post.

Best,
Bruce

12:20 PM  
Anonymous mulebone said...

There's this neat little switch thingie on every remote gizmo called the power button. If you depress this it makes the big mean tv show go away forever.
Oh wait, wait...you find "watching people interact in a social environment," " intrinsically interesting ."
Hmmm....sounds like being at work to me.
I think Tool has your number.

"Don't look me at like
I am a monster
Frown out your one face
But with the other
Stare like a junkie
Into the TV
Stare like a zombie"

Henry Rollins once told a story about being in Amsterdam & seeing a sex show where everyone crapped in their hands & tossed it at each other. Henry said that people paid for this because they wanted to see what it's going to look like in Hell.
I had the misfortune of wasting 15 minutes of life watching Big Brother once.
Couldn't help thinking that I was looking at the Satre No Exit level of Henry's Hell.

Personally, tv is much more asthetically pleasing when it isn't on.

One last time, repeat it with me:

OFF SWITCH
OFF SWITCH

9:58 PM  
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