Yvonne’s Weblog

Big Brother’s Watching You…

Since it’s first series in 2000, Big Brother has been incredibly popular with audiences because of it’s presentation of ‘real’ people in an unreal situation.  As the new series, Big Brother: Celebrity Hijack begins, the hype surrounding the programme has yet again started, with people everywhere already discussing who they want to win and who they hate.  What makes the show so popular is the fact that it allows the audience to watch the housemates’ every move, night and day, as no area of the house is left uncovered with a camera.  The programme also allows audience participation, as the viewer can vote to evict their least favourite housemate and even apply to be on the following year’s edition.  

 After the success of the first series, the second series became even more interactive, with a constant live stream on e4, allowing the audience to sit and watch the housemates all day.  Internet forums were set up, text messaging services meant that you would be notified immediately if anything happened inside the house.  As Couldry (2005) demonstrates, “audiences of reality tv…do more than just watch a programme… They may read articles about the participants in celebrity magazines, visit the programme website, email contestants, join online chat groups about the programme or receive SMS messages”.  Schroder also points out that “the modern audience experience… is becoming increasingly multi dimensional” (Schroder et al, 2003: in Couldry 2005).  This new way of experiencing television puts the audience even more in control of the programme; giving them the means to contact other fans of the show ensures that the hype surrounding the show continues. 

 With the appeal of Big Brother lying in the fact that the audience are in control of the programme, it has to be asked; who controls the audience?  It’s true that the audience votes the contestants out and can discuss with other fans who to target next, but it is the producers of the show who present the contestants through editing to the audience, and it is mass media that spreads the message of who everyone wants evicted from the house.  The contestants are selected through a long process of auditions all around the country to go onto the show, so surely it is the people who choose the contestants in the first place who control the programme.  It has to be said that the ‘normal’ people who appear on the show aren’t like the people we see every day, those people are surely chosen because they stand out.  The producers choose contestants who will get the audience talking, as it is the interaction of the audience that keeps the programme successful. 

Katz (1980) presented a theory of “an oscillation between the two dominant views of the audience…the liberal-pluralist view of selective audiences and limited effects, and the critical view of manipulated audiences and strong effects” (Couldry 2005) in which he stated that two factors influenced the balance between these two views: Selectivity, in which he questioned not what the media does to people, but what people choose to do with the media that they are presented with: and Interpersonal relations, when people discuss their opinions with others.  This theory can be used to explain reality television’s grip over its audience; the audience can choose to become more involved with the media, as Big Brother allows them to do by letting them express their opinions and vote out their least favourite housemates, and in turn they will discuss their views with others, generating more interest in the programme.   However, if it is true that the producers are actually in control of the audience, who in turn are in control of the programme, then the concept of Big Brother would appear to support the critical view of the manipulated audience.  As the producers choose the contestants and edit the programme, then mass media spreads popular views of the contestants, it would appear to me that this is the case.  However, as long as the audience don’t realise this, they will still believe that they are in control and the programme will continue to increase in popularity.

Sources used:

Couldry, N. (2005) ‘The Extended Audience: Scanning The Horizon’ in M. Gillespie (ed) Media Audiences: Open University.

Katz, E. (1980) cited in Livingstone, S. (2005) ‘Media Audiences, Interpreters and Users’ in M. Gillespie (ed) Media Audiences: Open University.


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  1. * melkennedy says:

    I think that Big Brother is very complex in the way that the viewers understand their position. Big Brother is famous for the audience supposidly being in charge of the contestants but also with the audience but within the last few series it would seem that viewers are getting more power, for example when Nikki was evicted but everyone missed her so much that Big Brother put her back in the house. At the end of the day Big Brother is one of the biggest television events of the year with it covering all media and working its way into the public consciousness but everyone always wonders how long it will last for, it would seem it has further to go but as it does it seems to be getting more and more sadistic and at the mercy of its viewers. Like in Ben Elton’s satirical Dead Famous what lengths will it result in? Murder just to pull in the viewers?

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 3 months ago

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