Thursday, 4 June 2009

Do you know what today is? (Not our anniversary)

It's voting day in the European Parliament and English council elections, and Obama has just delivered his much-awaited Cairo speech in which he addressed US relations with the Muslim world. But none of this seems to be overshadowing the real buzz in London today: Big Brother is back, and I am not a little bit annoyed.

I don't understand the thing. It is huge and all-encompassing, devouring and pre-empting everything in its path. So there's the show itself, where a bunch of people, isolated from the outside world, sit around in a house waxing philosophical and either annoying the shit out of or discovering they can't live without each other. Then there's Big Brother's Little Brother, hosted by the ubiquitous, perpetually sleepy (no one is fabulous enough to keep him alert) and always perfectly-edgy-without-trying George Lamb. George delivers his special brand of commentary on what happens in the BB house, and in this way seems to entertain thousands of viewers in ways I can never hope to understand. And there's of course Big Brother's Big Mouth, hosted by Davina McCall and airing directly after the weekly live eviction. It's described on the E4 website as:

[A]n adrenaline-fuelled and instantly reactive discussion show for the most passionate fans to voice their opinions. All the week's events from the House will be discussed, dissected and digested by the audience alongside special guest experts, journalists and celebrities. Viewers at home can get involved by ringing in live to the studio, emailing or texting their opinions.

And betwixt and between (as my mother would say) all this hullabaloo, is perhaps the only redeeming part of this entire extravaganza: the voice of the omnipresent narrator who presides over the day-to-night coverage of the BB house. The entire thing is one of the spookiest experiences to be afforded via reality television. Turn on the TV at any random time of day or night, and there are the housemates - always - there they are, eating, sleeping, arguing, playing games and having the oddest and stupidest of passionate conversations all taking place in this surreal haze, and punctuated by this voice that, to be quite frank, gives me goosebumps, and not the good kind.

Marcus Bentley is the narrator. And the reason I say he might be the only redeeming part of the show is that his voice - this brash, Geordie monotone that seems way too dramatic for the nothingness that is the show - really contributes to the strangeness of the whole thing. It's almost as if the housemates are moved to action merely by the strength of his own voice. It also tickles me a little at times, because his pronunciation has quite a lot in common with the thickest Bajan accent you might encounter, particularly in the last week's run-up to the show, when every day he could be heard counting down the launch with the words (as an example): "Foiv deahs tuh goouh". (Five days to go.)

Still, this is not enough to offset my mild annoyance with the very existence of Big Brother in its myriad incarnations. If, at this moment, you're thinking - as you should be - "dude, just change the channel", you're right of course, even though just happening upon the show, and having all its ridiculous updates in the news are enough to make me glare pointedly at no one in particular. I'm not even ideologically opposed to reality TV itself. I think some of it can be quite entertaining, and a few reality shows have counted among my guilty pleasures over the years. But Big Brother is a different animal. It's everywhere, always, when the season comes around, and I keep expecting that one day it will surprise me and offer something interesting, but in truth, I'm too afraid to spend too much time on it, lest it eat my soul.

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