Ever since George Orwell wrote the book "1984" and exposed the world to his vision of totalitarian government, we have used the term "Big Brother" as a label for such all consuming monitoring of citizens. In the past sixteen years, the term has spawned a worldwide phenomenon in television - shows which bear the name "Big Brother" and pit against one another over a dozen selected participants in a competition for money.
The United States version of the show is airing now for the sixteenth time. Sixteen people, mostly between the ages of twenty one and thirty, were selected and have been sequestered in a warehouse in southern California. The warehouse probably sits on a studio lot, but its location is kept secret to the extent possible. It has a living area which has been made to look like the inside of a large house. The interior is redone in new schemes and colors each season, but the basic layout remains consistent.
Imagine a group of strangers, all in their twenties or thirties, giving up for three months all of their contact with the outside world. No smart phones. No other kind of phones. No internet. No newspapers. No magazines. No visits from friends or loved ones. And they agree to live by Big Brother's rules. Those rules include when you can sleep, where you can sleep. what you can eat, and competitions you must compete in.
There is an enclosed backyard area which allows participants to exercise, sun, go swimming, lift weights, run, and lounge. That area is converted weekly into an area for various kinds of competition.
Big Brother has a huge number of remotely controlled cameras which monitor the players wherever they go, whatever they do. Big Brother and its staff communicate with participants primarily by microphones which instruct the participants regarding a wide variety of conduct. "No sleeping is allowed in the hammock," or "stop singing," or "put on your microphones," or "report to the diary room" are common instructions. While they sometimes say "please," it is an order, not a request. Failure to obey promptly will garner rebukes, followed by penalties, should the player fail to obey.
Why would participants subject themselves to this treatment? The lure of big money. The winner of the contest takes home five hundred thousand dollars and fame which can be worth additional revenues. The second place winner gets fifty thousand dollars.
Each week the group shrinks by one member, as one member is evicted by the others. Slowly, the remaining competitors are whittled down from sixteen to only two. The final two then are submitted to a jury composed of the last seven players to be evicted. Once the initial group of sixteen has been reduced to nine, those evicted go directly to the jury house, which appears to be a real house. There the jury lives in relative luxury and comfort until the final show. While the evicted players, now jurors, are free from the constant oversight and direction of Big Brother, they remain under Big Brother's control and must continue to abide by many rules regarding what they can see and hear, and what they do.
The constant pressure of someone being evicted each week creates in players a very real sense of paranoia about who they can believe and who they can trust. Lying and manipulation are essential to the process, and that leads to some very dynamic conflicts and results.
Big Brother, the television show, is nothing like the Big Brother of Orwellian fame. That Orwell's book about constant monitoring would be the basis for a television show created for entertainment is more a comment on our modern need for television entertainment than anything else. People seem to either love the show or hate it. I never watched a single episode until last year with its season fifteen. I find it amusing and entertaining, as real people demonstrate how deeply paranoid they can become when a disembodied dictator forces them to fight for sleeping arrangements, food, and survival in a game of money and fame.
© 2014, Jim “Pappy” Moore,
All Rights Reserved.
Jim “Pappy” Moore is a native son of East Texas who still makes the piney woods his home. firstname.lastname@example.org