Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Big Brother's books

Well, I warn you, there may not be many books read here for the next couple of weeks, because Celebrity Big Brother is on Channel 4 again, and it's gripping stuff.

Of course, it's sheer ignorance on my part, but I'm not quite sure how many other countries run their own Big Brother shows, so here's a quick rundown of what happens.

You take 11 celebrities (I use the term loosely) and lock 'em up together in a purpose-built house. They have no contact whatever with the outside world. No phone, no radio, no TV. They just have to sit there and interact. And, this being the digital age, the house is wired. There are cameras and microphones everywhere, so no one can even whisper without the audience picking it up.

The audience can watch all this, pretty much 24 hours a day. It's broadcast live, or nearly so. There's just enough time-lag to cut the sound if someone says something libellous or swears too often while the kids might be watching.

The idea is, and I speak from the producer's point of view here, that someone -- some particularly sensitive flower -- may succumb to the pressure and have a nervous breakdown. Or shag his way through every woman in the show, live. (I believe it's been done.) Or run amok with a kitchen knife. Or otherwise entertain us.

Every so often the audience gets the chance to vote on who should remain in the house and who should be evicted. And at the end of three weeks or so a winner emerges. With lots and lots of lovely media exposure. The newspapers love it and the winner can enhance, or rebuild, his/her career big-time.

And all of this, surprisingly enough, is heavily book-orientated.

To begin with (and I apologise if I'm teaching Grandma something about eggs here), the title of the show derives from a famous novel by George Orwell, entitled Nineteen Eighty-Four. Published in 1949, that novel imagines a nightmarish future for England, in which the government, personified by an all-powerful figure known as Big Brother, has the power to investigate and check up on every aspect of a citizen's life, and to cause pain and suffering to said citizen if he should dare to question the powers that be.

Well, the future hasn't quite turned out as Orwell feared, but it's pretty damn close. The British police have more than enough powers to make life very difficult for you if you choose to disagree with Mr Blair. A woman was arrested in Downing Street recently for reading out the names of the Iraqi war dead; this was justified under the terms of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. And on the other side of the pond, Cousin George is busy phone-tapping everyone who thinks he's a fool; an exercise which should keep him busy for some time.

So, Big Brother has literary antecedents. Not only that, but several of the current participants have books to their name already -- let alone what they will produce if they win.

Dennis Rodman, for instance -- yes, it is that Dennis, black, American, retired basketball player; the one who Madonna wanted to have a child with, and didn't; the one who politely declined to have oral sex with Madonna; that Dennis -- he is the subject of a biography by his ex-wife. They were married for ten days. This biog, Worse Than He Says He Is, relates how Dennis gave his missus sexually transmitted diseases and let her down badly in bed: sex lasted about 14 seconds. And the Celebrity BB hostess, the lovely Davina, has already told us that he requires extra-large condoms. All of which makes me worry about that nice little English girl, Chantelle, who was last seen holding hands with him. How will it all end? You can see how a chap can get distracted.

Then there's George Galloway. Yes, the same George who made mincemeat of a Senate committee, and wrote I'm Not the Only One, which was reviewed here on 14 June 2005.

Jodie Marsh is a former stripper, page 3 girl, and all like that. Jodie is the author, in a manner of speaking, of a 288-page autobiography, Keeping It Real. She's only 27, but a good-looking girl with a generous bust measurement can pack a lot into those years you know.

Next, Rula Lenska: distinguished actress. Rula has not, so far as I know, written a book, but she has been involved as the narrator on numerous audiobooks, especially for children: Roald Dahl's Matilda, for example. Also, her ex, Dennis Waterman, has written an autobiography entitled Reminder, so she presumably makes an appearance in that.

Michael Barrymore has the inevitable autobiography. And the others, so far as I know, are, so to speak, book virgins. Although the transvestite pop singer Pet Burns clearly has more than one book in him. (I quite fancy Pete, Doctor. Is this a cause for concern?) When last seen he was wearing a dress with a train, to which were attached about a dozen multi-coloured balloons. You think I made that bit up. But I didn't. See below.

Chantelle, as you will doubtless know, is not a real celebrity but was required to persuade the others that she was; and succeeded. I thought the girl done good. And since it seems that, never having sung a note in her life, she is about to release a pop record by the mythical band which she claimed to be a member of (yes it does get a bit confusing, doesn't it? Keep notes, is my advice), there is no reason on earth why she should not also turn up on next year's Booker long list.

Oh yes, it's gripping stuff, as I said at the beginning. And in case you're wondering why I should be taking such an interest in a weird reality-TV show, the answer is that, during the past year, I have been working on a novel about a man who goes on just such a show in order to win a million pounds for his daughter.

Now I thought, when I was writing this novel, that I had put forward a few outrageous and far-out ideas about the kind of people who might go on such shows, and the kinds of things that they might be required to do. But of course, now that I've watched the real thing, I have discovered that the reality of reality TV is far, far more outre and bizarre than anything that I could ever have invented.

You couldn't make it up. Really. I know. I've tried.

6 comments:

Tim Worstall said...

There’s a Ben Elton novel with one of the protagonists doing precisely that, wanting to win a Big Brother so as to pay for the care of a sick child.

The plot also veers off with a murder in the House, committed by the producer in order to raise the ratings. Don’t think that’s happened in the real show yet.

susiet said...

Being pedantic here, but G Galloway is also author of 'Mr. Galloway Goes to Washington: The Brit Who Set Congress Straight about Iraq'. Can we expect his next tome to be 'Mr Galloway Goes Into the Celebrity Big Brother House: ....' (not sure yet what should come after the colon - made an ass of himself perhaps? Or showed what a nice guy he really is (though not too gallant to Jodie). It won't be "enlightened the nation re T Blair, Iraq war etc" for sure, given the censorship Channel 4 is applying to his remarks. Maybe Big Brother is going to pla one of its tricks and parachute eg Christopher Hitchens into the house, a la Jackie Stallone and her ex-daughter in law last year (not that I'm a CBB addict or anything). If G Galloway survives the looming eviction vote that is. He had an expression of cold fury when the list of potential evictees was announced this morning. Not quite what he'd calculated.

susiet said...

PS - Sorry that I pressed the publish rather than the preview button for the above comment, hence all the typos.

kimbofo said...

Great post! I was going to mention the Elton book, Dead Famous, which I reviewed on my book blog a couple of years ago, but Tim has beaten me to it! (You can see the review here: http://kimbofo.typepad.com/
readingmatters/2002/07/
dead_famous_by_.html)

Henway Twingo said...

George has already been nominated for ouster, as reported here:

http://www.rte.ie/arts/2006/0110/celebritybigbrother.html

And here's the Go Back To Work online campaign focused on Galloway by irritated constituents claiming neglect:

http://beta.cergis.com/george/

Whither George there's Trouble.

Walker said...

If the Endemol production was genuinely derivative, wouldn't each contestant get a bullet in the back of the head at the end? ;)