- Cullman, Alabama


July 26, 2013

TELEVISION: 'Big Brother' and racism


"Big Brother" is the Vegemite of reality TV: Either you love it, or you find it so noxious and distasteful it's impossible to comprehend that anyone else would willingly, let alone happily, ingest it. For the past 13 years — every single summer since 2000 and one ill-conceived February — a dozen-odd people have willingly isolated themselves for three months inside a floodlit Panopticon made to look like a home, their every move broadcast over all-day livestreams and condensed into three prime-time hours per week, all for a half-million-dollar prize. The participants on "Big Brother" are, of course, not "here to make friends," and regularly engage in all sorts of scheming, manipulation and histrionics. On this show, when one player calls another a liar, another can safely reply, "Yeah, I don't know what game you're playing, but I'm playing Big Brother." But this season, the show's 15th, some "Big Brother" contestants have plumbed a new nadir of atrocious behavior: blatant racism.

Almost as soon as this season began, close watchers of the various Web streams began to catalog racial slurs, as well as homophobic, sexist and anti-Semitic ones, that were not making it to air. CBS has historically sanitized the livestreams for prime time: "Big Brother" has a long history of contestants being racist — if not this racist — but CBS has previously claimed that such comments do "not meet the network's standards" and it would cut them out of the network airings, leaving them to the hawk-eyed thousands closely monitoring the livestreams. Not this time. In this summer when Paula Deen and Trayvon Martin are on front of mind, instead of ignoring its contestants' racism, Big Brother has made it one of the major storylines, giving audiences a front-row seat not just to the sort of hateful mindset and speech that usually occurs behind closed doors, but to the self-delusion of bigots.

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