Last week I had the unfortunate experience of watching part of a Big Brother episode. To be absolutely clear I’m not a fan and would never usually choose to watch the show. In fact, I’d rather watch just about anything else. While I do have somewhat of a tendency to judge, mostly I don’t care if other people watch it; each to their own as they say. However, when it comes to the messages this or any other television show sends and the attitudes they influence, I care very much.
As I watched the Big Brother segment unfold my heart began to race as my anger grew. Encouraged to watch it by my colleague Hope, I had been warned that it was likely to infuriate me. And it did. While I expected to find aspects of the approach disappointing, I totally underestimated how bad it would be. There are two things I really don’t like 1) the look on someone’s face when they are embarrassed! 2) the look on someone’s face when they are worried – this episode had both and that’s what the producers wanted!
If you were fortunate to have missed it, all you need to know is that the first of this season’s ‘housemates’ was evicted. Big Brother instructed the housemates to line up behind the person they wanted to ‘save’. They had to choose between Gemma and her playing partner Jake — not in a secret ballot, but in front of the pair. One at a time they had their turn and all but one chose Jake. The discomfort among the group was palpable.
The disgraceful episode clearly impacted Gemma who reflected on the experience later by saying “I was numb. I could barely walk or breathe”. Reportedly taking her back to times when she was bullied at school the nasty experience clearly upset Gemma. It only takes a modicum of empathy to realise how awful an experience it must have been. Reflect for a moment on how embarrassed most of us is likely to feel in such a situation.
While some people will argue that Gemma knew what she was getting into when she signed up for the show, to me that is far from a reasonable argument. Irrespective of the role or opportunity someone chooses to accept, it’s never OK to treat them badly. Gemma’s decision to participate in a television show doesn’t justify the Producers decision to treat her with so little respect and sensitivity.
The message Big Brother is sending about what is acceptable behaviour is concerning. We are unlikely to ever rid our schools and workplaces of bullying when a prime time television show such as this one set such a poor example. It’s undoubtedly irresponsible to risk Gemma’s wellbeing simply for TV ratings. It’s also irresponsible to influence people to think that it’s OK to be nasty. The approach Big Brother chose to take is a very poor reflection on the shows producers and their commitment to having a positive impact on society.
Television like any other form of entertainment has a massive influence on the prevalent attitudes and behaviours in society. The people and shows we choose to follow can unquestionably influence how we think, feel and behave. While everyone is different most of us are likely to be influenced on some level or another of by the messages we receive from other people about what is right; including those in the media spotlight.
Humiliating people on television sends a message that it’s OK to humiliate people. How can we expect people to behave with respect and decency at work when they are entertained by an industry that condones treating people badly? Unfortunately Big Brother is far from alone; shows like The X Factor, Footy Show and The Bachelor all rely on the entertainment created from upsetting people or ridiculing them.
The question we all need to ask ourselves is if humiliating someone while they are at work is unacceptable, why do we tolerate it just because they are on television?