I've watched Australian Big Brother right from first series. At the beginning of each season I have a conversation with myself about watching too much telly, watching too much bad telly, watching telly that is voyeuristic and unwholesome (I won't let myself watch Law & Order or SVU anymore because I think it is too grisly to be consumed as entertainment). And at my age, I am not in the Big Brother demographic anymore. But each season, after comments about how boring the new housemates look, I am drawn in. G likes to watch the ABC news, so I don't get to watch every night. But I watch enough to know what's happening.
Anyway on Saturday G told me that he heard on the news that two of the Big Brother housemates had been evicted for "sexual misconduct". So of course on Sunday night, I watched the weekly round up, drawn to the drama of it all. It felt like those times at work or school when something big has gone down, no-one is telling but everyone is milling around going, "what happened?" It was painful to watch Camilla in tears, disturbing to see some of the other reactions. So this morning I got on the net, to see what really happened (anything to delay Monday vacuuming). The most graphic account (including dodgy pictures) can be read here. If you're interested in newspaper coverage there are lots of links here.
As the series has developed, entry into the Big Brother house has almost seemed like a rite of passage for an elite cross section of Australia's young and photogenic. There's lots of talk about "enjoying my time in the house" and it not being about the money (not that there's much of the 1million prize left after fines). I think many housemates look forward to the eviction experience, the walk down the gangway with thousands cheering, the chance to get up on the couch with Gretel and the media whirlwind afterwards. And the afterparties. And maybe getting a job on television. But the biggest prize of all is the possibility of becoming celebrity, even a minor celebrity.
Now is about the halfway point of the show where things starts to get interesting. The fluffier characters have been evicted, the personalities of the housemates have emerged, the stress of communal living and of being watched 24/7 is starting to show, dramas petty or not are playing out. It always astounds me what the housemates are prepared to do knowing that millions are watching. Maybe they forget. The casual way in which housemates "pash" or "play around" disturbs me. In my twenties, the scene I hung out in was just as much about sex, drugs and music as these kids are. Yet, as it was the early eighties, we didn't have mobile phones or the internet or such an obsession with gym sculpted hairless bodies. Looking back it seems so much less trashy. Perhaps because of the absence of having to be really "hot" so we could take our place in the "raunch culture".
While in no way condoning the actions of John and Ash, I'm interested in how they might come to think that this is an acceptable way to act. Big Brother seems to actively cross this raunch culture with a type of adolescent innocence. A slumber party atmosphere prevails, where bed hopping and secret conversation after lights out are common. Where there's a pole dancing pole in the bedroom. Big Brother directed games (like truth and dare) and tasks (like having to kiss each housemate), while childish, are designed to create intimacy and break down boundaries. Big Brother provides ample opportunity to dress in often provocative costumes and act out. Practical jokes, living on staples, adhering to the rules of the game and the whole nomination process feed conflict. Housemates are encouraged to discuss how they feel with each other. And there's not that much to do. So place this in the context of the "raunch culture" and competion for celebrity and you get a place where it would seem almost anything goes, as long as you are wearing your microphone and don't discuss your nominations.
It seems pretty clear to me, despite what Camilla said on the Sunday show, that what went down was sexual assault. That Camilla made it clear that she did not consent to being "turkey slapped." Although some of the behavior on Big Brother is pretty out there or skanky, depending on your point of view, you'd think John and Ash would know that holding a woman down is just not on. That no means no. And that with cameras everywhere, that your actions are being watched. That ultimately your actions would be judged by millions. And yet it still didn't stop them.