Big Brother is an unusual beast. The standard, non-celebrity version is broadcast every night of the week for a whole three months, for an hour each night. While potentially overwhelming, the format becomes incredibly addictive. You can see relationships form and change over time. It is similar to soap operas – it is long form storytelling. Issues that emerge between two people in the ‘Big Brother House’ may not truly come to light until another month down the line. It is a truly unique way of identifying with ‘characters’. And rest assured, I am aware these are characters. Generic, ‘normal’ people would be far less entertaining to follow for a whole three months.
And yet? Big Brother is commonly dismissed as the death of creativity and ‘quality’ TV. It is decried as nonsense. But even after my father has complained for the fifteenth time that I am taking up the lounge TV with my ‘rubbish’, few shows have made me laugh quite as much as Big Brother.
Perhaps the only British show that can rival Big Brother in the amount it has entertained me in the past year, is Channel 4’s critical smash-hit Catastrophe. The story of an Irish woman, an American man, and a sudden pregnancy has been met with considerable acclaim, and for good reason: the characters and actors are likeable, without feeling false – and the balancing of emotion and comedy is masterful.
So, why am I, as a 20-year old male, supposed to feel embarrassed for enjoying Big Brother just as much as, if not more than Catastrophe. Why is one deemed simply “better” than the other?
It all comes down to the controversial issue of “cultural snobbery” – the idea that one form of culture is inherently better than another. You see it in conversations about arts funding, with columnists like Edward Pearce calling Britain a ‘deeply philistine country’ with ‘a popular press resolutely half-witted’.
The idea is that ‘quality’ culture like opera, ballet, or critically-acclaimed media is enjoyed by those people who have more ‘cultural capital’, a rather grand term for a more refined artistic pallet. Factors such as education, and intellect, are noted as the defining reasons behind a person’s level of cultural capital.
And so, it is decreed, those of a greater intellect decide that Big Brother is low culture, and Catastrophe high(er) culture. Even though a person such as myself, who is well educated, finds Big Brother potentially more entertaining.
But it is not as cut and dry as that. It can’t be. While it may be seen as shameful for a 20 year-old male such as myself to watch Big Brother or EastEnders, if my mother was to watch these shows, that is seen as completely reasonable. Why is this?
The films we watch, the music we listen to, and the TV shows we watch are a way of building identity. Enjoyment of Big Brother and soap operas is linked to an identity that I am not a part of. Instead, other shows are considered part of the teenage, male identity – such as Skins or The Inbetweeners. There is no such shame attached to my enjoyment of these shows.
This is down to marketing. I am simply not the target audience of EastEnders, in the way that I am the target audience of Skins.
It is a shame that there is an embarrassment associated with one’s choice of entertainment; as that is the purpose of every TV show at the end of the day – entertainment. And whether it be through cultural snobbery or selective marketing, it is disappointing that people feel the need to put other forms of entertainment down, simply because they identify with another.