and now for a story…

24Jul09

Since I write under a pseudonym, my blog isn’t quite as good a representation of myself as maybe it should be. I tend to write more about writing and research because they’re activities that can be hashed out in some detail without getting too specific about the subject matter I study. But I haven’t written as much about one of my true loves, pop culture, especially television. So I may write more about television. I am a bonafide television whore and I am not ashamed of it. I proudly watch too much television, a lot of it reality. Right now, I’m obsessed with the UK version of Big Brother.

I’ve watched some portion of BBUK every summer save one since my very first research trip for my senior thesis. I’ve come to associate research trips with Big Brother, which is going to be a problem when it ends, likely next year. BBUK was practically very useful because it was, for me, the first exposure I had to the different accents in the UK. As anyone who’s spent a significant time in the UK knows, for such a small country, there’s a stunning amount of accent diversity, some of which are almost unintelligible to the untrained American ear. There’s Scottish of course, but the Geordie accent (a personal favorite of mine, from Northeast England, up around Newcastle) and the Scouse accent (around Liverpool) are particularly difficult. The Mancunian and Yorkshire/Lancashire accents are distinctive but generally pretty understandable. I’ve gotten fairly good at telling where somebody’s from based on their accent but that wouldn’t have happened without BB. (For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure there are more distinctive regional accents in the UK than there are in the US, which only really has a few standout ones. The amount of country covered by a general southern accent, for example, the thickness of which doesn’t actually correlate to state, is many times over the size of the UK.)

So there was that. But BBUK is just endlessly fascinating television in a way its US counterpart is not. Here’s why. First, there’s the fame element. Unlike in the US, being a housemate makes some people a minor celebrity. The late Jade Goody was the most successful at this but she was certainly not the only housemate to parlay her time on the show into magazine deals and the like. So the show attracts really outsized characters with delusions of grandeur who have fame in the back of their minds; this encourages them to behave in a ridiculous and wildly entertaining manner.

But there’s a more substantive difference. The US version is all about strategy and gameplay. Who wins is determined by the players themselves and so it becomes a 24-hr strategy session. Everybody’s there to win the money. The UK version is completely different. There is no worse crime to housemates than having a “game plan” and people who behave as though they’re there only to win the money are uniformly criticized (even though of course they want the money.) The television audience determines who’s evicted each week and who wins by a phone vote. The only part housemates play in the process is when they nominate fellow housemates for eviction and even then, routine BB punishments often involve putting up housemates for eviction. Moreover, housemates are strictly forbidden from talking about nominations. If they do so, they generally find themselves up for eviction themselves. So there are no 24 hour strategy sessions, save some rudimentary attempts at code that BB quickly susses out. When the strategy element is taken out, the only thing left is the interactions between housemates.

Why am I writing about this? Well because I love the show. But also because what started out as a pretty humdrum season has become some of the best television in the past week. (The other thing about BB is that you do have to commit. It’s every single night of the week for at least an hour, plus nightly live feed, which has ruined my work schedule. While I’m sure a lot of viewers do come in and out, you never know when something’s going to develop out of the blue and, for me at least, the joy is in watching things slowly develop over weeks. That’s generally why I prefer serial dramas and soaps like EastEnders over anything else. I just love good stories.) I’m not going to use names b/c I don’t want a lot of traffic from random googlers but those interested will be able to figure out who I’m talking about through a basic wikipedia search.

Here’s the story.

Let’s start with a housemate I’ll call Irish Lass. Irish Lass spent some time on one of the more recent Real Worlds, where she dated one of the contestants down under. Irish Lass is mixed race and beautiful in that girl next door kind of way. Although two other housemates had a relationship for several weeks until one was evicted, Irish Lass is more interesting because virtually every straight man in that house has “fancied” her, as did one woman. The first housemate to fancy her declared he was falling in love with her and then proceeded to follow her around for weeks. Irish Lass didn’t cut him off soon enough and, to some degree, she encouraged it but he was eventually evicted.

Moving on to guy two; he’s a person of interest so he’ll get a name. This character is ridiculous. He’s quite unattractive, which wouldn’t be a problem if he didn’t insist on having a huge mullet ponytail and gigantic mutton chop sideburns modeled after Wolverine, which is the name he’s going to get. In that typical way of cocky men, Wolverine thinks he’s a catch and also thinks he’s the smartest person in the house. (As he stated in the diary room, he didn’t think Big Brother was going to be able to find anybody as cool as him.) He has a caveman-like lurch about him (complete with a lot of sleeveless shirts), which he has used to full effect to lay claim to being one of the leaders of the house. Worse, Wolverine is prone to lecherous and degrading statements about women, bolstered no doubt by his conviction that he’s God’s gift to women.

Wolverine has fancied Irish Lass for weeks but unlike guy #1, he made himself indispensable to her. See, Irish Lass has had quite a bit of trouble making friends with  the women in the house and she wasn’t too popular for letting the situation with guy #1 go on too long. Wolverine then became her only friend and biggest confidant and they started having numerous long conversations, sometimes under duvets, about her position in the house. (She’s told him numerous times that she’s not interested but he insists she is and the fact that she’s so isolated in the house has worked to his advantage.) A few weeks ago, she got into a huge fight with another guy in the house (another person of interest who will get a name in a minute) that turned much of the hosue against her. Wolverine of course has tried to milk that isolation by being the only person she could turn to. He tries to make her feel guilty about hanging out with anybody else, telling her that she’s too stupid if she doesn’t see how they’re trying to use her.

So that was the status quo as of last week. Mildly interesting, yes, but it was pretty clear how it was all going to end. Wolverine’s frustration would cause him to lash out at her, causing an ugly scene; that’s if one of them hadn’t been evicted first. Neither of them are too popular with the public. I’d have watched this with some vague interest because I’m a hardcore fan but its predictability did not make for good drama. Irish Lass was never going to be interested in Wolverine and because Wolverine is a nasty piece of work, I wasn’t going to feel bad when it all busted up.

There’s another standard trick that BBUK does that BBUS never does and that’s add loads of new housemates several weeks into the show. That’s what happened last week. Of the five new housemates, in came Hot Guy. Now I don’t actually think Irish Lass was planning to do anything with Hot Guy and Hot Guy is actually pretty cool so he wasn’t looking for drama. But Wolverine got it into his head that his territory was threatened and so he’s begun a smear campaign against hot guy. He’s also begun to lurk around around Irish Lass considerably more. In the time that he’s been trying to dispatch the person he sees as his biggest threat, he’s missed the actual threat. And this is where things got interesting.

Another of the outsize personalities on the show is a man I’ll call Iranian Fashionisto. There’s really no way to describe this man other than he plays around with clothes, makeup, hats, and his hair in a very interesting way. This is going to sound really cheesy but it’s clear he views his body as a canvas. In my mind, he usually pulls it off but I could see others having a different opinion about him. What distinguishes Iranian Fashionisto from Wolverine is that while the former is indeed quite confident in himself, he doesn’t feel the need to be in control of the situation. He’s generally a chill dude. Iranian Fashionisto and Irish Lass had a big bustup a few weeks ago, as I mentioned, probably the biggest ruckus of the season. Now Wolverine and Iranian Fashionisto are tight, although when Wolverine was trying to isolate Irish Lass, he told her that he thought Iranian Fashionisto fancied her. But after the fight, it was pretty clear that Irish Lass and Iranian Fashionisto were struggling to spend time in the same room.

So while Wolverine has spent much of the past week rallying people against the hot guy he thinks has designs on Irish Lass, Tuesday night, Irish Lass and Iranian Fashionisto get a spare moment to themselves. (Remember Wolverine has constantly been lurking.) Come to find out, Irish Lass and Iranian Fashionisto are totally into each other; they talked around the issue in less than convincing code. Never would have seen this coming. But yesterday it got even better.

While all of this was going on, another of the new housemates had been having a bit of a breakdown over what he thought was a message from his girlfriend, an original housemate who had been evicted ten minutes after he’d arrived. He decided to escape from the BB house Wednesday night/Thursday morning in dramatic fashion by scrambling over the wall and lowering himself down from the roof. Wolverine helped him do this and was punished  yesterday by having to spend who knows how long in a makeshift jail cell in the house garden. He was there well into the night which gave Irish Lass and Iranian Fashionisto ample time to get quite cozy. No need to describe further. At the very same time, Wolverine continued his campaign against Hot Guy, talking endlessly to some other housemates about how Hot Guy had designs on Irish Lass. Wolverine continued to insist that he knew everything that was going on in the house, although he said that it was amazing how much you could miss while you were outside. Even then, though, he believed he was on top of every situation. Of course the camera kept cutting back and forth between Wolverine’s macho guff and Irish Lass and Iranian Fashionisto. Utter brilliance.

Whereas last week the inevitable blowup between Wolverine and Irish Lass had a predictable conclusion, now the plot’s gotten thicker because Iranian Fashionisto is one of Wolverine’s trusted comrades. Meanwhile Iranian Fashionisto and Irish Lass have to try to hide what’s going on between them. How long is it going to take for Wolverine to find out what’s going on or will they be successful in hiding it until he’s evicted? (He could possibly be gone as early as next week if he’s not up against the one housemate most disliked by viewers.) How long is Wolverine going to keep up the campaign against Hot Guy? If other housemates find out, will they keep the secret or tell Wolverine? Finally, I’m hooked.

Seriously, you couldn’t script this shit if you tried.

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