From social experiment to postmodern joke: Big Brother and the progressive construction of celebrity

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According to Su Holmes, one of the significant factors to emerge from the growth of reality TV is that it “has made it impossible to escape the fact that we have seen an appreciable rise in the number of ‘ordinary’ people appearing on television” (“all you’ve got” 111). It is this process that this essay will explore, examining the reality TV program Big Brother and especially its counterpart Celebrity Big Brother, within the context of its transmission in the United Kingdom. Following a discussion concerning the development, nature, and critical reaction to Big Brother, I will focus on the palpable congruence between Big Brother and celebrity discourse and the increasingly discernible “celebritization” effect Big Brother perennially bestows on many of its contestants, particularly in recent years. Indeed, when examined retrospectively, many of the prominent or infamous moments of Big Brother are explicitly connected to this increasing reality TV-celebrity connection. Although the study of media stars has a significant history within film studies and sociology (Dyer; Alberoni; Monaco; DeCordova; Gledhill), recent years have seen the emergence of a solid and progressive body of research dedicated to mapping out the culture and status of contemporary celebrity (Rojek; Turner; Evans and Hesmondhalgh; Cashmore, Beckham and Celebrity/Culture; Marshall; Holmes and Redmond; Redmond and Holmes), much of which pays acute attention to the rise of “fabricated celebrities” created through appearances on reality TV shows. When viewed in retrospect, big Brother represents a steady convergence between a “people show” narrative and the establishment of a particular mode of celebrity, a celebrity type constructed by the Big Brother audience, but more crucially by the show’s producers. Drawing on the approach of Erving Goffman, I will discuss the increasing prevalence of individuals reflexively recognising the potential of Big Brother, a process that serves to undercut the “reality principle” of the format through the adoption of strategic fronts designed to appeal to voting viewers and fellow housemates in order to postpone eviction from the house, with all its risks of anonymity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe tube has spoken: reality TV and history
EditorsJ. A. Taddeo, K. Dvorak
Place of PublicationKentucky
PublisherThe University Press of Kentucky
ISBN (Print)9780813125534
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009


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