Confined, coerced in a contest

Confined, coerced in a contest, by Clare Masters - 8th July 2006
(Credit: The Daily Telegraph and The Courier-Mail)


It is called reality television.

A group of people crammed into a house, cut off from the outside world, surrounded by cameras and told to interact.
Most are young, attractive and, in some cases naive, seemingly drawn towards the lure of fame -- or at least their 15 minutes of it.

But at what cost? Since it's inception in the Netherlands in September 1999, Big Brother has spread to almost 70 countries -- leaving a string of scandals in its wake.

* In the US, a male contestant pulled a knife on a female housemate, and was immediately evicted;
* In the UK, police were called in to stop a brawl that broke out in the house, with housemates forcibly pulled apart;
* In the UK, a man threatened to commit suicide if he was not allowed out of the house;
* In Denmark, a woman became pregnant on the show;
* In Portugal, a couple was thrown out for having sex;
* In Thailand, the government considered shutting down series one when two contestants became close; holding hands, hugging and cuddling on the sofa; and
* In Australia, two men were accused of sexual assault and thrown out of the house.
Internationally, at least five people believe their lives have been ruined by BB, with three attempting suicide as a result.

As a psychologist on the first Australian series, Dr Bob Montgomery has first-hand knowledge of the way the BB beast springs into action.

The Australian Psychological Society communications director says he was privy to many round-table discussions in the show's initial season and often helped think of ways to spice things up.

``As soon as ratings flag they'll have a little brainstorming meeting -- I used to sit in on some -- and try to think of what they can do next to try to grab people's interest,'' Montgomery says. ``They're no different to any other program.''

He says the universal truth of television is that harmony simply does not rate. Viewers don't want to see people getting along. They want controversy and conflict -- ingredients BB is only too happy to provide.

This week Australia's BB captured the world's attention when Ash and John were evicted from the house after ``turkey-slapping'' a female housemate in an event that polarised the nation.

Critics labelled the move a media stunt to prop up the show's ratings. If so, it worked -- more than 1.5 million viewers tuned in Sunday night to hear details of the alleged assault.

Media analyst Greg Tingle from the Media Man says there is no doubt the show created the tinderbox conditions -- frustrated sexuality and enforced continued confinement, combined with an alcoholic catalyst -- which eventually exploded between the trio in the early hours of Saturday morning.

``They [the Big Brother producers] don't say go and commit a sexual assault, but they set the scene as sexual activity is encouraged and they had the [now-defunct] Big Brother Adults Only show,'' Tingle explains.

He believes the whole incident was a media ratings stunt or a hoax gone wrong and with Big Brother pulling the strings, the show then had to accept some responsibility for its housemates' actions: ``They might have tried to spike the ratings, but it's come back to bite them on the arse.''


Reality TV

Big Brother