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July 3, 2006

big brother 'scandal': preliminary thoughts

Posted by dogpossum on July 3, 2006 10:59 PM in the category television

We've just seen a short statement by the Big Brother people on channel 10 re the 'events of the weekend'. Apparently, one man held a woman down while another rubbed his groin in her face. While the woman didn't want to press charges, the two men were removed from the house because their actions breached the program's rules.
The opinion in online news is that this was a case of sexual harassment.

Here's what the Big Brother site had to say:

For legal reasons we were not able to provide you with coverage of the events following John and Ash's removal from the House on the weekend as they happened. For the sake of clarity here is a summary of the events that followed their departure.
On Saturday night, John and Ashley were removed from the House following an incident that breached one of Big Brother's most fundamental rules. John and Ashley left via the Diary Room unbeknownst to the other HMs who thought they had been called to the Diary Room for a standard visit.

While the surprise performance by the Rogue Traders in the garden initially distracted the HMs from the whereabouts of Ashley and John, eventually some time later they started wondering what had happened to the boys. The HMs were then called to the Diary Room where BB told them: "Last night's incident was very serious. Camilla did not request nor want any action taken by Big Brother, however Big Brother had no option but to act and remove the two Housemates."

The HMs were shocked at the news and several of them reacted tearfully. Camilla, who was involved in the incident, sobbed: "I feel so bad, I'm sorry." But both BB and the HMs assured her that she had nothing to be sorry about.

Following BB's announcement, discussion of the incident wasn't broadcast on the live web streams or covered in the BB Diary for legal reasons. However, Camilla did speak to her HMs about the events of the previous night.

"It wasn't the right thing to do and even though Ash meant it as a joke, it wasn't good behaviour," she told the group. But she added that she has no hard feelings towards the boys whatsoever. "There was no malice intended, they were doing it in a playful way and when I said very specifically to John: 'Don't. No,' he didn't do it."

On Sunday Camilla was interviewed by the Queensland Police and she told them she didn't wish to take the issue any further. It is no longer a police matter.

Despite the upsets of the last 48 hours, the HMs are moving on from the incident and vowing to continue enjoying their time in the House.

It's interesting stuff because the two men, interviewed by Gretel a few minutes ago, obviously felt that they'd simply been involved in a joke that went too far. One of them said "we read [Camilla] wrong". Camilla has been filmed saying that she felt that it was just a joke.

I missed all the media coverage over the weekend, what with my lying on the couch at the parent's place in Tasmania, asleep. But there've been a few different comments, from an ALP member suggesting that the BB producers should donate their earnings from the weekend's coverage to charity, to the PM calling for the axing of the show .

I don't know much about the incident, but from what I've seen...
As someone who grew up in a society where that sort of behaviour was not only common but expected of young men, on the one hand I'm delighted to see the BB program calling attention to this sort of behaviour, suggesting that it's simply not appropriate and will not be tolerated. And more importantly, doing this on a massively popular television program... On the other hand, I'm interested in how each of the three people may really have just considered it a joke that might have been in poor taste - they're an example of how this sort of behaviour is so normalised in Australian culture.

It's interesting stuff. Personally, I don't think it's appropriate. And I think it's interesting the way this program, set up as 'just filming ordinary people doing ordinary things' has filmed this sort of behaviour and taken a clear stance on it as sexual harassment. On the other hand, I have a feeling that our Fearless Leader has read the behaviour as an example of how BB is 'peddling pornographic/immature/stupid smut or silliness'. Simply 'boys will be boys'.
I really want to hear some feminist comments on this - I'd like to think it's an important opportunity for a public discussion on how patriarchy is complicated - how sexism or chauvinism or perhaps 'gender' is so deeply entrenched in our culture that we - men and women - do feel ok about dismissing it as a joke.

As a woman who grew up in city, in a suburb, attending a school where far worse behaviour was an everyday part of life, I can imagine how the experience could have been regarded as nothing extraordinary. As a joke. I can also see how this might have constituted a bit of homosocial 'slumber party' titilation - a bit of play between the boys at the woman's expense (where she became a vehicle for the men's 'flirting' with each other).

But perhaps, more worryingly, I can imagine how she might have felt: Trying to play it cool, to behave in a way which the 'viewers' would value, so as to secure her place on the program/in the house. Trying to pay it cool so as to maintain her status with her fellow housemates. Perhaps trying to play it cool as a woman who has been very doubtful of her own sex-appeal, in the company of two conventionally attractive and popular men.

But a the same time, her own, less intellectual response might have been anything from a little erotic tension to that kind of deep-stomach panic, where you're held down and can't get away, by two men who are obviously interested in a little power-play, sexual play, and you simply can't get free physically, or muster the words to persuade them to let you go.

I mean, what was she to do? What is she to do? Would she be voted off the show if she did take the matter further?

I really want to see what happens from here. I'm excited to think that the program has so clearly made the point that this is NOT appropriate behaviour. A point that is perhaps even more relevant to an audience which is dominated by young women.
And now I want to see how the response is handled. Will there be clearer discussions of sexual harassment in the media generally? On the program?

BB in itself encourages this sort of sexually charged behaviour, to attract viewers and sell advertising dollars. How will it now manage this aspect of its program?

And perhaps, even more interesting, why is it that I have such a problem with this aspect of sexual 'play', yet I haven't previously found the more risque Late Night BB difficult? I think that it is because of the element of violence or coersion, the way this event emphasises the issues of power at work in sexual relationships, or more importantly, in sexualised 'play' or other social interaction.
The thought of a woman coerced in this setting upets me. Angers me.

But at the same time, I'm also worried by the way these men might have only been able to engage in homosocial/homosexual play via the coersion of a woman. That they could only secure their masculinity (their masculine/phallic power) in homosexual play by supplying a woman as the object/passive/victim/disempowered vehicle.

And of course, when you add the issue of voyeurism and exhibitionism at work in BB...
The issue of performances of masculinity and feminity is immediately more complex.

I am interested in other people's comments. And I'll have a bit more of a think and perhaps post again when I've managed to put together a more coherent, thought-out response.

Can I just add: that this woman is asked to comment on the issue, really, really makes me uncomfortable. Like I said, I'd like to read some feminist comment on this issue.

And what makes me REALLY FUCKING ANGRY is that The Age has posted pictures of the incident online (you'll have to go look - I'm not hotlinking to that). Can they not understand how that might perhaps be even worse than the original event?

You might also be interested in reading Galaxy's post on Sarsaparilla.

Posted by dogpossum on July 3, 2006 10:59 PM in the category television