Big Brother bullying: When sexual and physical abuse are seen as entertainment
Big Brother – that bastion of good taste and moral virtue, that pillar of strength and goodness in an uncertain world – has once again come under fire this week, with Ofcom receiving 1,000 complaints from disgusted viewers. The reason? Housemate Conor McIntyre launching into a verbal attack on beauty queen Deana Uppal after she failed to complete an eating task.
So far so unremarkable, as Big Brother is not exactly a stranger to blazing rows between housemates; in fact, one could be forgiven for thinking that they positively encourage as much bile and hatred as possible between contestants. What has sparked the outrage – as with the Danielle Lloyd/Shilpa Shetty racism row back in 2007 – is the clear crossing of the boundaries of what is acceptable.
“Get your epilator, stick it up your arse, we don’t give a fuck, because we’re gunna fucking smash your face…I’ll give her a fun game, I’ll stick this up her fucking m**ge the stupid bastard. I’ll give her a fucking epilator. I’m going to play loads of pranks on her because she’s a fucking piece of shit and I don’t give a fuck if I get pulled up to the diary room…if she threw water over me, I’d punch her in the face, just knock her out.”
In this case, Conor’s tirade against Deana contained brazen threats of physical and sexual violence against her, which – whether or not he would ever actually carry them out – should not be tolerated on a light entertainment programme. Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Holly Dustin, said it was irresponsible of Channel 5 “to leave a woman in a confined space with someone who has made threats of physical and sexual violence against her”. Deana’s obvious upset following the incident raises questions over whether Big Brother really has contestants’ security and best interests at heart.
Whilst Channel 5 have released a statement saying that that Conor’s behaviour “was not condoned by Big Brother or any of the housemates” (apart from, presumably, Conor himself), this seems somewhat at odds with the breezy way that Big Brother treated the event on the programme’s Twitter feed. Here, BB seemed to me to join in with the misogynous baiting of Deana – though under the type of guise which would doubtless be dismissed by many as “harmless banter”. “Conor doesn’t mince his words,” they commented at the time of his outburst, seeming almost approving. More sinisterly, when a distraught Deana sought a hug from another housemate, they then tweeted, “Yup, a good mounting. That’s all she needed.” Given the programme’s namesake, with all its inescapable associations, this paints a somewhat disturbing picture of Big Brother as an enormous Patriarch-in-the-Sky, raining down misogyny and judgement where it so pleases.
The real issue here is not so much in Conor’s behaviour itself, which, whilst appalling, represents just one isolated incident. The more worrying thing is in Big Brother’s failure to condemn or truly reprimand his behaviour, beyond an ineffectual ‘ticking off’ in the Diary Room. This lack of response has the effect of implicitly condoning his actions, a view which is given further weight by their inappropriate comments on Twitter.
Like it or not, Channel 5 seems to be presenting the idea to viewers that threats of sexual and physical abuse are something that is seen as entertainment, and which can be doled out without punishment or rebuke. Sexual bullying and intimidation towards women will earn you nothing more than a slap on the wrist, and the continued chance to win thousands of pounds of prize money.
At least, that’s the way it looks to me. But then, I probably just need a good mounting.Tagged in: abuse, big brother, bullying, media, sexism
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