On Tuesday’s episode of Big Brother, Chima (who is really shiny, that has to be said) was removed from the show after weeks of “rule breaking.”
One of the most interesting, yet unsurprising things about reality television is that the spectacle is tightly controlled and regulated. Contestants on most reality shows sign ridiculous contracts binding them to unreasonable rules and they also have to read rule books that are so exhaustive they are contained within thick binders. The producers want their contestants, or puppets if you will, to be only as real as their scripts tell them to be.
Enter Chima, automatically set up for failure as the sassy, angry black woman. There’s at least one designed to fulfill one stereotype or another, on every reality show. When we met the entire cast, it was clear that there would be trouble because Chima was always getting a little testy. Now, given the circumstances, her constant irritation was understandable. She has a brain, and sort of knows how to use it and amongst the brain trust with whom she was playing the game, that set her apart.
For those who don’t know, Big Brother is a reality show syndicated throughout the world, where a “diverse” group of houseguests are locked into a prefabricated, brightly yet strangely decorated home with hundreds of video cameras and microphones recording their every room. The contestants have no access to television, telephones or Internet access. People willfully subject themselves to 3 months of live as rats in a maze. Each week, the contestants compete in Head of Household competitions, Veto competitions and Food competitions. They jockey for social position. They have questionable sexual encounters beneath blankets hiding from the cameras which are equipped with night vision, rocket scientists. They gossip and fight and befriend and betray. You can watch the house guests 24/7 online, 3 hours a night on Showtime Too and three nights a week on CBS. It’s all very boring yet fascinating.
In addition to the frenzied quotidian activities, the houseguests have to always wear a microphone and they have to go immediately when they are called to the Diary Room where they are asked leading questions designed to create drama and manipulate the show’s outcome. Sometimes people cry in the DR. It’s all very sad.
Back to Chima. From day one, Chima was a rulebreaker. The producers would call her to the DR and she’d look straight at the camera and say “I’m not coming to the DR. You’re going to have to come and get me.” She’d take off her microphone. She got into fights (which was, of course, the only thing she did that wasn’t against the rules). She was clearly unhappy and unwilling to follow the script she was given. What she did was groundbreaking. So often, reality show contestants are pitifully desperate for camera time. They don’t bother to question the rules and the contracts and the ways in which their lives are being manipulated. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but Chima’s willful defiance of the reality television world order was unprecdented and noteworthy.
In the waning hours of her time on Big Brother, Chima threw her microphone into the pool. The rocket scientists around her said, “Let’s just pretend it accidentally fell,” as if we didn’t all just see Chima toss the microphone. It was one of those, there are 500 cameras pointing at you dumbasses, moments. When they called her into the DR for the final time, there was a look of triumphant resignation on Chima’s face. She walked through the secret door in the Diary Room and in some small way, she created a new world order where someone didn’t say how high when a reality television producer said jump. It was pretty awesome.
What does this have to do with writing? Nothing really. But. Writer Brad Green has an interesting post up at his blog where he reexamines his stance on the short form as it is published online. While I don’t agree with everything he says, I do think he’s made a valuable contribution to a conversation that has been ongoing and will continue for quite some time. Online publishing is not as much revolutionary as it is evolutionary, a natural progression as more and more of our lives, for better or worse, become intertwined with Internet-based technologies. Though sometimes these conversations about online literature versus print literature belabor, to my mind, the wrong points, they are nonetheless important. They are indisputable evidence for the people who are busy declaring the death of literature, the short story, the novel, blah blah blah, that the coroner’s report is premature. In fact, I believe instead of being at the brink of the grave, we’re on the cusp of a new stage of the evolution where we are less interested in medium and more interested in that which is written. That too is a new world order.