Big Brother
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The Psychology Of Big Brother

One of the reasons I became a psychologist was to find answers to the questions every victim of traumatic events asks – why?

“Why did that happen?  Why did it happen to ME?  Why did they do that?  Why did they do it to ME?  Why, why, WHY?”

I found answers.  Some of them were hard to accept, such as sh*t happens and sometimes it is bound to happen to me, but I found other answers too.  I learned a lot about human beings and human development during my studies.  A lot of the things researchers did to find out those things is no longer permitted because we know, now, such experiments can cause damage to people.

We found out about the concept of “generalization” by damaging a baby boy named Albert.  If I remember correctly, little Albert was subjected to a very loud noise every time he tried to play with a white laboratory rat.  The noise frightened little Albert and, in time, he began to cry as soon as he saw the rat.  What researchers were not prepared for was that the child generalized his fear to include a whole range of other things including a (non-white) rabbit, a dog and even a seal-skin coat.

Some of the things the researchers say they would have done to the child, if they had been given the chance, to try and rid him of the fears they created in him are truly horrifying!

Another research study called the Stanford Prison Experiment involved separating volunteers into two groups and labelling one group “prisoners” and the other group “guards”.  The two groups were then placed in a mock “prison” and instructed to play their parts for 14 days whilst researchers observed them.

It did not take long for the two groups to become completely antagonistic towards each other and the experiment had to be called off after just six days.  Those in the prisoner group became depressed whilst those in the guard group became sadistic.  Even the researchers were affected by the experiment and behaved badly!

Now that psychologists are no longer permitted to set up unethical research scenarios we are restricted in what we can find out about human beings.  There is, however, another social group who have no such ethical restrictions.  The media.

I have been watching the “reality” programme called “Big Brother Australia” and I am finding it very disturbing on several levels.

The original idea of the Big Brother series was to place a number of ordinary people into solitary confinement with each other and watch them.  The public could vote to get rid of anyone they didn’t like thus “punishing” them by depriving them of the prize money whilst supporting people they identified with.

We are now in year seven of the series for Australia and “ordinary people” are no longer the preferred “subjects” for the show.  For reasons known only to the producers subjects must now meet a certain standard of physical attractiveness.  Each year one or two people who do not meet that standard are included along with one or two more who enter the experiment as “intruders”.

I think a blogger by the name of “The Eye” (Link no longer exists) has given a very accurate assessment of why the producers have such a strong preference for attractive contestants now.

In his entry titled “BLONDES, ANYONE? BB07 LAUNCHES” written on Sunday, 22 April 2007 The Eye notes that:

“The girls are slim and blonde (all bar one who is the token overweight girl – though, she’s still blonde, and by the end of the launch was already bonding with the only overweight male in the house), and even the brunette is pretty. And at the end of the day, that’s what their core demographic wants. Oh, and the men’s soft porn magazines that the show has lucrative deals with, of course.”

You may think the “core demographic” The Eye refers to would be the (much maligned in some Big Brother forums) teeny bopper girls with mobile phones who vote to save or evict but you would be wrong.

In his Wednesday, 25 April 2007 entry, titled “LONELY? HORNY? STRAPPED FOR CASH? UPLATE RETURNS…” The Eye presents a very convincing argument that:

“…some very smart man in a very smart suit, one day realised that the sex ads that filled the slots at this hour (keeping in mind how much money these companies actually have to spend – more than people would think) could all be successfully pulled towards a magnet that not only drew in the very target demographic they were aiming their sex cons at, but that actually facilitated the sexual desire that would then be manipulated by the sex cons.”

He ended the entry with a very accurate summary of what this whole show has, in my opinion, evolved into.

“There’s a spa in there. And six blondes, as well. There’s producers with games. And late night sex-phone ads to sell.”

Now we come to the interesting part of MY analysis.  Everywhere you look you see people are disgusted with the “teeny-bopper, brainless, little girls” they believe have destroyed the show.  People are convinced immature young girls are responsible for producers focusing on looks instead of personality.

I don’t think that is true.  I think fans of the Big Brother show continue to watch for the same reason they originally began watching.  They want to see how society will react to the people they perceive as being most like themselves.

The problem is – most of the fans are not finding anyone who is really like them on the show so they are having to react to what they do find.

The shows producers, on the other hand, are having to find a way to stop people from turning off their televisions.  Lower ratings will result in less advertising revenue!

Average Big Brother viewers can’t really identify with the pretty people whose flesh is bringing in the money for the producers.  The compromise is to throw in a few “unpretty” people then make sure they are the ones who get thrown out first.

The dilemma the producers face here is how can they turn people against the contestants who do not help their late night wanker audience get their rocks off?


Turn the show into a version of the Stanford Prison Experiment with the housemates playing the role of “prisoners” and viewers in the role of “wardens” or “guards”.  If you read the experiment you will see the producers of Big Brother Australia are using the same methods that were used to create uncharacteristic behaviour in the subjects of that experiment.

The tasks, twists, rewards and punishments are all designed to elicit prisoner and guard type behaviour so the viewer will, like the researchers in that study did, start judging and trying to control “bad” people and support and reward “good” people.

There is a Big Brother unofficial site called “Behind Big Brother Australia” and it is one of the most unpleasant forums I have ever been to!  The people who regularly post are positively vicious towards all those involved in the show from the producers through to the people in the house but they are particularly vicious, at times, towards “outsiders” who post in the forum.

They appear to be a site that the producers of the show monitor very closely and I can’t help wondering if it is because these people are the real demographic the show is aiming to please.  It is on this site that you will find the most objection to changes to the Up Late segment of the show and, particularly, the censorship of adult material.

People on this site seem to have a fairly strong focus on sex.  One has a moving avatar of two stick figures having sex that results in them burning down to a pile of ashes.  After Gretel Killeen appeared on the show in a pair of trousers someone noticed her vaginal lips were outlined and they lampooned her in two photoshop pictures.

What were they doing looking that closely at that portion of her anatomy in the first place?

The forum is filled with people demanding the producers stop focusing on appearances but what they seem to want more than anything else is 24 hour uncensored access to the house and the people in it!

They are settling for vicious character assassinations of all people involved in the show.

The researchers in the Stanford prison experiment found that all participants, including the researchers themselves, became more and more sadistic, callous, and unethical.  Big Brother producers, together with many of the show’s viewers, appear to be doing the same.

I wonder how many ex “inmates” are asking “Why?  Why did they make people hate me and how did they do it so easily?”

As for me, I can’t help asking questions too.  What is this doing to the public who are now acting as sadistic, callous, executioners of these people’s characters and reputations?

For all his perceptive insight into the machinations of the show even The Eye was suckered into performing a thoroughly nasty character assassination on one of the inmates – Emma.

The most alarming thing of all for me is that I have been guilty of adopting the “warden” mentality and have wanted “inmates” to be punished, and punished harshly, too!

It seems the only ones who can resist are those who don’t watch!  I think perhaps it’s time I became one of those people.

One Comment

  • sw22

    Hi Kim,

    For a long time I was trying to find an answer to why something as appalling as BB was on tv.
    As a fellow believer, I could never fathom why BB appealled to people, however I think that as the love of the greater number cools off, we will see people becoming more and more brutal and base.
    I was horrified when the latest BB ad shows gretel kaleen as a Noah type figure and the house mates ( inmates ) as the animals going into an ark.
    Youve probably seen the worst of human behaviour so maybe this makes more sense to you. I look at stuff with eyes of faith, where as most people see only with physical eyes.
    I can see humanity degrading in front of me – how much longer before all the satanic influence has its full impact and God removes His restraint?
    Thank you for your explanation – I think you had the right approach – stay away from the satanic moral abyss of BB.

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