Celebrity Big Brother: Give or take a porn star, it’s the perfect storm

The fame-hungry are desperate enough to take part, and we’re desperate enough watch them

Kirstie Alley enters the house during the Celebrity Big Brother Launch Night at Elstree Studios, Hertfordshire. Photograph: Ian West/PA Wire

Kirstie Alley enters the house during the Celebrity Big Brother Launch Night at Elstree Studios, Hertfordshire. Photograph: Ian West/PA Wire

 

Be prepared, Celebrity Big Brother (3e, Thursday, 9pm) warned us, “for flashing images, highly offensive language and sexual themes”.

And yet somehow the long-rumoured appearance of Stormy Daniels never took place. This was surprising, because the 22nd iteration of this fame-hungry surveillance series is so transparently modelled around her image, a buzzing neon pleasure pit. (Later, as the torpid opening night of its red-carpet arrivals entered its long, slow, messy end stage, the warning notice adapted to alert us to “gender and sexual themes”. Offended by gender? Never mind the show’s dubious celebrity threshold, now even the bar for provocation has been lowered.)

To be honest, the non-appearance of Stormy Daniels comes as something of a relief. Sure, the flashing “XXX” signs daubing a revamped, gaudily Americanised Big Brother compound now make no sense at all, but at least the Mueller Inquiry doesn’t need to watch it. That it might have is a sobering reminder that this is now the world we live in. Life doesn’t imitate art, it imitates bad television, and Big Brother is partly responsible.

The living area in the new Celebrity Big Brother house in which the show’s contestants will reside. Photograph: Bart Pajak/Channel 5
The living area in the new Celebrity Big Brother house in which the show’s contestants will reside. Photograph: Bart Pajak/Channel 5

This series has been given a title, Eye of the Storm, which our Jedward-haired host Emma Willis, vamping through the live broadcast to save her life, explained as a theme to accommodate the notoriety of each and every new housemate.

I have to confess to having fallen behind on my reading lately, and so failed to recognise most of them, but I’d venture that the inclement weather metaphor may have been stretched.

True, Nick Leeson, the trader who broke Baring’s Bank, and the actress Kirstie Alley, by sheer force of personality, both count as hurricanes. But the amiable soap opera actor and tax cheat Ryan Thomas, the recidivist drunk driver and footballer Jermaine Pennant, the alarmingly proportioned cosmetic surgery addict Rodrigo Alves, and the bluff psychic Sally Morgan collectively barely make for a squall.

As for the others, all located somewhere on the meniscus of the media bubble, their store of infamy amounts to a light drizzle.

In a world where a reality TV star now has access to both the nuclear codes and a Twitter account, it may be an act of sly self-reference for the show that started it all to recreate the White House within the Big Brother goldfish bowl.

Here the genial Alley, who gamely introduces herself to everyone and patiently asks for their names, is immediately appointed President by an unseen meddling power, while the public is asked to elect her VP. This, we understand, will prove to be a position of influence, and the candidates could use it, all here for career rehabilitation or public redemption.

Contestant Ben Jardine arrives at the house as the reality show ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ starts. Photograph: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Contestant Ben Jardine arrives at the house as the reality show ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ starts. Photograph: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

If there is a “gender issue” so far it is how neatly the men can be catalogued as aggressors and betrayers, the women as victims and the betrayed. Dan Osborne and Ben Jardine are both reality TV stars and tabloid-annointed “love rats”, and even the witty comedian Hardeep Singh Kohli enters under the pall of being suspended from the BBC for inappropriate behaviour towards a female colleague.

The model Chloe Ayling’s fame, meanwhile, is founded on having been a kidnap victim (and being forced to deny it was staged), while the actress Roxanne Pallett was very recently involved in a car crash (in which, I read, she sprained her wrists). Pallett, given to impulsive action, all but promises to breakdown in advance, and Willis asks her fiancé, engaged a week after they met, how that will look. “I don’t know,” he says. Well, they only just met.

You have to wonder, though, what this is enabling. What draws someone like Alley, who has experienced both the constraints of rehab and Scientology, or Leeson, who served time in prison, or Aylin, fresh from her kidnapping ordeal, to seek out further confinement?

Contestant Chloe Ayling arrives at the house as the reality show ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ starts, in Elstree, near London. August 16th, 2018. Photograph: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Contestant Chloe Ayling arrives at the house as the reality show ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ starts, in Elstree, near London. August 16th, 2018. Photograph: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Contestant after contestant enters Big Brother with the same mantra: they just want to be themselves. But, with this desire for public scrutiny, what self do they actually have? “Gabby took performing arts at a university in Malaysia,” Willis tells us. “Roxanne doesn’t eat fish because she believes in mermaids,” she says. Are these insights there to help endear them to us, or to make us feel superior?

The lesson of Big Brother is actually that we are dreadfully compatible, that reality television has changed our reality through an endlessly more desperate combination of what the fame hungry are willing to do, and what we are willing to watch. Give or take a porn star, it is the perfect storm.