Celebrity Big Brother theme of ‘year of the woman’ rings hollow
Show hasn’t shed its skin – it’s still the Stanford Prison Experiment of reality telly
India Willoughby entering the Celebrity Big Brother House on Tuesday. Photograph: Tim Whitby/Getty Images
It’s a new year and even Celebrity Big Brother is trying a bit of self-improvement. It’s not just a place where an ex-Apprentice contestant auditions for a media career or where desperate politicians attempt to appear like humans, it’s not Jackie Stallone popping in out of nowhere to terrorise Brigitte Nielsen or George Galloway squeezing into a shiny leotard or Pete Burns’s iconic gorilla coat being arrested.
Now it’s about having a discourse with its viewers, igniting highbrow debates rather than sparking Ofcom investigations.
This time around it’s trying to give off an air of sophistication like a woke undergrad home for the holidays swanning about with a copy of The Beauty Myth tucked under their arm and badly rolled cigarettes in their pockets.
Instead of its usual, blatant headline-grabbing tendencies like shoving in a contestant that had an affair with a dribbling Premier League thicko, this year its trolling is thinly concealed under a provocative “message”. The theme of the show for 2018, is “the year of the woman” with an all-female line-up to acknowledge the 100-year anniversary of women winning the right to vote in the United Kingdom. Which, to go on past Big Brother behaviour, is a bit like those fast-fashion sites that sell “The Future is Female” slogan T-shirts made by women slaving in sweatshops – there’s a certain hollowness or cynicism that clangs out from their positive proclamation.
“If I was to actually go in, this would be the year I’d do it,” host Emma Willis bleats to every single contestant as if trying to convince herself that this is a worthwhile social exercise rather than the stuff Katie Hopkins’s hate-filled dreams are made of.
Naming the bedrooms after suffragettes or trilling on about “Girl Power” and “Strong women” doesn’t erase the air of manipulation, the desire to turn it into a callow cat fight where the semantics of feminism are ripped open over cheap chardonnay and Kettle Chips. It’s a golden opportunity for Rod Liddle and his crew of bros to chuff “so much for the sisterhood!” in countless redundant think-pieces.
It’s the transparent plot to have notorious conservative Christian Ann Widdecombe bunk alongside outspoken trans newsreader India Willoughby and for glamour girl Jess Impiazzi to endure the judgmental gaze of Daily Mail journalist Rachel Johnson, sister of Boris (who are rapidly becoming the Kardashians of the political world). It’s a month-long Twitter argument with ad breaks.
Although perhaps the preconceived hostilities and engineered controversy may never surface. The most incendiary Big Brother arguments usually occur naturally from the most mundane of beginnings, be it an opinion on a verruca, upset over mashed potatoes, or if you’re Kim Woodburn just by looking in her direction.
For all its trumpeting about how important this year is, Celebrity Big Brother hasn’t shed its skin, it’s still the Stanford Prison Experiment of reality telly, where you can witness the slow, agonising breakdown of a Hollyoaks cast member or watch an ex-boybander have an argument about bullying while dressed as a giant egg.
Hopefully it will turn out to be the most uneventful year yet although obviously, a harmonious house akin to Wonder Woman’s island is not what the producers have in mind, eagerly awaiting the addition of a man to the group (ex-footballer John Barnes) which will have turned the all-female utopia into some kind of glorified Lynx ad by the time you’re reading this. Welcome to 2018 where sisters are doing it for themselves but all under the unblinking eyes of the Big Brother patriarchy.