The captivator of nations, the television show known as Big Brother, is apparently returning again to our Finnish altars of infotainment this autumn. What an original subject to pick for writing, don’t you think? I know, whoop-de-flippin’-doo. Let’s bring the obvious and the mundane to the table before we rant any further. To simply criticize and belittle the program format as trash is useless and frankly – outdated. To use possibly questionable metaphors: it would be just as useful to kick around the rotting corpse of a dead rat, which has at least been left alone by the maggots. The festering thing isn’t getting much more horrible, but there will always be a considerable group wasting their time and attention by staring at it anyway. We all have some kind of an image of the TV-show, so let’s leave it at that. My mission is much more specific. I want to point out how the show disgracefully and frighteningly rapes its namesake model.
Big Brother – as a term and an entity – is not the invention of twisted network executives or television producers. The concept was created or at least made popular by English journalist-writer Eric Arthur Blair – better known by his pseudonym, George Orwell – in his classic novel 1984, which was first published in 1949. In the novel, Big Brother is the omniscient and omnipotent leader of the world, who rules and controls everything through numerous intermediaries. He is physically and especially mentally present in every home, at every workplace and on every street. If you try to resist him, he may tolerate you for a given time, before you are forced back in line or disposed of. That’s if you’re lucky and not worth anything else to him. If you are actively strong in your resistance, you will be subjected to your worst nightmares, until you break down and return to the flock. Afterwards, you will not only be killed, but every mention of you throughout your personal history will be erased. Permanent records, mentions in the local newspaper – everything wiped out. You are not just dead, but to the outside world at large, you never even existed. Even though Orwell’s Big Brother is a heinous and terrifying concept, it is damned impressive by nature. It demands and deserves weak-kneed respect and bombastic characterization.
The television program carrying the same name has watered down Orwell’s enormous concept into a robotic voice dealing out game show missions and ridiculously soft punishments to the bottom scrapings of our gene pool. The “antagonists” are scolded in soft armchairs. Where, pray tell me, are the steel helmets and excruciating electrical shocks? Lawsuits have been raised due to false advertising on lighter grounds than this lame crap. Talking about any level of respect in connection with the ruler of this television show is pure sacrilege. What really enrages me is that if you went out to the street right now to ask a hundred random people, “What is the first thing you think of when you hear the words Big Brother”, I’d be pleasantly surprised if one of them proudly said something directly concerning Orwell. As a huge fan of the man’s literary work and ideas, this situation is frustrating to say the least.
This unfortunate rehash of Big Brother contains another concerning issue, which may seem slightly ridiculous to most, but is one that I consider with the gravest states of mind. The TV-program can cement itself into the heads of the Joe and Jill Schmoes out there as a piece of brainless entertainment, something amusing and possibly relaxing. People get used to it, they spend time watching it and maybe even enjoy the process, I’m afraid. Big Brother can even become an everyday companion. In a perverted, voyeuristic way, people may grow to love Big Brother. This is frightening.
Why is that? Is it anything more than a cultural pseudo-elitist thinking that the ways he/she spends his/her time are so much better and trying to mock the rest with flimsy reasoning? I don’t think so. Why I see it as frightening is because the people loving the show are at the heart of it reacting just as the masses are told to in 1984. The novel’s governing party that uses Big Brother as a massive facade in order to keep the people submissive wants everybody to love Big Brother. The party wants everyone to be attentive and obedient when Big Brother deals out the news, orders and propaganda of the day through the scores of speakers and telescreens that are spread everywhere. This is reality here and now, people. Sure, it’s still in a relatively small-scale and easily consumable form, as the subjects of totalitarianism are the clowns on the other side of the screen. You can still laugh at them, just like you could be laughing now as I dish out these worn-out predictions of impending doom.
If Eric Arthur Blair was still alive at the ripe age of 105, would he laugh and if so, what for? What would be his reaction if he knew how his very serious symbol of tyranny had been turned into the head of a repulsive freak show? If I was to take a wild guess based on reading works both by and about him, he would let out a dry and distinctly British chuckle for the sake of humanity, which would be followed by the eerily cold ripples of prophecy coming closer to fulfilment. In 2008, Big Brother is an entertaining commodity in the minds of the masses, a thing not to be afraid of. If you feel like laughing, please do so now, while it’s still quite harmless. For now, the screens are only directing their orders to the other side, not us. We are safe. For now.