There has been much public backlash about the comments some of the “Big Brother 15″ contestants have made while in the house, most notably against Aaryn Gries, the young woman from Texas.
She has been heard on the live feeds making racist remarks about both the black contestants and the Korean contestant and homophobic slurs against the gay contestant. And while obviously the things she says are hurtful and wrong, it does not mean we should be boycotting “Big Brother,” like houseguest Candice Stewart’s mom is calling for.
First of all, “Big Brother’s” ratings have been in a steady decline for years. It’s an aging show, plus the summer months are no longer a TV wasteland. More competition means less viewers. All a boycott is going to do is kill the show off that much faster.
If that’s your goal, then fine. But if you’re a fan of the show, boycotting is not the answer. In fact, calling for these houseguests’ removal from the show is not the answer either.
The whole point of “Big Brother” is that it’s a social experiment meets a competition show. It’s unlike other reality competition shows because it happens while it airs and viewers can have 24/7 access to the house (minus competitions and ceremonies that do not air on the live feeds).
The point is to have unfettered access to people who have mostly forgotten they’re on a TV show and that’s exactly what we’re getting. Sure, it’s ugly. But admit it — the drama is one reason we watch this show. Do we tune in specifically for race-based drama? No. But CBS casts people who will have friction and cause drama and that’s exactly what we got.
Do we think CBS either planned for or could have prevented this season’s ugliness? No. We really doubt that at any point in the casting process, CBS is so forward as to ask contestants, “Are you racist?” We further doubt that any contestant (even one who is making fun of the minorities in the house) would answer, “Why yes, I am.”
This is an incredibly hard thing to screen for, mostly because nobody ever really thinks they’re racist. You’ve heard it yourself if you watch the live feeds — Aaryn doesn’t think she’s done anything wrong. She has actually declared, “I’m not racist.”
So, CBS could not have prevented this (or purposely looked for it). But once someone is in the game, he or she is free to say whatever he or she wants. That’s free speech. Other than a few things, like yelling, “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater, people are pretty much free to say whatever they want in this country.
Which also means we’re free to report about and condemn said statements.
Let’s not forget that this is nothing new, either. Some of this year’s contestants are some of the worst offenders we’ve seen, but let’s not act like past contestants on this show have been perfect angels. Remember Jeff Schroeder and his rants against gay people?
We also don’t think CBS is in any way condoning the contestants’ statements by keeping them on the show. CBS has actually gone out of its way to make it clear the network doesn’t condone the actions or statements made by Aaryn or GinaMarie or whomever.
Frankly, we think both CBS and the media could do a better job of drawing attention to the other comments that have happened in the house. Yes, racism is bad, but hate speech is hate speech, so where are the segments about the use of gay slurs? Where are the segments about Spencer and Jeremy freely tossing around the c-word in reference to the female contestants? As a woman, their attitudes toward my gender offend me.
One may argue that these other comments haven’t affected the game, which was Julie Chen’s explanation for why CBS finally aired the racial stuff. But we would argue they had the perfect opportunity to address the misogyny when Jeremy wiped his bare butt with Elissa’s hat. And the contestants have talked about gay rights — they could easily have edited a package about how the use of the f-word affects gay contestant Andy.
Aaryn has really become the face of this scandal and while she is definitely saying some ugly things in the house, she’s not the only one. If you’re going to air the ugliness, let’s be fair about it.
Finally, it’s not as if these people will go unpunished. We’ve seen their employers drop them from contracts, fire them, or release statements condemning their comments. Plus, they are going to be in for a very rude awakening when they exit the “Big Brother” house — it’s certainly not the type of fame they were looking for, we would imagine.
Honestly, I think keeping these people in the house for all the world to see is actually a good thing. Racism and homophobia and misogyny are major problems in our society, so a living, breathing example of how it’s not just your 80-year-old grandpa making these comments is drawing attention to the fact that it still exists and is hurtful and unacceptable.
Aaryn (or GinaMarie or Spencer) may not be out committing hate crimes, and that’s great, but hate speech is hate speech. There are plenty of ways to talk about someone you dislike without bring his or her race, sexual orientation or gender into it. Plenty of ways.
Demanding they be ousted from the house flies completely in the face of the point of “Big Brother” and calling for a boycott will just hurt the show.
As fans, we should be excited that this season isn’t boring and we should hope that this opens the eyes of the contestants (and viewers) to the fact that such comments aren’t funny or acceptable.
“Big Brother” airs Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday nights on CBS.