astern: illustration from Lane Smith and Dr Seuss's HOORAY FOR DIFFENDOOFER DAY (Default)
Amy Stern ([personal profile] astern) wrote2010-08-13 10:38 pm

I'm itching to reread 1984 right now.


I've talked before (well, I can't find it, but I swear I have) about the Big Brother voice and its role in both production and the show. The voice is pre-recorded (I believe it's Don Wollman, one of the producers) and it has a set list of phrases. First it mentions who it's addressing (one or two names, or else a general HOUSEGUESTS) and then it gives an instruction, direction, or reprimand: PLEASE GO TO THE DIARY ROOM, or STOP THAT, or PLEASE ADJUST YOUR MICROPHONE, or IT IS TIME TO GET UP FOR THE DAY. It shows up constantly on the feeds, but to my memory has only happened on the show whenever someone is on the verge of getting removed from the house, or- in this season- when they're giving the saboteur his task.

Basically, despite the show's title and the entire construct that these people are monitored 24/7, the show tries to be as "natural" as possible. (I mean, that's true for all reality shows, but it's more striking on Big Brother, because part of the appeal for shows like Survivor is the idea that these people are alone in the jungle, whereas the appeal of BB is that these people are living in a panopticon.) As transitions between scenes, they'll show cameras on the wall rotating slowly, but during the actual scenes they're virtually invisible except as background decor.

So the main fascination for me with the sabotage twist this season is that they're invoking the voice on the actual show. On the live feeds, the voice isn't treating Ragan any differently from any of the other houseguests, but because on the show he's the only one who gets explicitly called to the DR, it makes his situation seem special, and it makes him seem more like a powerful force. It also gives the illusion of the audience being invited behind the scenes. (An illusion that feed viewers know is false, but let's be honest, feed viewers know 90% of the show is false, and that's part of the enjoyment.)

The only time the producers let the television audience hear the Big Brother voice when it's to remind them- remind us, I should say- of the constructs of the show. Which raises the question for me of what exactly it's TRYING to be. With a few exceptions (e.g. Garry Shandling's Show), scripted filmed programs don't acknowledge the presence of the invisible fourth wall the way plays have to. And since Survivor, basically all reality shows avoid showing the other camera people, aiming for a documentary feel rather than Cops. The explicit presence of cameras emphasizes the fact that these people's behavior is altered by the fact that they're being recorded- BUT THAT'S THE POINT OF BIG BROTHER.

So it's this weird simultaneous hide-and-show where the audience is both included and excluded from this exclusive club. Which is both really confusing to think about, and really, really cool.