Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Monday 4 January 2016

Celebrity Big Brother 2016 - Reality TV and the Cult of Celebrity

Reality TV isn’t a new thing. The general public has been appearing on our screens for a long time. There’s a reason for that, and the reason is that people make cheap television. Get a handful of the public on the goggle box doing something daft, and the budget for a half hour show can be next to nothing. Big names are expensive, and drama is expensive, but people are cheap.

I always think that Reality TV as we know it, which is why I’ve given it capitals, began in the UK in 2000 with the first British series of Big Brother on Channel 4. At the time, and thinking that it was an interesting social experiment, I was intrigued. Of course, it turned out to be a bit of a freak show, although the first series was positively tame by comparison to what came later.

The genre took off, and Reality TV is a wall-to-wall phenomenon. Turn on the TV at any time of the day or night, and it’s possible to tune in to some form of Reality TV; every station has a show… several shows, and every format has been milked. TOWIE spawned Made in Chelsea, then Geordie Shore. Castaway spawned shows like Shipwrecked. There is a plethora of dating reality shows, and I’ve lost count of the talent shows, everything from Pop-Stars and Pop Idol to X-Factor, the Voice and Britain’s Got Talent.

Back in the day, putting the public on the TV made them famous for the duration of the show, and, in their home towns, for a week or two after the show aired. Back in the day, the day being 1968, Andy Warhol wrote, In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes in the catalogue for one of his exhibitions. Interestingly, at that time, the idea wasn’t a new one. A Canadian philosopher called Marshal McLuhan may have got in ahead of Warhol, not to mention the English, who have been using the phrase A nine days’ wonder since the fourteenth century.

Of course many of the thousands of people who have taken part in Reality TV shows since 2000 were only famous for fifteen minutes, or days, weeks or perhaps months. Then there are the others… those that for some reason we liked more, or who wanted it more. Some of the ordinary people plucked from obscurity to take part in Reality TV shows over the past fifteen years became celebrities.

Reality TV became very successful, so successful, in fact, that there have been close to four hundred shows aired in the UK in the past fifteen years that fit the criteria. Reality TV makes money. This cheap format is a money maker, and it is popular. It began to turn previously anonymous citizens into stars.

We all know what happened next. Someone had the bright idea of making celebrity versions of Reality TV shows. If Reality TV could make stars out of nobodies, how much more interesting would it be with celebrities at its heart?

You might think that no right-thinking celebrity would ever want to take part in a Reality TV show, but, clearly, you’d be wrong… and so would I. Apparently, agents had no problems persuading their celebrities to take payment for all manner of humiliation when it came to big ratings on Reality TV shows. If those shows could make stars out of Joe Public, imagine what they could do for celebrities whose careers were waning.

For the production companies who’d needed to fill their shows with cheap bodies at the outset, the money didn't matter any more, because the format was proven. Reality TV was profitable.

Crikey! That was one hell of a preamble.

Daniella Westbrook, Gemma Collins and Kristina Rihanoff
This is what the Independent had to say about the CBB line-up
Yesterday, I read the Sunday papers, and because it’s New Year, and I’m in a good mood, I didn’t want to crash in on a Monday with a heavy blog. I skipped through the news and landed on the entertainment pages. The headlines were devoted to the latest run of Celebrity Big Brother

Big Brother has been running for sixteen years. This is its seventeenth season, except that some years there has been more than one run, because of the celebrity editions. I don’t know how many shows or casts there have been, but it’s been a lot. I’m not a regular watcher of the show, and I haven’t been for a long time. It makes me rather tense watching something as unpredictable as caged people and their personal interactions unfolding in difficult circumstances, manipulated by the production company, and often under duress. It doesn’t entertain me. I realise that it does entertain a lot of people. I know that viewers like, admire and relate to a lot of the contestants that appear on Reality TV shows. It’s all good. It might not be for me, but I make no judgement.

The big reveal for all of the celebrity Reality TV shows is, of course, the line-up of stars that is going to appear in the program, and that’s what I saw in yesterday’s paper.

Celebrity Big Brother 2016 has sixteen contestants going into the Big Brother house, including several that I have never heard of, but I presume must be famous. 

Here’s the list:

Winston McKenzie
Christopher Maloney
Nancy Dell’Olio
Tiffany Pollard
John Partridge
Megan McKenna
Angie Bowie
Daniella Westbrook
Scotty T
David Gest
Kristina Rihanoff
Jonathan Cheban
Darren Day
Jeremy McConnell
Stephanie Davis
Gemma Collins

These people have in common that they are all celebrities, it's right there in the title of the show… OK, I don’t know who half of them are, but I’m not the target audience for this program. I do know that Winston McKenzie is a politician of sorts, that Nancy Dell’Olio was a lawyer, that Angie Bowie was once married to David Bowie, that Daniella Westbrook was an actor, that David Gest was married to Liza Minelli, that Kristina Rihanoff is a dancer and that Darren Day was once a singer with a pop band. 

So, of the people I recognise, only two of them have a current status, a politician and a dancer, and Kristina Rihanoff is a professional on another Reality TV show, Strictly Come Dancing. I assume that Winston McKenzie is hoping to look like a good guy in order to improve his chances at the next Mayoral election in London. I wonder whether that’s horribly cynical of me, or of him.

Of the guests I recognise, Nancy Dell’Olio has appeared on the Reality TV show Strictly Come Dancing; Daniella Westbrook has appeared on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here and Dancing on Ice; David Gest has appeared on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, as a guest judge on Soapstar Superstar, as a judge on Grease is the Word and on Come Dine with Me; Darren Day has also appeared on Come Dine with Me.

That’s an awful lot of Reality Television.

Of the remaining contestants, Christopher Maloney is a former X-Factor finalist, so we’re back with Reality TV again. Tiffany Pollard is an American Reality TV star, appearing on Flavor of Love (1 and 2), I Love New York (1, 2 and 3), New York Goes to Hollywood and New York Goes to Work… Oh for goodness sake! Thank goodness for the actor John Partridge, famous for his role in EastEnders! Megan McKenna is from the Reality TV show Ex On the Beach, which I’d never heard of. Scotty T is from Reality TV show Geordie Shore. Jonathan Cheban is a friend of Reality TV star Kim Kardashian and appeared in the Reality TV shows Keeping up with the Kardashians, Kourtney and Kim Take New York, Kourtney and Kim Take Miami and Kourtney and Khloé Take the Hamptons, and yes, the words you are looking for are, Oh good grief! Jeremy McConnell is a former Mr Ireland, who appears not to have his own wikipedia page, which makes me wonder whether he qualifies as even remotely known, never mind a celebrity. I believe that he might also go by Jeremy McConnell Cooke, and if this is the same man, he appeared in a Reality TV show called Beauty School Cop Outs on MTV in 2013. I am now extremely grateful for the actor Stephanie Davis, who is a Hollyoaks star. I don’t watch the show, but at least this girl does something that looks like a real job… No, wait, her character was axed in September last year.The last person on the list is Gemma Collins of TOWIE. She also appeared in the Reality TV show Splash and, famously in I’m a Celebrity, which she endured for a grand total of 72 hours.

I suppose, my question is this: At what point will Reality Television disappear up its own fundament?

If the latest run of Celebrity Big Brother is anything to go by, Reality Television has become an enterprise all its own, a kind of factory system, an odd sort of revolving door.

Step 1: Put the public on Reality Television shows.
Step 2: See who grows as a star.
Step 3: Get these budding celebs as many tv gigs, interviews and ads as possible.
Step 4: Get them exposure, attached to clothing lines and hooked up with other celebs.
Step 5: Put them on Celebrity Reality Television shows.

I like to admire people. I like to take an interest, but I like to have something to take an interest in. Youth and beauty are not virtues, and neither is exposure.

Give me a great actor or musician, give me a raconteur or a polymath, give me a scientist, a historian or someone who genuinely makes me laugh… All of these kinds of people have something to offer, and most of what they have to offer has come through hard work, preparation, diligence, struggle… Looking good and being in the right place at the right time just isn’t enough, I’m afraid.

The really odd thing is that in other worlds, and in other circumstances, some of these people could and should be really good at something. I understand that Nancy Dell’Olio is a hugely intelligent woman, so I wonder why she’s chosen this route. Perhaps she enjoys the attention or the money, or perhaps there’s a vulnerability about her that I fail to see. I don’t know. It’s interesting to contrast her with the other famous wife. Angie Bowie seems to have worked hard her entire life, but perhaps her talents are limited, since her successes have been meagre. Sadly, Angie Bowie’s wiki page reads like a long list of failures, when she might have expected her name, her face and her address book to lead her somewhere more fulfilling than the Big Brother House. I don’t see that any of this diminishes her value as a person, though. She might be a wonderful woman, kind, generous and lovely. I wonder what it is that drives her ambitious to be famous, to be loved by people who don’t even know her, or to be known for something… for almost anything.

I’m sure that Celebrity Big Brother 2016 will find its audience, and I’m sure that those who watch it will enjoy the experience. Being a celebrity appears to be a job title without a qualifier, and the job of this kind of celebrity appears to be appearing on celebrity versions of the Reality Television shows that spawned them in the first place. 

I can’t help thinking that this list of celebrities signals a turning point for Reality TV, and perhaps even sounds its death knell. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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