Mourning Big Brother and the exposure of social prejudice


The late Big Brother exposed a good deal of media and cultural snobbery.

Last week, a BBC Radio5Live presenter was unbelievably patronising to his listeners who called to support Big Brother (and the 3.7million who watched the last show).

I am not ashamed to admit that I believe Big Brother played a vitally important social role in exposing underlying prejudice in society.

Indeed, I would go so far as to say that, through the years, Big Brother not only entertained me and my children, but it enabled us to address subjects that we may not otherwise have discussed.

I am not referring to Celebrity Big Brother here. I am talking about the show that featured ‘normal’ people.

Mind you, by winning the celebrity show as a mere ‘normal’ person in 2006, Chantelle Houghton (I admit to relying on Wikipedia here), famously exposed the celebrities as the shallow, sub-normal people most of them really are.

So why was the ‘normal’ Big Brother both entertaining and socially important?

And why do I believe that the world Big Brother exposed was important not only to my children and me, but also to all of us whose livelihoods depend on understanding and influencing human behaviour?

Well, frankly, and this is an interesting social observation in itself, each series of Big Brother inevitably included at least one person who we would not normally meet, either in the course of our day-to-day personal lives or in the focus groups on which we depend so much (or, should I say, ‘we depend too much’?).

Typically, these people do not fall into the demographic profiles of those whose behaviour we seek to influence. They are off of our radar, off the wall and, often, off their heads. They are different – from us and from each other. That’s what makes them so interesting.

Call me closseted, but until I ‘met’ Pete Bennett on Big Brother, also in 2006, I had never met anyone with Tourette’s Syndrome. But I’m glad I go to know him and was delighted he won the show.

Call me naïve, but I had never come across a Portuguese transsexual like Nadia Almada who, on the recent ‘Ultimate Big Brother’, attracted transphobic comments from another contestant for which he was removed from the show.

Call me illiterate, but I’m not sure I would have known what the word ‘transphobic’ meant until I researched this post so diligently.

Call me a snob but most of my personal friends and professional contacts know there was a bloke called William Shakespeare, they don’t think East Anglia is abroad and it probably wouldn’t cross their minds to say: “Posh and Becks named their baby Brooklyn because he was conceived there. What am I going to call my baby? Jacuzzi?”.

There are lots of other examples. Google them, Bing them, Wiki them, whatever.

My serious point is this.

Almost without exception, the Big Brother contestants, when their true nature was revealed during the course of the show, were different from the way my kids and I perceived them when they first entered the house.

This is a very important lesson for us all. When we meet people, we label them, we make instant judgements and it takes time to discover what they are really like.

It is like this in marketing and communications.

We can develop all the consumer research, test marketing, strategic thinking and creative brilliance in the world, but we never know for sure how people are going to behave.

And it is always worth bearing this in mind.

Thank you Big Brother.

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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