Saturday, July 08, 2006

BB goes off the boil

As T S Eliot says, human kind cannot bear very much reality (Burnt Norton) , and he was of course thinking of BB 7 and Love Island (not Celebrity Love Island, as we shall see).

Big Brother, despite the media hysteria it has engendered, has singularly failed so far to drum up any great enthusiasm in its audience. Watercooler television it is not. You can imagine the producers find this hard to believe: have they not provided madness, surgery-enhanced breasts, screaming fits, and various near-couplings? Well, yes, and more than enough. But BB has also overpacked the house with too many too similar people, and by the tedious and unoriginal second house concept has meant that we still have almost as many inmates as we started with. The main interest as the series develops is usually the interplay between tensions within the house leading to nominations, and then the judgement of the public on those chosen. BB has ridden roughshod over both elements, and there is much less interest in watching the arbitrary acts of an absolute tyrant. Nevertheless, BB has proved a ratings juggernaut, presumably because its target audience, the young, are too lazy, drunk, drugged or stupid to consider doing anything other than watching.

It remains to be seen whether Love Island urges them to turn over. I hope not, but that’s probably because I find the prurience of promoting on-screen sex as the sole purpose for a show distasteful. It is by now established that any discussion of Celebrity programmes must include a joke about Z listers, but I shall break that rule and instead provide a catalogue raisonee of my classification of celebrities:

A superstars whose fame and influence is so great that they can use it to succeed in fields far divorced from their initial area of success (ie Arnie moves from bodybuilding through barely coherent acting to running the world’s fifth biggest economy)
B stars who rule their chosen realm but fail when they move outside it (Neil Young filmmaker, Bob Dylan actor)
C stars who have had a varied career but are mainly associated with one key role (most of the cast of The Bill who started off in soaps)
D stars whose fame is based solely on their one major role (one-hit-wonders)
E other actors (etc) who wouldn’t be famous at all if were not for their extracurricular activities (I’m sure no-one would remember Daniella Westbrook at all if she hadn’t dissolved her nose in cocaine)
F other actors who never made it to fame
G people associated peripherally with F-listers (glamour models, promotion models)
H lovers and children of stars, who achieve fame due to media notoriety
I lovers and children of near stars who achieve fame due to media notoriety
J lovers and children who never achieve fame
K relatives of J listers

This makes some sort of sense to me. So, let’s look at the Love Island line-up. By my count, the highest anyone can get is D (ex-reality), with most in G-H. In some ways this hardly matters, if the series is seen as reality. There is however something much more interesting about Celebrity reality, because it gives an unusual view of people who have an established public persona already. People may well have suspected previously that George Galloway was a pompous bully, or Michael Barrymore was a needy paranoid, or Faria Alam was a manipulative self-publicist, but now they could test this perception, and find out, well, that they were right.

ITV are desperate to turn Love Island into the hit of the summer, having seen their audience, and advertising revenue falling for years. In the absence of positive press (you might say that since the filming is so remote, there was no prospect of bargaining by granting better access), they have persuaded a producer to blog for the Guardian.
The live reality plays directly into my office and I watch as the celebrity stand-ins getting ready for bed. Two snuggle up and I try to imagine how much more interesting it will be when the real celebs are in there in less than a week's time.

Not more interesting at all. And what do you mean, ‘real celebs’? My basic definition of a celebrity is someone you recognize without being told who they area. These you don’t recognise even after you’ve been told.

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