Reality TV has a diversity problem. This isn’t an opinion; it’s a fact. Since the beginning of the genre, reality television has relied on tired and borderline offensive stereotypes to gain and keep their viewership. This has changed over the years, but there still seems to be a status quo of corporations that profit off of rage, drama and intense emotional reactions. Although it’s true that the type of anger that reality TV evokes can entertain, for the people at the butt of the joke, it can be harmful and devastating.
Although reality TV as a whole has a problem, today I want to examine one of the pioneers of reality TV — “Big Brother.” For all intents and purposes, in this article I will talk about the United States version of “Big Brother.” Since its inception in 1999, “Big Brother” has been riddled with controversy and has had a history of promoting stereotypical behavior from its contestants. In U.S. “Big Brother’s” 21 traditional seasons, two celebrity seasons and one online season (a total of 24 seasons throughout 20 years), there have been only four winners of color. In other words, 74 % of U.S. “Big Brother” winners have been white.
While you may not immediately see this as problematic, think of it in terms of this: “Big Brother” presents itself as a social experiment, a sort of microcosm of our society. While some may think of almost 75 % white winners as representative of our society, I do not. Especially in the United States, there is a vast, diverse pool of cultures to celebrate, and to limit and conceal that because of uncomfortability is wherein the problem lies.
One of the things that I believe is crucial to diversify shows like “Big Brother” is proper casting. As a longtime “Big Brother” fan, I’ve become tired of the same type casting and stereotypes where the outcome seems inevitably aimed toward giving the minority contestants little to no chance to win the game. On average, the cast of “Big Brother” usually consists of 70 % white people (Southerners mostly, maybe some New Englanders), one or two black people, one gay person, one older person (older than 35), and maybe one or two other minorities. The problem that occurs is when they cast so many alike people, the alike contestants are bound to flock together. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it gives the minority players a slim chance to immerse themselves in the experience and perpetuates a culture of “othering” or exclusion. It may not be deliberate, but the optics are deafening.
A prime example of this is in the most recent season of “Big Brother.” Jackson Michie, the eventual winner of the season, was picked as Camp Director during the first week of the game. As Camp Director, he decided to banish three minorities as well as the older person in the game. Those three minorities eventually became collateral damage and were evicted within the first few weeks. When questioned about the optics of three minority players’ eviction right after the other, Michie claimed that he “didn’t see race.” The problem with a statement like that is it misses the point entirely. Minorities don’t have the luxury of not seeing race. They are constantly reminded of it.
Diversity should not present stereotypes and exclude people just because they happen to be different from you. Diversity should provide all cultures a platform to thrive and share what they know with the world. In the world of reality TV, this may seem like a difficult task, but I’ve seen the potential for it and believe in the progress that our society can make.
Bryanna Miller is a third-year student majoring in media and culture. CH923621@wcupa.edu