The most important thing I learned in grad school about disassembling stories and histories, as presented on the page or screen, is that clarifying context is the key to comprehension. In the last installment, I vowed to avoid all spoilers, and I have done well, but I must acknowledge one slip: Surprised at an article about racism in the Big Bro house, reported in my Facebook feed, by HuffPo, I read about Aaryn, GinaMarie, and Kaitlin’s ignorant, insensitive remarks. Due to this Hantzesque, transcendentally-epic reality footmark, I want to reiterate that my deconstruction of Big Brother is entirely based on what we are fed via the main shows. I am reading Big Brother as a book, not a live-fed, viral beast.
I bring it up because this unfortunate incident in the house has steered me in a pedagogically relevant direction, as I continue to harvest educative value from what many consider hollowed spectacle. Obviously, considering the context of a statement, interrogation, behavior, or specific action is less daunting in real time, than it is when watching an edited product like Big Brother, but it is still possible and worth doing. This brings me to the point: There are seven general ways to break down any story or account of truth, seven contexts of criticism. Last week, I dealt with archetypes, which fall within an intertextual criticism of Big Brother. Tackling the aforementioned racism noted on the shows live feeds falls under a culturally-historical criticism, as there is a need to dig into insidious prejudices of some Americans that continue to persist into ever younger generations. But until said occurrence appears on the main show, I digress. So, beyond considering the intertextuality and cultural worth of Big Brother as a piece of literature, one must also look to the form, audience-reaction, reflection of our true reality, and the many languages of show.
Lesson 2: Big Brother’s Authorial Intent
But first, let us delve into authorial intent, which is understanding what the author had hoped to relay, whether effective or not, and using that to inform the meaning and direction of the work. In this case, imagine Big Brother the author. Granted, the players are authors of their own destiny, but their very narrative existence is attributed to the contrivances of the game and production. In this analysis, there is little room for personal opinion, and only the purpose of the creator is pertinent. So, what is the story Big Brother is attempting to tell us so far?
Like the lonely bachelor Gepetto, Big Brother makes his own friends, and pulls the strings of all his little puppets. It is the rare puppet with the ability to tug back and meaningfully communicate with its creator. Big Brother is looking for the Pinocchios of the season, early on, because they’re the ones that will write the Forewards to subsequent seasons. In other words, the main character of a US Big Brother, winner or not, will be the most notable deceivers or deceived. This is evident by whom the audience remembers most from each season: 1. George 2. Dr. Will 3. Danielle 4. Jun 5. Cowboy 6. Janelle 7. Will/Janelle 8. Evil Dick 9. Crazy James 10. Britney 11. Jeff 12. Matt 13. Shelly 14. Frank. Not all are the winners, but the protagonist as written by the Authorial Big Brother is the character most capable of distorting reality for others, or the one most susceptible to the distortion. Neither are a traditional hero, but these figures have the most resonance. More often than not, the stereotypical bad guy proves the good guy through the lens of production because he or she is the one adding depth to the narrative.
The story of episode two directs the reader to which characters the author deems most rhetorically lucrative. Aaryn, Amanda and McCrae are the protagonists, according to what we are presented with in episode two. It also framed Nick, David, Jeremy, Howard, Elissa, and Jessie as the supporting cast, leaving the rest background players in the show.
The basis of the character placements is directly linked to the allotment of time each is presented in this episode. We are given far more Aaryn, Amanda and McCrae in this episode than anyone else. Aaryn and Amanda are at the top of the heap in terms of number of diary room entries and intimate scenes aired. Aaryn had the most talking heads during this episode with a whopping seven. Amanda had six, the same amount as David and Elissa, but Amanda was in twice the amount of scenes than they were combined. McCrae, though only pulling in four diary room spots, found himself in ten intimate scenes. Of course, the caveat with McCrae is his being HOH this week. It will be curious to see how much time he logs during the next reign.
So why are these more valuable characters appearing so often within the final cut of the main show?
With thirteen appearances Aaryn owned episode by fulfilling two reality show plotline essentials: burgeoning love and unhealed wounds. Aaryn is hot and bothered by David’s surfer-dudeness and the feeling is mutual. Significantly, it is Aaryn that is being portrayed the pursuer. David even admits the showmance he hoped for just fell in his lap with little to no effort. Getting in a showmance with David is win-win for Aaryn. He could easily dominate the challenges and make her time in the Big Brother house more comfortable and less stressful. In her wildest dream, he could be the Emmet to her Jillian. And even if their romance is perceived a threat, he is much more likely to be targeted before her. Once he is ousted, she can play the victim card, to boot. Aaryn needs David much more than he does her.
One of the highlights of the episode is the revelation of Elissa’s true identity snaking its way through the cognizance of the house. The unhealed wounds plot comes alive in Aaryn, when it turns out she is the one spreading the rumor most fervently. She is a shit-stirrer and clearly finds it an affront that Elissa has nepotistically made her way into the house. Her negative perception of Rachel, her unhealed wound, has fueled her gossiping and proved an unavoidable contagion for Elissa.
Amanda is also rocking the unhealed wounds plot, but hers proves a little more personal. Her attack on Jessie, when prompted by McCrae to dig into what the house is thinking, seemed primarily motivated by jealousy. She even notes her wishing to have Jessie’s posterior prowess. Amanda is the smart, bitter girl, used to being the second hottest, but hungry for the glory. She won’t rest until she is the hottest one in the house.
Finally, McCrae’s magic weaponry, doling out keys as HOH, sets him up as a prime character of the series, getting considerable playtime. With McCrae, the viewers are being fed a loss of innocence tale. From lowly Pizza Guy to the most powerful contestant on a primetime, soap-operatic game show provides ample fodder for a corruption tale. Although, McCrae does a pretty good job of not letting it go to his head and by the end of the episode it seems as though his plotline is more akin to a rite of passage formation. McCrae’s being HOH and laying down the first nominations has take him from outsider to a genuine player in the game. Had McCrae not been the first HOH , I think he could have been in trouble, but he has proved himself to the others by his stepping up to the task.
Of the supporting characters, I found Nick to be the most compelling. His ability to form The Moving Co. was impressive, but beyond defining his character as crafty and resourceful, there was little insinuation to how Nick will add to the story of the season. Indeed, it is arguable that the formation of tight alliances is one of the strongest deterrents to an exciting season. Nick might be too focused on the game to be an impacting character in the season’s deeper narrative sense.
David and Jeremy are also memorable supporting figures, but they are defined by only one plot: burgeoning love. While Jeremy could prove multi-faceted, there is little hope that David can blossom as a well-rounded houseguest.
Howard’s support of the story came in the form of comic relief, when he wasn’t able to swim and perform the challenge sufficiently. In an example of The Fall plotline, the player with the most physical strength finds himself the worst at a physically based competition. The authorial Big Brother sees Howard in a very different light than he sees himself and it will make Howard’s experience watching himself in the Fall all the more cutting.
Elissa has a built in storyline, being a Rachel clone, but whether she can build upon her narrative advantage is the real question. Elissa becoming a central character in the story is how the authorial Big Brother has unquestionably sketched out the season, but as Willie proved last year, it might not matter. The issue of her identity was a huge component of this episode. Her subtle reactions to Rachel being harangued by other players gave us some of the most delightfully awkward moments in the show, but what happens with Elissa once nobody cares about her lineage any longer? If she does climb the narrative ladder to become a dynamic, memorable character, it will most likely be due to her being deceived, blindsided and/or made a fool of in some way.
Finally, Jessie ends up being the last of supporting cast for two big reasons: she is apparently the horniest housemate, atop being one of the two nominated by Cray-Cray McCrae. Comparing her affection for two of the guys on the show to that of Bella’s love for Jacob and Edward in Twilight set her up to be hated by most everyone that heard it, Twilight fan or not. She is easy-pickings, which makes for a great loss of innocence thread in the eyes of Big Bro the reality-scripter.
The most pathetic showings in episode two were from Candice and Helen. Neither were shown in any scenes that didn’t involve the entire house. Candice racked up five talking head slots, but much of them were connected with her being nominated. She is on the outs amongst the players and it shows in her lack of screen time. Big Brother is squeezing what he can out of her in the diary room, having little to draw from in the house. A character’s potential for growth is directly correlative to his or her surroundings, and, sadly for Candice, detachment from other characters will get her cut from the script.
GinaMarie is also infrequently featured within this episode. With only four appearances outside of interactions involving the entire house, the dynamism of her character comes into question. These characters, from the Authorial Big Brother’s static use of them thus far, appear doomed to the backdrop, never to be given proper development, with bleak prospects of survival in the game.
Andy’s marginalization is perhaps the most poignantly felt given his episode two showing. While given four talking heads, he only makes it into a single scene that depicts him socializing with others. Andy’s intelligence seems to be proving more of a liability than asset in the house, as it leaves him with few people to genuinely connect with. As of the end of episode two, he was the only male without an alliance of some sort. One could recall Ian’s comparable ostracism last year around the same time, but Big Brother saw enough in Ian to give him additional quirky scenes, highlighting his personality. Contrastingly, Andy has not been given any editorial boosters, implying he is not on the short list of constructive assets.
A sense of which characters the editors and production hold the most stock in is really beginning to surface. By extensively discombobulating character incorporation and manipulation in episode two, Big Brother’s experience as a storyteller and salesperson speaks loudly.
Until next time, thanks for parasocializing!