Big Brother: Reality TV in the Twenty-First Century by J. Bignell

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By J. Bignell

Jonathan Bignell offers a wide-ranging research of the tv phenomenon of the early twenty-first century: truth television. He explores its cultural and political meanings, explains the genesis of the shape and its courting to modern tv construction, and considers the way it connects with, and breaks clear of, authentic and fictional conventions in tv.

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Extra info for Big Brother: Reality TV in the Twenty-First Century

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Each of them is dependent on the other, but when closely considering anything in historical terms it does not emerge as the stable entity it might appear. As this chapter shows, Reality TV is not an entity but a rather loose and distinctly debatable collection of possible convergences. This line of argument matches the point made by John Corner (1996: 55) that Reality TV has ‘staple and converging elements’ or ‘ingredients’ that have been mixed up into ‘a new and eclectic symbolic economy, where the very assumptions carried by the idea of a “mixed form” might quickly come to seem naively inappropriate’.

Survivor was the first Reality TV format to be a must-see prime-time programme, beginning in the United States. After the success of Big Brother in Europe, the owners of the Survivor format initiated a legal case against Endemol, arguing that it infringed the Survivor format. While ideas cannot be placed under copyright, formats are regarded as property and can be owned and therefore their ownership can be legally defended. The key components of the Survivor and Big Brother formats are certainly similar.

For factual television, this would mean that the Reality TV of the present absorbs the programme formats of the past and that documentary’s discourses of social and historical analysis are relativized and disempowered, with the consequent loss of an authoritative means for television to contribute to social betterment. The theoretical discourse about the present as an end of history is most well-known from Jameson’s influential essay ‘Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism’ (1984: 53), which begins with the assertion that the late twentieth century was characterized by ‘an inverted millenarianism, in which premonitions of the future, catastrophic or redemptive, have been replaced by senses of the end of this or that’.

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