Keeping the Rabble in Line

Banging on about representation: The would be media lens

Thursday, January 26, 2006

It's Behind You!

So, is it all in the edit?

At the risk of repeating myself on reality TV matters, I feel I should comment on the latest incarnation – Celebrity Big Brother. As the subtitle of this post should indicate, I am interested in the construction of the Reality of “Reality TV”. The "edit" such as it is, begins at the shows very inception. It is framed as "a slice of life" "Reality show". With great claims of voyeuristic pleasure, it is shown “live” on E4. This “Live Streaming” anchors the programme to notions of the real, as if this channel provides some unmediated perspective. All these anchorage points have serious implications for how the programme is received and read. For this post, and perhaps for obvious reasons, I shall use George Galloway as a case in point.

The show is cast - Galloway is cast as villain because in the populist/public imagination HE is already villainous. "We" 'know' him through the public utterances repeated ad nauseum [in particular the "Sir I salute your courage" video clip]. It's cast as drama [hero, villain, love interest, love rivals], framed as soap [even down to the classic Two Shot, lingering shots on rivals/lovers], has the constant deferral of narrative closure [at least for a few weeks] of soap and it's edited as drama and/or soap [editing creates the narrative drive]. So the casting provides the initial requisite conflict, the framing, casting and editing of these character[isation] traits provides a further narrative, and then the wholly controlled and contrived "situations" in which the housemates are placed, sustain the drama/conflict/love interest further. All these signifiers are points of recognition and reference for viewers. Viewers are [perhaps unwittingly] encouraged to locate the characters within a dramatic matrix, but crucially, by repetition and media support – "magazine" shows such as BBLB, Big Bro's Big Mouth, Richard & Judy, various tabloids – the [should be] slippery idea of reality is sustained and endorsed. This mythologised position as an unmediated slice of life is important, and sets it apart from Eastenders et al, where the contract with the viewers is differently framed, in that, on leaving the house, the Big Brother evictees are public property in a most intimate manner, where, via weeks of streaming video "as live", we are encouraged to think we “know” them. The ramifications for someone like Galloway are legion.

Now George Galloway chose this path, I think he was very badly advised indeed. One suspects he had never seen the show before. The form contains and restrains far more than the oft quoted "reality" of the show would have us believe. For all the talk of Galloway as master player of the media, he is/was fulfilling his villainous character function with aplomb. Did he hope to disrupt the conventions of the form? It is possible to 'read' the programme disruptively but less possible for a "character" within the programme to resist the casting, characterisation and narrative of the chosen - yes edited - representation. So yes, George made a mistake. However, thanks to the dominant ideology of news discourse, he was already villainous. Anyone remember Andrew Marr's comment on BBC news bulletin: "on one side of the house we have conventional opinion, whatever the disagreements across the benches...then way way over the other side we have George Galloway" Do a search on any news website, put in the name Galloway and see how many references there are to "maverick" "rogue" "demagogue" "controversial" "Loudmouth" et al. He's already the villain...the shame is, *perhaps* he thought he could resist this characterisation and disrupt the form.

Now I know whilst in the Big Brother house, he certainly looked like a bully [who knows, perhaps he is] but the key thing is, I don't know, I don't "know" him...I know a version of him. And here is the crux of the issue: as already stated, Galloway is the public elected face of the anti war movement, but he has already, willingly [long before his BB incarnation] been cast as the Saddam apologist outsider. In a sane universe, we'd here about Donald Rumsfeld's meeting with Saddam in the 80's - when Saddam was our "friend"- the video of Rumsfeld shaking hands on the anthrax deal, that then went on to kill Iranians would be on repeat. We'd here about David Mellor's signed weapons deal agreements on behalf of the British Government. We'd have a critical thinking media that positioned Tony Blair and George Bush as Imperialist aggressors...or at least suggested that this might be a possible starting point for debate. So Donny Rumsfeld, David Mellor, Tony Blair et al have actually committed [war] crimes, or at the very least been complicit in them. What do we see...."sir I salute your courage..." Galloway being an obsequious fool, grovelling to a dictator [whom he had called, in his book: "a blood soaked dictator”] and embarrassing himself. My word how he embarrassed himself...but are not other agents of western governments apologists for Saddam, or is selling him weapons, looking the other way whilst he murdered Iranians, Kurds and Iraqi's with whom he disagreed, a different, more respectable activity?

This post is not supposed to be in support of Galloway, it is really a critique of his position in the media landscape. This position is seemingly completely at odds with actual events. He is framed as the maverick gobshite, when some of his utterances are in line with many people's thoughts [the war in Iraq for instance as an act of Imperialist aggression] Despite the best discursive efforts of news broadcasts and newspapers, this is a fairly popular opinion. It's not often/at all that you hear this said though...unless it's from the mouth of the "maverick...demagogue...controversial" MP for Bethnal Green and Bow. This is one of the ways discourse works, repetition and convention, embrace some opinion, whilst marginalising others. George was already the marginalised panto villain, his Big Brother appearance has sustained it even more.

For all that, I don't know Galloway. He is not my MP, I am not in Respect. The point of this post is merely to discuss the hysterical reaction to BB. Furthermore, the post is a *discussion* of the techniques and devices of BB...and more broadly, how these techniques and strategies help to sustain a regressive unethical discourse. In his own way, Galloway, for all his possible human flaws, tries to raise a voice against this...One doesn't need to "support" him to see the difficulty in doing so.


  • At 4:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    followed the link

    good stuff chris, very interesting.
    when i get all the gg info together over at ml ill post it in the forum there - then if its useful - you can copy and paste it for rersearch /analysis or link to it

    might be interesting to see how it drew a lot of people into revealing themselves on galloway - some that one would not have expected it from

    all the best,f

  • At 11:58 AM, Anonymous Andy said…

    I think the term ‘reality show’ has become redundant in this case. Even the contestants in the very first British big brother chanted ‘it’s only a game-show’. No matter how much Channel 4 label big brother as a reality show, I believe people know the misrepresentation of the term and watch the show for entertainment, not for a dose of reality, and therefore see the people on it as caricatures of themselves, not as people to take seriously (which is why George’s attempt to ‘reach’ the younger generation was eternally doomed to fail). It is a shameless use of people’s desperation for others entertainment but no one is forced onto the show. They know, as well as we know, that the editor retains full control of what is seen and how, and that they will be seeking heroes and villains, lovers and fighters and that if you go on the show you will be turned into one of these or be ignored by the cameras (like Maggot). To think otherwise is unforgivably foolish. They must have all seen the show before and for me, when they sign on the dotted line, they deserve exactly what they get. No matter what stance Galloway adopts in the ‘real world’ that I may or may not agree with, the man has made a rod for his own back by making one of the worst decisions of his life. Of course, that all adds to the entertainment!

  • At 1:06 PM, Anonymous Vegetable Man said…

    Hi Chris,

    A very good, perceptive analysis.

    However, I would say that George very nearly beat them at their own game within the house.

    George was presented as a 'bully' from virtually the beginning in the nightly Channel 4 highlights programmes. However, once Jodie Marsh was evicted, George was universally popular with the other housemates until the producers made a direct intervention to 'punish' him and Preston. This action then guaranteed him two votes in the next round of nominations. However two nomination votes would not secure inclusion in the public telephone vote so Endemol singled him out for a further 'punishment' and turned two other housemates votes against him. It seems quite obvious that Endemol engineered his eviction for Wednesday night to provide maximum publicity (perhaps also hoping for a Telegraph victory on Wednesday morning?).

    George is clearly clever enough to realise the risks he was taking in going into Celebrity Big Brother but, as far as his portrayal in the media is concerned, what did he have to lose?

    He's certainly come out fighting today.

  • At 2:28 PM, Blogger Chris R said…

    I think you're calling me unforgivably foolish...something I wholeheartedly dispute. :-/

    I am afraid I cannot agree with you that the term "reality TV" is a "redundant one in this case". This is simply and starkly not the case. There is enormous investment in the term, it is NEVER problematised in discussion programmes, it is in fact just assumed. It may well be - and was chanted as such - "only a game show" that however does not entirely negate, neutralise or empty the term reality of its meaning in this context. It is entirely possible to have a game show, framed and anchored by notions of "The Real". In fact, I'd go so far as to say it is not only entirely possible but is explicit in the continued success of Big Brother. This success is partially dependant on the game show/real duality. I don't think the two terms are mutually exclusive here. A quick glance at any of the magazine shows will demonstrate the investment in the term and furthermore the investment in each person as real/authentic: hence the raging arguments over each person's authenticity..."they're just being themselves" "that's exactly like s/he normally is with us" "what you see is what you get wiv her". These are the most common supporting comments from friends and family. The other most common complaint or point of conflict is the "being two faced" "talking behind people's backs" I don't see too many people discussing the manipulation of the edit[ors] with regard to these representations of deviousness and deception. On Big Brother's Big Mouth, on Richard and Judy, in Heat magazine, in The Sun newspaper, the assertion of authenticity and/or character assasintion repeatedly made is a fundamental point of Big Bro's interest and decoding strategy. We may be encouraged to read these people as characters in a drama, and in a game show...but we are also interpellated to read them through a prism of the real. This real/authentic/what you see is what you get characterisation is ceaselessly sustained by the extra discursive magazine programmes.

  • At 10:22 PM, Anonymous Tim said…

    This blogpost is complete nonsense. The idea that the Big Brother editors spend 24 hours a day editing Galloway's comments to make him look bad is utterly ludicrous and silly. If that is the case, why, when Galloway was getting on with the other house mates, did they not edit that out?

    This is a very bizarre and weak excuse for Galloway's obvious behaviour, and obviously comes from someone who has no understanding of the media and is obsessed with conspiracy theories. It's very interesting you can't cite a single incident of Galloway being unfairly edited or didnt actually say or do something other housemates criticised him for. Tell me, have they spent 24 hours a day deliberately trying to make Pete look bad as well? Fair enough you're upset to find out what your leader is really like, but making up a bunch of crap to try and protect him is not very sensible and just makes you look like a bit of an idiot as well. Who is editing you?

  • At 12:14 AM, Blogger Rob said…

    Tim: you clearly haven't read Chris's post very carefully. One wonders why, after his repeated reiterations to the contrary within it, you have managed to conjure the belief that Galloway is his "leader"; or that Chris is "defending" him. The fact that this is absolutely contrary to what Chris actually says is clearly irrelevant to you.

    Chris is "defending" nobody, nor claiming that Galloway has been "unfairly" edited. I'm sure plenty of other bloggers make this claim, and that you, having read them, think that somehow this must be what Christ is writing about. It seems strange that you want people to disagree with you, as a principle, but ignoring this for a second and coming to your claims.

    Chris actually shows a pretty good awareness of how the media works. His point is that it doesn't matter whether or not Galloway is or is not a "villain", but that it suits the purposes of the dramatic form of Big Brother and, indeed, the news, to cast him this way. His point is that this was already the case well before Big Brother, and that Galloway was stupid for thinking that it was possible to present a version of himself.

    His point about editing is merely a rebuttal to the idea that Big Brother somehow represents "reality" rather than the same editing processes as any other programme.

    He does not, to my mind, discount the fact that Galloway is actually a complete idiot. Some "leader" worship! Maybe you should copy and paste your comments and post them on a Respect blogger's website where they would actually bear some relevance to the content?

  • At 11:15 AM, Blogger B said…

    Well said Rob! And it's nice to see how you really feel about our k-tril blogger: "think that somehow this must be what Christ is writing about" ;)

    The idea of BB has always confounded me, even more so of late as I have become a somewhat reluctant avid viewer. I have always been interested in how regular viewers (demonstrated by those who voice opinions on directly or indeirectly related magazine shows or by the BB addict I happen to live with) use the idea/excuse that "it's only a gameshow" to sustain an obsessional outlet of voyueristic fascination - be it for 3 weeks or 3 months.

    It's strange how, in this time, the events on screen become real, become the discussion point for life. While BB is I guess, technically, a gameshow - contestants compete to win a prize - it is in a whole different league to Catchprase, they are competing to play themselves. Something I find weird to the point of disturbing.

    My train of thought has snapped, so I am not sure where I am taking this now but it is sad that those following the show and its associated discussion incarnations do not look beyond, or think about, the words they use. Oh yes! And why can't we just go back to 'Airport' as the epitome of reality TV?!

  • At 5:47 PM, Anonymous Vegetable Man said…

    The comments by 'Tim' and some of the posts over at Media Lens (where you'd hope they'd know better) seem to highlight the urgent need for some basic media education...

  • At 4:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    the big brother comments on medialens message board are archived now in the forum :

    under the title

    "sir lord blessed honourable george gorgeous gallileo galloway or not "

    its as complete as i can make it from the 5th up to the 18th of jan and the rest will be added to the archive in the next few days

    all the best ,f

  • At 12:08 PM, Anonymous DJ said…

    Interesting, interesting, interesting. But weren't we all just a tad disappointed that George knocked back the orgy invite?

  • At 1:23 PM, Blogger fatbongo said…

    ignore tim. he's a nutjob GG obsessive who struggles to follow the basic logic of arguments.

    By the way, nice blog.

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