'Celebrity Big Brother': why tack is beyond criticism

On The Press: In the age of new media, there's no escape from this tawdry show
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The Independent Online

It has become unfashionable to knock Celebrity Big Brother, an indication of an inability to embrace modern trends. CBB has transcended the tacky, downmarket, smutty, unthinking, self-serving, exploitative celebration of unjustified vanity that it is to become an "interesting" social and media phenomenon. So those who should know better feign interest or even enthusiasm for CBB.

This infects the press. Once we have "democratised" news, information and culture so that everything is of interest to all of us, and to attack the tawdry and sad masquerading as entertainment is to be elitist, then CBB has pulled its winning trick. It has become an institution and as such must be treasured, not scorned.

So the press reports CBB as though it really is reality, or real news. The red tops (led by the Daily Star, five pages of coverage) write of the D-list celebrities as though they were household names - even though hardly any of them recognised each other on opening night - and spin a fantasy of lust, lechery and lewdness. The mid-market titles give the programme reasonable space, but sneer at the calibre of the celebrities. The upmarket papers hide behind a first-night review, an analytical feature, or, in the case of The Guardian, a full news page introducing the contestants.

While the Daily Star presents itself as the "official" CBB paper and will lead on the "story" daily until the soap ends, the serious papers will back off until the programme becomes a national talking point through some contrived "event", or until upmarket housemate Ken Russell says something or is evicted.

But it is unlikely that any paper, apart from the Financial Times, will ignore CBB completely. Strange that more serious newspapers should feel obliged to cover a TV show that so preoccupies the house journal of white van man, the Star - a measure of the programme's achievement.

CBB is big business. It is one of the most successful programmes ever made and was seen by more than seven million viewers on the first night of the new series. Endemol, which makes Big Brother for Channel 4, has been exploiting all media possibilities for BB since its inception six years ago. But never more so than now.

There is the TV programme every night. There is the streaming of nothing very interesting happening in the Big Brother house, available through C4 and E4 at certain times, and constantly if you pay to get it through your computer. There are the linked TV shows like Russell Brand's CBB's Big Mouth, where the audience can debate big CBB issues and Brand can seek to shock.

There are the unsolicited free mentions of CBB, often on BBC radio. Why? Because Radio Five Live man is supposed to be locked into CBB and the station prides itself on its populist touch. But why should the licence payer-funded BBC News website be running a history of CBB, a Channel 4 programme?

Turn to Channel 4's website and click to CBB to find yet more spin-offs from the one programme. There are "news" stories - Ken Russell snores loudly, for example. You can download the daily CBB podcast with "exclusive gossip and extra interviews". You can sign up for regular texts, audio and video to be delivered to your mobile. You will receive "breaking stories, as they happen" and voicetones "from the mouths of the housemates, straight to your mobile".

This is new media, multimedia, integrated media like never before. All of this generates money, from text to the podcast or stream subscription. As does the Carphone Warehouse sponsorship. As do the ads on the website and during the programmes. Even the home page of the CBB website offers as part of the list of "news" stories, "top credit card deals".

All this media about all this dross. The big story of the second day was that "bad boy" Donny Tourette had peed in the shower. How about that? Sad. But, as they say, nearly eight million people can't be wrong. Can't they?

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield

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