Humans cast as laboratory rats in German TV's living experiment

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The Independent Online

The whole of Germany is watching Big Brother. Ten people have been crammed into a container on the edge of Cologne, their every move televised to an audience hungry for "real life". The fights, the shower scenes, not to mention the shifting sleeping arrangements in the two bedrooms, guarantee stratospheric ratings. The extra revenue generated by this modern-day peep show will allow the commercial channel running it to dump some of its more puerile erotica.

The whole of Germany is watching Big Brother. Ten people have been crammed into a container on the edge of Cologne, their every move televised to an audience hungry for "real life". The fights, the shower scenes, not to mention the shifting sleeping arrangements in the two bedrooms, guarantee stratospheric ratings. The extra revenue generated by this modern-day peep show will allow the commercial channel running it to dump some of its more puerile erotica.

Still, the nation's moral guardians are outraged. For Big Brother, the show that opened last night and is set to run 100 days, is described by its creators as an experiment. Like rats in a cage, the five women and five men are thrown together and must battle for survival. The winner walks away with a cheque for DM250,000 (£83,300). How they all interact is the plot. The producers could have cast rats or guinea pigs, but that would have hardly kept viewers spellbound for 100 days. So Big Brother is a "human experiment", as critics insist on calling it, and this is where the problems begin. To Germans especially, those two words conjure up images of Dr Mengele playing God in his Auschwitz lab.

The Lutheran Church believes Big Brother violates fundamental human rights. Erwin Huber, a minister in Catholic Bavaria, has blasted it as "a new dimension in sensationalism, schadenfreude and voyeurism", while Kurt Beck, the Social Democrat Prime Minister of Rhineland-Palatinate, tried to get the programme banned. But all in vain, and not just because the lawyers objected. What the raging controversy of the past months has shown, is that post-war taboos have little effect on the younger generation of Germans. Some 20,000 volunteered for this "human experiment", and millions are tuning in to watch it unfold.

The 10 participants, aged between 22 and 37, were selected after psychological tests - the television channel RTL II does not want any suicides on its premises. But conflict is pre-programmed. There are, for instance, two foreigners on the set. How long will Zlatko from Macedonia and Despina from Romania last? John, 26, an unemployed fitness freak, is a militant anti-smoker. It will be interesting to see how he gels with Andrea, who smokes like a chimney.

Alexander, 37, a waiter who was chosen because he had "no problem with sex in front of the camera", will probably hit it off with Jana, a 24-year-old porn model. She has brought her erotic toys and Alexander packed 100 days' supply of condoms. There is not much else to do. The participants are hermetically sealed from the world: no television, radio, computer, telephone or newspapers. The rest of humanity, meanwhile, can follow their progress through 28 cameras and 60 microphones placed in every cranny of their commune, including the toilet. Highlights can be seen every night on television, the live show goes out round the clock on the internet.

Every 10 days, the contestants nominate two people who should be slung out, with the viewers making the final selection. After 100 days, there will be one winner, and nine famous losers. Big Brother will then head for foreign shores. The Dutch producers have already sold the concept to Britain's Channel 4, CBS in America and stations in Europe. Television has broken through another barrier. Human experiments are in, and not just in Germany.

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