"Hell is other people," said Sartre, but this season of Celebrity Big Brother has tended to prove rather the opposite. Despite the fiery satanic imagery that framed the show, you couldn't really hope to meet a nicer bunch of people.
Does that make it a flop? Not a bit of it. In fact, I can't believe that CBB is being forced into early retirement. Why would a broadcaster in its right mind what to get rid of show this good? I can see that regular Big Brother has lost its mojo, run out of shock and awe, but the celebrity version is qualitatively different because it plays the celebrities at their own game: exposure. In this mode, Big Brother isn't just killing flies for their sport – he has a worthy opponent.
Not only that, in CBB the stakes are high and real. A celebrity can do themselves lasting damage in that house. They can also come from nowhere much, like cage fighter Alex Reid, and change their own game for ever by winning the nation's approval.
All in all, the opportunities for reflection on the nature of celebrity, on how fame both empowers and corrupts, on our own fascination with celebrity and what it actually means are myriad. It's such a fine line, for example, between what enhances a celebrity's image and what detracts from it. Actor Vinnie Jones hasn't really done himself any favours in the house because he didn't really need to be in there in the first place.
I would have thought that the warts-and-all kind of exposure that CBB offers can only undermine the image he projects in the hard-man roles that he plays. On the other hand, the two minor pop stars that he was in with – Dane Bowers and Jonas Altberg – have a chance to rescue themselves from obscurity now that they've shown us their bum cracks and their vulnerable, likeable, idiosyncratic personalities.
Big Brother is traditionally attacked for inviting people to expose their baser nature and then for revelling in that awfulness, but I always thought that was a lazy misreading of the enterprise. In fact, Big Brother never fails to restore my faith in humanity – however annoying and misguided some of the contestants may be. There's something about the way they're trapped inside the house that mirrors the way these people are trapped inside themselves – the way we are all trapped inside ourselves. We are the products of our upbringing, our conditioning, our fears, our neuroses. There's something about the format of the show that invites compassion rather than ridicule. I'd go as far as saying it's Chekhovian.
Take the series that ended last night – the theme was hellfire – but actually it was one big loved-up celebration. And I think that's why we enjoy the show – not because it's gladiatorial but because we see people making friends and showing their vulnerability and generally being human. Nothing beats seeing celebrities worrying about whether they are going to be cheered or booed or hearing them anxiously trying to predict what the public is going to do. That's the genius of CBB – it turns the celebrity game on its head. Normally, we feel less worthy than celebrities; we feel we are their victims. But in CBB they are revealed as undeniably our victims too.
It's important as well that, unlike other reality shows, Celebrity Big Brother manages to create an atmosphere that truly errs on the side of social experiment rather than exploitation. Big Brother is the Rolls-Royce of reality TV – and the attention's in the detail. The show is beautifully packaged – the sets, the graphics, the killer theme music, Davina McCall's exit interviews. The Geordie voice-over is era defining – and even the faceless "Big Brothers" who speak from behind the wall in the diary room are pitch perfect with their needling yet compassionate faux therapeutics.
So why, then, is the show going? Because the writing was on the wall in 2007 with Shilpagate. That's when Jade Goody turned bully on CBB5 and called Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty a poppadom, causing the mother of all hoo-haas, fuelled – supposedly – by anti-racist outrage. Edwina Currie set the tone of the nay-sayers by calling Jade and her cohorts "slags" on the BBC's Question Time – and thereby exposed the fact that the outrage was actually fuelled by class hatred.
Is it a coincidence that Big Brother is going at the same time as the country turns conservative with both a big and a small C? The establishment never liked the fact that unapologetic, unashamed, ambitious working-class kids got given airtime. They never liked the edgy uncontrolled nature of the BB beast. They never liked that someone like Jade Goody could get rich off it by selling biographies, perfumes and face creams. I know the ratings haven't been great lately, but I can't help feeling that the demise of Big Brother is something of a victory for the men and women in grey suits.
*Three weeks ago, scientists at King's College London announced that the G-spot was nothing but a myth. But now the French have entered the debate with gynaecologists gathering in Paris to launch a counter-attack. The British attempt to set clear parameters on something variable and ambiguous, they said, was characteristic of Anglo-Saxon attitudes to sex.
"The King's College study shows a lack of respect for what women say," said a French surgeon who thought that the conclusions were erroneous because they were based solely on genetic observations. He added that female sexuality could not be reduced to a "yes or a no or an on or an off" – which sounds like a lot of waffle to me. If it comes to a choice between genetic observations and "what women say", I know which I'm going to believe. I'm going to believe the science. The G-spot has been making women feel inadequate since it was first hypothesised in 1950. Let's be done with it.
Cool eye for a great story
How cool is Tom Ford? This is how cool. When he was 20 he met Christopher Isherwood beside David Hockney's swimming pool in Los Angeles. That would be that famous pale blue pool, then, of A Bigger Splash. And now he's made a film of one of Isherwood's short stories.
Why is there something about coming out of the fashion world to make a serious film that seems almost undoable? I suppose it's because – to the untrained eye – fashion seems like a shallow, callow business. My prejudice informs me that someone like Tom Ford would be far too preoccupied with the surface of things – he would be too busy taking mescaline with Stephen Spender and biting Keira Knightley's ear (both of which he's done, the latter on the cover of Vanity Fair) – to understand about real feelings.
Worse, Ford's first film, A Single Man, starring Colin Firth is, what you would call in the book business, self-published. He had to pay for the whole thing himself after his financing disappeared when he was well into pre-production. Nor did he use a starry cinematographer, someone who could pretty much direct the film by proxy. It sounds like a recipe for disaster but – daaaarling – it's been a triumph.
So, how to explain it? I suppose it wouldn't occur to me that he turned the almost bankrupt fashion house Gucci into a $8bn business because he had real talent – to say nothing of an acute understanding of dreams, desires, aspirations and beauty.
It's enough to drown you under a wave of green guilt
Trying to be green can really get me down. Is it OK to buy this, eat this, make this journey, throw this away? If I'm not careful I end up living in a haze of guilt and anxiety far bigger than my carbon footprint. The trouble is I am continually juggling impossible equations with unknown quantities. One minute I stand in the supermarket agonising over whether to buy some avocados flown in from South America, the next minute there's a layer of water vapour in the high atmosphere that I've never even heard of and it's slowing global warming down considerably.
New research just out shows that the role of this water vapour has been underestimated. This means that the amount of global warming caused by greenhouse gases is probably about 25 per cent less than it was previously thought to be. It's also possible that global warming causes an increase in this water vapour and that acts as a brake on temperature rises. So it might not be my children that drown – just my children's children.Reuse content