This shows only how cruel, vacuous and pitiless our society has become

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For one fan, Joe, so dedicated that he runs a huge Big Brother website, the main thing was that the wider world was sitting up and taking notice. Big Brother, he pointed out - mid-series and for only the second time in its five-year history - had made the evening news bulletin.

For one fan, Joe, so dedicated that he runs a huge Big Brother website, the main thing was that the wider world was sitting up and taking notice. Big Brother, he pointed out - mid-series and for only the second time in its five-year history - had made the evening news bulletin.

"ITV news sandwiched a report about the violence in the Big Brother house between a headlining story on hooliganism in Euro 2004 and a murder enquiry," Joe boasted, apparently without irony. But actually it makes you want to weep.

Maybe he's right. Maybe this highly controlled outbreak of bad feeling is being taken far too seriously. Why is a minor brawl between a few attention-hungry fools causing such shocked excitement, when our culture is clearly saturated with much more extreme violence already?

Primarily, of course, it is the cynicism with which the Big Brother violence has been deliberately courted in order to provide the most immature and uncivilised of "entertainment" for the most unsophisticated and immature of viewers (mainly young people).

The programme's makers, Endemol, and its broadcaster, Channel 4, have been criticised for years now about their attempts to manipulate contestants into on-screen sex. But by recruiting abrasive peopleand placing them in a deliberately claustrophobic environment, the producers this time around were clearly seeking the very sort of negative interaction that they got.

In terms of their own ambitions, their strategy has worked. The media coverage has been massive; websites have crashed with the clamour of people seeking further information, and the viewing figures for Thursday evening, when the whole sorry tale of anger and destruction was summarised, were the highest since the series was launched.

Things did perhaps get more out of hand than Endemol had wanted. There are now enquiries from the police and from viewers' watchdogs into the techniques employed by the programmers and the events of Wednesday night.

Most people are repulsed by these latest happenings on the controversial show. But still the company and the channel are attempting to milk the situation for all that it is worth. They insist that the contestants are safely being monitored by psychologists - the same ones, presumably, that helped them to assemble such an unstable and angry bunch in the first place. These people, the public is assured, will now be encouraged to "work through their issues as a group".

The therapy-speak is revolting. It is obvious in the first place that to expose themselves before the cameras in the way that they do, the people taking part in this contest, are attention seeking and needy.

Emma, the girl involved in the most confrontational violence, seems to have an intelligence low enough to suggest learning difficulties. Yet she has been placed in isolation from the rest of the group, begging to be released while the situation is being resolved.

Victor, the man involved in the clash, we have been told via reports in the papers, has been guilty of inappropriate and aggressive behaviour to women before. Another of the young women, Shell, who was an unwilling spectator of the violent scenes, is reported to have been physically sick and to have sustained a panic attack.

Yet this sort of cruelty and abuse is still touted as entertainment, and people still flock to watch it and to take part in it. The only conclusion can be that it is the manipulation and the exploitation that appeal.

For the majority, the goings-on in the Big Brother house are baffling and repugnant. For a substantial minority of viewers, they are compulsive viewing. This latest incident, for those sitting on the fence at least, should be confirmation that Big Brother is not "entertainment" that a civilised society should condone.

Tessa Jowell recently proclaimed that she believed reality television to fall within the wider remit of public service broadcasting. If Endemol has performed a public service in displaying how cruel our society has become, how pitiless, and how vacuous, then that public service has now been fully performed.

Big Brother, in its early days, was described as a sociological experiment. The experiment has now been taken as far as it can go, as the resignation of one of the psychologists involved attests. The contestants themselves should follow his lead.

No more excuses, please

Bill Clinton certainly knows how to put himself across. Answering a question from a television interviewer about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, he replied: "I made a terrible moral error. I did something for the worst possible reason - just because I could. That's about the most morally indefensible reason anybody could have for doing anything." He elaborates: "I thought about it a lot, and there are more sophisticated explanations. But none is an excuse. Only a fool doesn't look to explain mistakes."

And Mr Clinton is no fool. This way of explaining his affair suggests that he could, if pressed, come up with a hard-luck story about his past and how it has contributed to the formation of his little flaws.

It suggests also that a man as frank and straightforward as Bill wouldn't stoop to hiding behind such psychological excuses. It reminds us as well, lest we need reminding, that he was, after all, the most powerful man in the world at the time. Further, since he wasn't impeached and his marriage didn't collapse, he was right all along in his assessment that "he could".

Yet, most bright men don't just try to "explain mistakes". They also seek to learn from them. What Mr Clinton sought to do was to use Ms Lewinsky for sex and then brand her a liar to the world. For that she deserves a public apology which he still has not given. Instead, there he is, with his $10m advance, using Monica Lewinsky still, this time to sell his book. Why is he doing this? Since advance sales of his autobiography already stand at 1.5 million, the only answer is: "Because he can."

¿ There's more to Derren Brown than Russian roulette. Television's "mind controller" bases much of his act on the idea that people will always resist what they are being told. He illustrates the theory magnificently in his stage show, now on in London.

Selecting a woman from the audience, he asked her to choose between two envelopes, one containing £500, another containing a picture of a parrot. He tells her at length how she has chosen the wrong envelope. But she doesn't change her mind and goes home the proud owner of a picture of a parrot.

Likewise, Mr Brown repeatedly told the crowd that he didn't believe in the supernatural and that they shouldn't either. By the end of the evening they were convinced he was psychic.

Such predictably knee-jerk reactions explain a lot about the way we operate now, and not only in Derren Brown audiences. People nowadays seem so busy trying not to be seen as gullible that they affect a kind of meaningless cynicism that makes them just as vulnerable as those who believe whatever they're told. Both are just a way of avoiding any independent thought.