Farewell, then, Big Brother – daring social experiment turned ruthlessly efficient famous-making machine turned public flogging of mental defectives for an ostensibly 21st-century audience. Last week, Channel 4 confirmed that it will not be screening the show after next year's series comes to an end. The programme's 10-year, downhill rollercoaster ride has seen ratings drop from 10 million to two million, during which time the Elstree studios have begun to echo with the teeth-grinding screech of barrels being scraped and even Davina McCall has struggled to act enthusiastic about the visibly withering format.
Farewell, too, to thelondonpaper, a sort of print version of Big Brother that feeds off the new celebrity culture in the same way that certain types of beetle feed off animal faeces. It would be premature to announce (again) the death of the cult of fame; but would it be too optimistic to wonder whether readers have finally had enough of this peculiar brand of entertainment? Is the public growing weary of pictures of the drunk one from Girls Aloud with one or other of her eyes half shut at various intervals during a very long evening? Are newspaper readers ready to try again with some, well, news? And will the first person to notice the uneasy hypocrisy of all of the above and note it furiously on The Independent on Sunday's website please award himself 10 points on me?
What is sad about Big Brother and its inevitable demise is that it was, to begin with, a remarkably clever and beguiling social experiment. To put 10 curious strangers into a big empty house and see how they interact was initially quite fascinating to watch.
It was also a relatively brutal form of scientific research; and it was unfortunately the brutality, rather than the anthropology, that took off. The programme's producers still swear that contestants are rigorously vetted to make sure they can handle the experience. If this is true, then how do they now end up with so many clearly fragile personalities whose paranoid insecurities, rampant eating disorders and blatant mental health issues can be diagnosed by any viewer with more than a passing interest in human behaviour?
Big Brother, unlike some of its imitators, started off with good intentions. And it has turned out much for which we should be grateful. OK, so the programme gave us mental Nikki, the Jade Goody racism row and too many unwelcome insights into the contents of its contestants' knickers. But it also gave us proof that clever is cool, in the form of the legendary Jon Tickle; it showed us that racists never prosper, when Shilpa Shetty convincingly trounced the bullies in 2007; and it gave us repeated cause to celebrate this country's open minds. Winner after winner emerged from traditionally Loserville territories. As a nation, we voted for the gay man, the transsexual, the Tourette's sufferer, the Welsh...
Perhaps the writing was on the wall for the programme when the young cutie Rachel Rice won last year's series. She was the antithesis of everything the show had become: quiet, introverted, thoughtful, nice. The more that she and the other contestants were manipulated in an effort to cause friction, the more accommodating she became. It was boring; but it worked. Viewers voted according to the format, but then they voted with their feet. Once you've seen about 200 bafflingly eccentric wannabes, you've pretty much seen 'em all.
It's hard to imagine how Channel 4 will replace Big Brother, but here's a suggestion. Why not try another groundbreakingly bold social experiment? Why not start from the assumption that TV viewers are intelligent, and see what happens if you try and work with that?
Kiss and text: The re-remodelling of Katie Price
Katie Price has found out the hard way how modern communications technology can lead to embarrassment in love. We've all been there: you meet someone new; you take him back to your mansion in Surrey; you perform lewd sex acts upon his naked Brazilian person... and then it seems a good idea to send him a series of explicit text messages in a quirky and tender code that's personal just to the two of you. And don't you just hate it when it ends up in The Sun?
Last week, the paper published details of Price's brief relationship with Andre Pinto, whom she met in a nightclub in Ibiza and then used, to his horror, "just for sex". It also published the shocking text messages she sent him, edited to save the blushes of its readers. "I am going to *** ** **** **** ** ** until you beg me to stop," she wrote. "Then *** ** **** **** **... *** ** *** ****...." It's bad enough when the world discovers that your bosoms are "hard but also soft at the same time", I'd have thought. But having everyone know that you plan to "do your ironing until you look neat and tidy and then send you off to work with a sandwich" must be absolutely mortifying for poor Katie P.
Things you never thought about
A couple of million years ago, when early humans were happily sitting around on piles of dry sticks eating raw meat with their hands, did a prototypical Palaeolithic Steve Jobs scratch his chin and invent fire? And did they all say he was nuts? There is something almost sinister about the way Apple comes up with technology that nobody knew they needed until they can't live without it. Once, I read maps; now that I have seen an iPod with Google Mapping and built-in compass function I don't think I'll be capable of navigating my living room without one again. Technophobes last week reacted with scorn to rumours about Apple's new, touchscreen computer, but just wait: in a year's time, typing will seem about as sensible as chewing a raw mammoth.
Barack: a few holiday tips
Just like Barack Obama (in so many ways), I, too, set off on vacation recently with high hopes for my holiday reading. Packing into suitcases the entire Booker long list, factor 30 and a small bikini, I set out for an improving week away. Unfortunately the first day involved a paella contest, a shopping trolley full of free Sambuca and nine hot dog costumes. It was downhill from there. I'm sure that the President will do better with his weighty novels, climate change polemics and presidential biographies, but I can give him several tips: try to resist a lunchtime sangria; never read ebooks while swimming; and be careful when holding a book lying down, it doesn't half lead to funny-looking tan lines.
Janet Street-Porter is awayReuse content