Woodstock Sketch: It may be closing its doors, but 'Big Brother' is shown no mercy

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The Independent Online

In front of 200 of the most intelligent people in this part of the country, the Enterprise Centre (or the Marlborough school hall as we used to call it) in Woodstock hosted The Independent's debate on the degrading effects of reality TV. Thank you for having us.

Our noisiest columnists, Johann Hari and Dom Joly, sat to the left of the talented Tracy MacLeod and that nice musician Alex James. Penny Smith – more technically "the lovely Penny Smith" – moderated.

Dom opened his assault on reality TV by saying how much he liked it and was really on Johann's side. That was the last thing they agreed. Dom argued there was no reality in reality shows because everyone ended up shouting and fighting. "It's full of reality, you can't pretend to be something you're not for a whole day," Johann claimed, jazz hands flying. "I can, I once did it for six weeks," Dom said.

"Yes, but you weren't very good."

And – or so – Dom suggested that the people who won Big Brother were the ones we weren't supposed to like: "the one with Tourette's, a transexual, a gay guy...". Why we weren't supposed to like gay guys was left hanging in the air. It was the nonchalance that made it funny.

Neither of them took offence – I'm not sure either of them winced. They're pros, you see. Then Johann was off saying many interesting things about racism, white working-class girls, the morally improving effects of Big Brother on his family. He is very clever, Johann, it's one of the reasons why my lot like him. He could probably say something interesting about, I don't know, football. Amazing mind.

Tracy MacLeod touched a nerve when she said that the first thing we teach our children is to be kind, and not to make personal remarks, and Johann agreed, citing a Cowell comment, "You look like the before part of a WeightWatchers before-and-after ad."

No, there I did wince, me. When I think of the things I've spent a decade saying. Simon Cowell? That mealy mouthed, syco-suck-up? That – but to return.

Johann pleaded for tolerance. People watched sport, for instance? "I'm not like my dad watching football and seething 'You're everything that's wrong with the modern world!'"

Now, I've never met Mr Hari but I have every admiration for him. He is Johann's father for one thing. He has brought into the world a spitting image of the young Bruce Anderson. And you should never say anything rude about your father. I do sometimes wonder whether the young Hari takes the Ten Commandments as seriously as he should.

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