Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.
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Thursday 6 September 2012

You're watching Big Brother.

BIG Brother gets a lot of bad press - largely, it must be said, because it gets any press at all.

On the one hand are people complaining print, radio and television give social oddities attention, and on the other are a slightly more realistic bunch who realise that social oddities always have, and always will, be 40 times more interesting than anything else.

The problem with Big Brother and programmes like it is not that they exist, or that they promote or destroy their contestants according to public whimsy. The problem is that the wrong people take part in them, and they're doing it in the wrong way.

In the current 'celebrity' series, for example, we have someone from a 1970s girl band; an actress famous for one role she last played a decade ago; someone from EastEnders; a man who lives in Noel Coward's house; someone else who used to be in EastEnders; and a selection of women who make money from their tits and bums.

And those are the ones worth taking note of - the others are of even less interest.

The principal argument against these programmes - and which is far louder for the ones where 'ordinary people' vie for our attention - is that they promote stupidity. They're given tasks involving basic sums, eating icky foods, wearing silly clothes or otherwise debasing themselves.

You need to be stupid to sign up, and stupid to stay in. The ones who win are inevitably those who are adorably dim, don't ruffle any feathers or show any sign of wit, wisdom or worth. Which is why Jade Goody was evicted, twice, after displaying epic levels of ignorance yet went on both times to be nationally loved and make a fortune. It's why Tony Blackburn won I'm A Celebrity and is a large part of why Susan Boyle is so adored - never mind the voice, if she was any brighter we'd not be so impressed.

At a time when education is forever being fiddled with, exams trashed, degrees rendered useless yet we all have the near-infinite knowledge and trivia of the internet at our fingertips, stupidity is something we outwardly despise but secretly seem to vote for.

Which brings us, with crushing inevitability, to the ill-starred mating of two 'winners' in the shape of Chantelle Houghton and Alex Reid.

Reid was labelled a "loveable prat" during his Big Brother appearance, and if Dane Bowers had summed anyone else up in that way it might provoke comparisons between pots and kettles and that it's better then being an unloveable one. Reid boasts about it on his website, along with details of his illustrious acting career ("recurring background role in Soldier, Soldier"), his cage-fighting career (tends to lose but has "a good chin"), business career (men's grooming products) and personal life (ill-fated liaison involving a vodka bottle wielded by Katie Price).

Chantelle, meanwhile, was a professional Paris Hilton lookalike who months after her appearance on the show married a fellow contestant in a £300,000 magazine deal, split from him less than a year later, was paid £300,000 for her autobiography, had her boobs done, and became accustomed to living, loving and breaking up with people in front of the cameras.

It is only a matter of time before two creatures who thrash around in the same murky pool crash into each other, and so it was with Alex and Chantelle. Their first dates were caught on camera, they told magazines about every early stage of their affair, and after a few months he proposed to her - live, on an Irish talk show.

They went on to discuss, for money, their wish for children, their fertility problems, her eventual pregnancy, morning sickness, arguments, how they dressed up as Kate and Wills and when he gave her a lipgloss as a birthday present she chucked him out, then took him back. In the past few days she's kicked him out again and he was arrested trying to break in at 1.30am.

And who can blame them for exposing their lives in this way? They're both unemployable in any other field. They could no more hold down a job stacking shelves than they could an accountancy post. They have no method of turning a buck other than continuing to sell themselves, and while it may seem very likely that this and their probably-differing attitudes towards vodka bottles might mean the relationship is doomed, they're never going to find another person better suited to their lifestyle and ambitions than one another.

But did Big Brother warp them or just help two social oddities - who were pretty odd before they were famous - to be odd in such a way we can all enjoy it?

And don't deny that you enjoy it. We all get a kick from Alex and Chantelle and their ilk; from the freedom their celebrity gives us to despise, love or despair of them. Were they our neighbours or  colleagues we'd be polite and wonder privately if they were a touch autistic, but when they find themselves making a living from their oddness we have a less considerate opinion.

Big Brother's worst offence is not that it creates characters like theirs, which were already well-formed before it showed them how to turn crass into cash. It's that it turns us - and that includes those who despise and avoid such programmes and their 'stars' - into the type of judgemental, knee-jerk mob which used to appear at public hangings and which, these days, the press is blamed for making.

Humans are never going to not want people to love or loathe, and there's nothing much wrong with the format of locking a few people up in a house for a few weeks to see who wins over public opinion.

It might have a higher moral purpose though if the inmates were people who ought to be seeking our approval.

So the judge who thinks a drug-addled burglar needed courage to break into homes while their owners slept could enter alongside the couple who fired a shotgun at burglars who broke into their remote farmhouse, and let's see which side the public comes down on.

Let's lock JK Rowling and Douglas Murray in the same building and see who wins the argument about whether single parents are going hungry so their children can eat; put Iain Duncan Smith in a wheelchair for a Murderball task against paralympian Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson and see how he feels about benefits after that.

Boris and Dave cold slug it out in It's A Bullingdon Knockout; the immigration debate people keep calling for could come down to a phone vote which at least would give us an answer; George Osborne can try to get his head around the weekly shopping list, Robert Jay can ask the questions in the diary room and if John Prescott really wants to re-enter public life as a taxpayer-paid police commissioner he'll need to take a series of legal highs and dispense late-night relationship advice to Geri Halliwell if he wants to win us over.

The fact is we love voting people out more than we enjoy voting anyone in.

If the important bits of life were like that, they would be 40 times more interesting and 1,000 times more likely to hold our attention.

Which is probably why the important bits always happen behind closed doors - they prefer it if we despair over Alex and Chantelle instead.

Surely there's enough despair to go around.