A Season of Racism and Misogyny: A Review of the Problematic Big Brother 21
Since its inception, I have watched every season of the CBS reality show, Big Brother. If you are not familiar with the concept of the series, it is elegant in its simplicity. Roughly about a dozen or so people are selected to live for several months in a house like setting. Totally cut off from the outside world, no internet, smartphones or televisions are allowed. During their confinement, participants, who are referred to as “house guests,” must vote each other out of the house. When it comes down to the last two remaining people, the other ejected “house guests” must vote on who wins the coveted half a million-dollar prize.
During the course of their stay, house guests participate in contests that help narrow down who is selected for elimination each week. Some may even face becoming a dreaded “have not.” Those who are in this position are subject to cold showers, uncomfortable beds to sleep in and reduced to eating a horrific culinary abomination called “slop.”
All of this makes for intriguing television, and voyeurism is a huge part of the draw. Cameras omnipotently capture what transpires. Also available are streaming live feeds that air on CBS paid streaming service. Needless to say, these candid moments are illuminating as participants seem to forget they are constantly being viewed.
If you look past the games, the shenanigans and the assorted back stabbing necessary to win in this cut throat game, there is something much deeper being revealed.
For a sociologist looking to delve into the American psyche, Big Brother is a gold mine of raw material. It takes precious little time for the house guest to ignore the cameras. As guards are let down and private moments become public, feelings, attitudes and behavior are made painfully transparent. What is concealed by civility and societal norms on the real world are stripped away in this artificial one. Minus the shields of privacy, house guest reveal their values, character, personality and prejudices, usually unwittingly.
Becoming blind to the fact that cameras watch from above and microphones are attached directly to them, they also ignore that what they do is televised to a conscientious fan base. It is the type most able to share salacious moments all over the world wide web instantly. The fan base for this show online is incredibly vigilant.
Fans made it clear that they were not impressed with the behavior of certain house guests this season, and the open racism and misogyny were the main reasons. They were clearly not pleased, and their assorted broadcasts over the internet made it known.
What differentiated season 21 of Big Brother from others, aside from the fact that the majority of participants were exceedingly boorish, was the blatant racism and misogyny. What made these incidents so shocking was the fact that they were so flagrant, and surprisingly frequent. The hate and contempt were on open display. There was no veneer of civility to conceal the anger. Feelings were expressed in such a raw and unapologetic manner that C.B.S. felt the need to address the subject at the conclusion of the season, much to the shock of participants and the show’s winner.
One telling moment of how things were going to go started with the group relegated to being part of “Camp Comeback” group. Introduced in this season, four evicted houseguests remained in the house with one of those evicted being able to earn their way back into the game. What made these evictions subject to question was that all of the Camp Comeback people evicted by other houseguest had been overwhelmingly nonwhite. David Alexander, who was in this group, made a comment, and a I am paraphrasing, “Camp Comeback looks kind of colorful.”
What underlined the extent of this sense of excluding those not Caucasian, was an arbitrary rule created by Jack Mathews. Mathews, who clearly is fashioning his look after actor Jason Momoa, created a rule that none of the Camp Comeback crew could talk “game.” Essentially this meant not being able to discuss strategic moves, form alliances or basically do the things necessary to win the game. It was a way to effectively isolate them from being able to participate in the game. Even though this was not a formal rule, it was adhered as if it was. It was a rule simply manufactured by Mathews to make things that much harder for the Camp Comeback. Rules for the game are always set by the producers of the show, not by contestants in such an arbitrary manner.
Mathews then went to extraordinary lengths voicing his violent feelings toward Kemi Fakunle. Mathews is white Fakunle is African-American. He then later castigated her for placing her drink inside the refrigerated in what could only be called a “cringe worthy” moment. The male condescension was breathtaking.
He went so far as to justify this as a learning experience for Fakunle. In short, Mathews created a problem and then blamed Fakunle for being careless. Nicole Anthony, who was a fan favorite, looked decidedly uncomfortable during the entire exchange. And she had reason to be.
Nicole Anthony, who is white, was attempting to speak with leaders of a houseguest group led by none other than Mathews and was not granted entry to speak with the group. Those in the room openly mocked her. It reached such a pitched point that Ovi Kabir stepped in to try and explain how this was going way out of hand. Oblivious to this, those members of Mathews house group just laughed and mocked Kabir.
Mathews contempt for Fakunle continued verbally. Mathews was caught saying, “F**king Kemi (Fakunle) makes me want to stomp a f**king mud hole through her chest.” Michie said he wanted to “cut this tumor out of us because she’s a cancer on the house.”
Rather than air this conversation of Mathews calling her “dogsh*t,” “toxic,” and a “f**king maggot,” C.B.S. aired a clip of Mathews comforting Fakunle.
In one recorded moment, and it does require careful hearing to pick it up, but Mathews openly referred to David Alexander by the notorious N word in a conversation with Jackson Michie. Later, we find Michie indulged in his own racism.
While in the shower, Michie, expressed frustration with Jessica Milagros. He said, in no uncertain terms, he was going to send Milagros back to Mexico. Milagros is from Puerto Rico. She is also a plus sized model, and advocate for size diversity in the fashion world. I am not sure how much that had to do with Michie’s disdain for her. It is hard to say. But it is not hard to say that he certainly has a disdain for Latina women. He defiantly disrespected a woman on this day.
I am not sure how many more incidents were caught like this. There could be more, but those are the ones that I saw firsthand on YouTube videos from several super fans. Thankfully they were taking copious notes.
The incidents of racism and misogynistic behavior were raised on the web. It reached such a pitch that C.B.S., literally called out Michie and Jackson for their racism. They also addressed the issue of misogyny as well.
I do have to give C.B.S. credit for bringing up the issue. My thought was that they could have done a great deal more with it. The subject was brought up, but it merited far more air time and attention than was given.
What compounded matters was that Jackson Michie won season 21 of Big Brother. With these allegations brought up on the night of his big win, the whole episode tainted not only Michie’s win, but it unscored some rather unseemly as elements of this season of Big Brother.
While it can be debated if this influenced the outcome, Michie was at one point in the game a “have not.” For reasons not given by C.B.S, the whole have not part of the game was abruptly ended. It was never explained why.
However, according to footage recorded by fan sites from the live feeds, Michie looks as if he had suspiciously hidden food and then ate it in the shower. Could this be the reason have not time ended? One will never know for certain if this was the reason, but it taints an already embarrassing win.
What made season 21 of Big Brother so “bizarre” was the overall personalities of those involved. With the exception of a few house guests, the bulk were like watching exaggerated caricatures of Americans behaving at their worst while out of the country. This was a decidedly unlikable cast for the most part. The observing the lack of adult interpersonal communications skills was akin to watching a parade of self-indulgent children gorging themselves on their own self-worth.
If nothing else this was certainly an educational season regarding how a cross section of certain groups, think behave and interact. It was also alarmingly depressing.
Certainly, in a game like this people lie, make up stories, cry, have dramatic episodes and even have verbal fights. That is expected in a game where everyone is living under stressful situations and looking to win a half a million dollars. What made this season so marked was how personal the attacks were, and how they exposed prejudices and disrespect for women.
The anger and rage was visible. Not only that, but racism that may have been concealed in normal life was open and out for the world to see. There was no way possible watching the live feeds to come away with the conclusion that actual racists were not playing big brother. The racism was present.
What makes the bigotry of big brother scary is that these are not the type of people that would see say joining a K.K.K. rally. These are not the type of people that would belong to skin head organizations, or even burn crosses on your lawn. These are the kind of people you may meet that may smile passing you on the street. These are normal looking people. These are the kind of people you see every day. And that is what makes their remarks both unexpected and all the more fighting. This is racism that has been allowed to grow. Now in the currently divided America it is coming to the surface.
When Jackson Michie was questioned about his perceived racism and misogynistic behavior by Julie Chen Moonves, he answered with the line, “I am the least racist person I know.” In a peculiar way that answer seemed appropriate given his lack of self-awareness.
The controversy that arose from viewers of the show that C.B.S. felt compelled to address it. Sadly, the segment was so short, no real in-depth conversation took place. When a few houseguests were questioned about their racism, the replies were carefully crafted apologies, even though no one was presented with the exact incidents in question.
For me the most real moment at the end of the series came when Kemi Fakunle was asked about the many “I am so sorry” comments that came forth so swiftly. She wisely said, and I am paraphrasing here, “How can you be sorry when you do not even know what you did?” Now, this is reality television!