Big Brother is watching

So I got a call today from a researcher at Big Brother. Which doesn’t happen everyday. She was looking to recruit a young poet for their latest reality spin-off show, Celebrity Hijack, which this time gives the celebrities the reins of power to lord it over a group of – wait for it – ‘Britain’s most exceptional and extraordinary 18 to 21 year olds’.

Many celebrities have caused chaos ON Big Brother, but in January 2008 – for the first time ever – a rogues gallery of stars, celebs and boffins will be seizing control to actually BECOME Big Brother.

From dictating tasks to interrogating inmates and controlling nominations the great, good and ghastly will be ripping up the rule book, holding rewards to ransom and generally creating mayhem alongside the REAL Big Brother in ‘Big Brother: Celebrity Hijack.’

Their willing hostages? A houseful of Britain’s most exceptional and extraordinary 18 to 21 year olds.

Over the next few weeks Big Brother will be combing the UK’s hottest young artists, athletes, scientists, musicians, entrepreneurs, fashion gurus and dons in every other field to assemble a cast of pure prodigies.

Sadly for the viewing public, I’m too old to apply, as are most of the young(er) poets I know. But if you’re 18-21 and interested, drop me a line and I’ll put you in touch.

It did get me thinking though. How would a sensitive-souled, beret-sporting young scribbler cope in the infamous Big Brother House? Would their flowing metaphors and instinctive sense of rhythm aid them, or just annoy the other housemates? Would they get their hands (and other parts) dirty, or remain aloof? Would they be themselves or play the game?

My friend Jamie Wilkes recently wrote, ‘pleasure is the opening of the self to the world’. And so, through the filter of language, is poetry. In some ways, reality TV is perfectly analogous to poetry – it is the self going outwards; the private becoming public. It is only in the manner of becoming that they are so divergent. Despite the initial idealism of the format and the frequent justifications of the programme makers, Big Brother is nothing more than cheap entertainment. A Roman circus for self-promoters, delusionists and the mentally unstable. It degrades the self, the private, and in offering it for public consumption, degrades the viewer too.

I’ll be sticking to verse.


  1. tori says:

    so, tom, would you have agreed to take part had you been of the appropriate age?! could you cope for that amount of time with not a sniff of a poem, novel or newspaper – any reading matter, in fact? i know i couldn’t/wouldn’t, for that reason as well as many others..!

  2. permanenttourist says:

    That’s a good point Tori. I forgot about that ‘house rule’. I guess it wouldn’t be so problematic for poets who compose orally, ie. some performance poets. But most writers would probably get so frustrated that they’d start writing with bodily fluids or something!

    I wonder what the effect of living in a society without words would be? I’m about to start reading William Mitchell’s Placing Words: Symbols, Space and the City so maybe I’ll be able to work it out in reverse, so to speak.

  3. brrnrrd says:

    The question is: would you be willing to take seriously someone who *did* accept the offer? I was asked too and swiftly declined, but afterwards I wondered whether it was because I dislike reality TV (which I do) or because I was afraid I’d be ousted from certain circles.

    Welcome to the blogosphere anyway. I started with Ulysses as my layout as well.

  4. Jacqueline says:

    Nice piece of analysis and glad to hear you’re not joining the ‘Roman circus for self-promoters’. I do think there’s some truth in the notion that poets are sensitive creatures not suited to the world of reality cabaret and paparazzi. Myself, I wouldn’t last five minutes.
    I wonder if they’ll find a poet.

  5. Ben Hoare says:

    Hi Tom,

    I’ve been waiting for you to start a blog. Great opening post.

    Don’t forget another example of “the private becoming public” – blogging. Based on the diary (originally a private form), blogging is now the most common form of self-publishing (and self-promotion). What’s more, you never know who’s reading.

    I’m intrigued by your comparison of reality TV and poetry. If Big Brother is “nothing more than cheap entertainment”, how is poetry different? Is it that it’s a higher form of entertainment in your eyes, or do you feel that it’s *more* than entertainment?

    Personally I like both – primarily for entertainment, but occasionally both forms give me something more as well.

  6. permanenttourist says:

    Ben, nice to hear from you. I think you’ve made two very pertinent points. Yes, you’re absolutely right – the Blog is a very self-conscious form of writing. Frankly speaking, I intend this very Blog to be fairly self-conscious, because I want to use it interrogate my own writing, and writing processes. I will posting things here that I would never, for instance, seek to publish in a magazine or book – online or print. But that’s another story…

    I don’t want to sound like a snob in my criticism of Big Brother. I do think that the original concept was more of a social experiment, and had more ‘artistic’ merit, than what we have now, which is pure commercial entertainment television. As I said, it’s not the mode that necessarily differs but the manner of presentation. Perhaps it’s just circumstance that leads *most* poetry down other pathways.

  7. Emily says:

    Ollie got a request for a young frisbee player – what sort of programme are they putting together?

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