A key player on CBS’s Big Brother reveals the bigotry and white denial of reality TV.
The show, now in its fifteenth season, follows sixteen HouseGuests, twenty-four hours a day, as they compete for $500,000. Under constant surveillance, with more than sixty cameras recording their every move, they are isolated from the outside world for three months. Weekly evictions by fellow HouseGuests are the crux of the show. The HouseGuest who eludes banishment wins the prize money.
In addition to one-hour television episodes three times a week, including a live portion on Thursday nights, fans can tune into 24/7 Internet feeds for a small fee. Mainly via the feeds, viewers have witnessed inexcusable bigotries.
CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves – husband of Big Brother host Julie Chen – has voiced disgust for the derogatory remarks, asserting: “I find some of the behavior absolutely appalling personally”. This YouTube video captures some of the offences.
According to the majority of media reports, the most horrendous comments have come from Aaryn Gries, GinaMarie Zimmerman and Amanda Zukerman. Gries, however, has received the majority of attention for her bigotry.
Zephyr Talent, the Texas modeling agency that represented Gries, announced on its Facebook page that it was dropping her as a client, saying: “Aaryn, season 15 cast member of Big Brother, revealed prejudices and other beliefs that we (Zephyr Talent) do not condone”, the agency explained on its website. “We certainly find the statements made by Aaryn on the live Internet feed to be offensive.”
Meanwhile, Zimmerman lost her job with East Coast USA Pageant, Inc., where she has worked as a pageant coordinator for five years. “We have never known this side of GinaMarie or have ever witnessed such acts of racism in the past. We are actually thankful that this show let us see GinaMarie for who she truly is as we would never want her to be a role model to our future contestants”, CEO Lauren Handler said in a statement.
Dr. Ragan Fox, who was part of the season 12 cast of Big Brother in 2010 – and who is an Associate Professor of Communication at California State University, offers a concise summary of the three women’s inexcusable behaviour:
Scenario 1: A majority of the Big Brother house votes out one of Aaryn’s allies. Aaryn places the blame for this move on a black person (Candice). She flips Candice’s mattress on the floor, taunts her with race-baiting stereotypes, and laughs as her ally GinaMarie repeatedly mentions Candice’s race … Candice … cries about the sustained abuse she’s suffered in the house….
Scenario 2: Amanda Zuckermann has called Andy ‘Faggoty Ann’, called Candice’s hair … ‘greasy and nappy’, characterized Helen (a Korean) as ‘the ***** Chinaman’, and referred to the ‘the black guy, the Asian, and the gay guy’ as the ‘three outcasts’. CBS has shockingly made Amanda the primary narrator of Aaryn’s racism. Producers have also featured scenes wherein Amanda directly confronts Aaryn about her racial animus. [When] Aaryn’s in power, Amanda has backpedaled and told Aaryn that she does not think she is racist and claims people like African American contestant Howard [Overby] use the ‘race card’ to get ahead in the game. If anyone in the house plays a ‘race card,’ or exploits racism, it’s Amanda, who shifts between vocalizing racist speech, deriding other people’s racism, and suggesting racism in the house is not real.
The Big Brother House painfully brings to mind Fries-Britt and Griffin’s remarks concerning the consequences to black students who resist racism. They are “typecast as hostile for always raising ‘racial issues’, labeled as intellectually narrow-minded because they continue to place race on the agenda, and [are] more likely to become socially isolated as their peers perceive interactions with them as confrontational”. (Sharon Fries-Britt and Kimberly Griffin, “The Black Box: How High-Achieving Blacks Resist Stereotypes About Black Americans,” Journal of College Student Development 48, no.5 (2007): 517, doi:10.1353/csd.2007.0048).
This is precisely what has unfolded in the Big Brother House and in no small part due to Zukerman – whose bigotry has largely escaped the media’s attention – and who is presently leading the charge to convince the other white HouseGuests that Stewart is unreasonable, antagonistic, and intellectually narrow-minded for continuing to protest the racism she has endured. In so doing, Zukerman is playing a colossal role in the alienation and isolation Stewart undoubtedly felt, as well as her ultimate eviction.
Shame on you Zukerman, Zimmerman, and Gries! Shame on you!