Bigot Brother: Reality TV and White Denial, Pt.2

Reality TV celebrities Aaryn Gries, GinaMarie Zimmerman, and Amanda Zukerman are receiving some attention for their bigotry on CBS’s Big Brother, as we explained here.

Still, a measure of that narrative is largely missing. There is a particular burden of responsibility placed on racial minorities in the Big Brother House.  Following his eviction on 1 August, Big Brother host Julie Chen asked Howard Overby, who is black, why he “didn’t confront [the racism] head-on and say, ‘I’m not going to put up with this?’”  He replied, “It’s probably the hardest thing in the world.”

Above: Big Brother 15 HouseGuest GinaMarie Zimmerman speaking about fellow HouseGuest, Candice Stewart. (Image source)

Various media sources have gone so far as to dub Howard, “Coward”, for allegedly choosing to remain silent in pursuit of the $500,000 prize. In other words, not only are racial minorities assumed to be solely responsible for speaking out against racism in the Big Brother House; they are reprimanded when they allegedly refuse to do so.  And, as we have seen (see Part 1), they are dubbed by white HouseGuests as unreasonable, antagonistic, and intellectually narrow-minded when they confront racism.

Indeed, why have the white HouseGuests (with the exception of Elissa Slater) remained bystanders (at best)?  Why is it the responsibility of racial minorities to educate whites on racism?  Why is the onus of challenging racism placed on racial minorities?  Why is the broader context of racism omitted from most media discussions of the issues?

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, argues that CBS has ignored the broader context:

“Racism and homophobia are unfortunately common, ordinary, everyday phenomena. When Big Brother constructs a narrative that suggests anti-gay and anti-people of color speech is extraordinary and relegated to a single person [i.e., Aaryn Gries] … the show misses the point … Ratings jumped by over a million viewers when they initially included racism into the plot. Viewers are clearly ready for a more nuanced discussion about race and sexuality in the House….”

 

As for the HouseGuest who has received the most attention for her bigotry, Gries suggested that she is likely being portrayed unfairly on television as a “racist bitch”.  She more recently speculated that she might be portrayed as “misunderstood”. When talk in the Big Brother House turns to racial slurs, Gries argues that she would not make racial slurs because it would be “dangerous” once she left the reality show.  The fact that racism is immoral, unjust, and cruel seems lost on her!  In defense of herself, Gries says she got caught in the middle of being a “mean girl” because she thought people were against her and she was just trying to fight back.

Despite her apparent awareness of how she likely comes across to most Big Brother fans, Gries continues to utter racist slurs. As seen on the Internet feeds on 1 August, talking about Candice Stewart, she commented: “Hey Aunt Jemima, make me some pancakes”.

Recently, she asked other white HouseGuests, “So, you guys think I should do a tweet that says ‘white power?’”  A white HouseGuest advised her not to do so. In response, Gries laughed and said she was kidding, proceeding to discuss the Confederate flag. She explained that some people think the flag is racist and added, “You can’t do anything. You can’t breathe or you’re racist.”

Gries claims she will not read anything about herself in the press once she leaves Big Brother because she will be too affected if what is said about her is “mean.”  Reportedly, she will have some assistance in controlling the consequences of her appalling behavior now that her mother has hired a PR firm to help with spin control.

We suggest she hire a critical race theorist to tutor her.

Indeed, through denial and spin control, Gries may largely escape what she perceives as unwarranted meanness; unfortunately, racial minorities are unable to escape the “reality” of racism. 

Big Brother demonstrates this.  Just ask Stewart and Overby.  Overby says that the racism was “disheartening,” but he was kind of prepared for it, “I was kind of [expecting it]”.

~ This post was written by guest bloggers April Blackbird, sociology honours student and politics major at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada and a First Nations activist; Shanise Burgher is a sociology honours student at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada; and Dr. Kimberley A. Ducey, Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, University of Winnipeg.

Bigot Brother: Reality TV and White Denial, Pt.1

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.

A petition, which currently boasts more than 25,000 supporters, was posted by Big Brother fans on Change.org for the removal of Gries for her “racist and homophobic comments” about other HouseGuests.

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.”

(Image source)

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.

 

(Image source)

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!

Part 2 is here.

~ This post was written by guest bloggers April Blackbird, sociology honours student and politics major at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada and a First Nations activist; Shanise Burgher is a sociology honours student at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada; and Dr. Kimberley A. Ducey, Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, University of Winnipeg.