I have another oh-not-so-good confession to make: I am a reformed Big Brother-aholic. Back in the first four years of the show I was rather obsessed. I never missed a show, taping it on the nights that I was going to be out and about. Even worse than that though: I was an avid online forum-hanger. This was partly because I was procrastinating in writing my honours thesis and partly because the forums provided a creative outlet for me to make fun of the housemates.
I remember, for example, creating a thread using words written exactly as one of the more "bogan" housemates said them. And then there was the charity drive I started because the poor blokes on the show desperately needed some clothing and had been reduced to walking around shirtless constantly. Oh, and I went to town one day when the website moderators decided to run a poll on which was the preferred pubic hairstyle for women housemates to have. Yes, I was addicted, and I am well over that addiction now. I don't regret that time wasted because I met some amazing people through those forums and am still in contact with many of them now. I will never, however, end up back in those forums nor will I be an avid show viewer again. The time has long passed for me; petering out slowly after the fourth season before completely ending.
For me, BB had a limited lifespan. There are, after all, only a certain number of years that you could put the exact same people in the exact same environment before it gets frightfully boring. I watched last night to see whether the reboot had changed anything and was not pleasantly surprised. The housemates are all, of course, aesthetically-pleasing and all but one are well under the age of 40. All the female housemates entered the house in required slinky dresses, full make up and calamitous heels. Naturally there was a firefighter, a couple of models, an ex-army dude (complete with Southern Cross tattoo; I'm not even going to start on that...) and an ex-policewoman. These are stock-standard inclusions for Big Brother. My hopes that they would include a 70 year old deaf homosexual-yet-homophobic black communist vegetarian bloke and his pet iguana in the house were dashed. And then they announced that they were going to put a "married" couple in the house. So endeth my brief interest in BBAU 2013.
There were two reasons why I watched last night that I feel the need to explain lest you worry I have been lobotomised: firstly I was dared to apply to be in the house by a friend this year and so I hopped along to the Melbourne Auditions for a gawk and secondly, because I heard that there was an Aboriginal housemate in this year and I wanted to see her. See, Big Brother has traditionally done Aboriginal inclusion utterly woefully and I was actually curious to see whether anything had changed.
Back in the 8th season, the genuinely wonderful Dixie Crawford was billed as the "first Aboriginal housemate" and much fanfare was made of this fact. I remember seeing this in various papers at the time and they covered it a lot in the show itself. The trouble with this was that Dixie was not, in fact, the first Aboriginal housemate. She was definitely at least the second one, and may have even been the fourth. In my opinion at the time, Dixie's identity had been completely exploited by the show as a ratings pull. They did have a right-wing "proud Australian" in the house that year so a proud, strong and visible Aboriginal woman would, in the producers' eyes, have been the perfect foil in a show that remains interesting only so long as there is conflict present.
The conflict dynamic was not the only reason I believe that they highlighted Dixie's heritage, but ignored Laura's ancestry; a housemate from the previous year who had actually made her Aboriginal heritage known in the application process. The Koori Mail (see page 25), following the engagement of Dixie as a contributor when she left the house, ran a small correction on this. This correction was, of course, totally ignored by Big Brother and the producers. Laura had previously modelled for an Indigenous agency and her heritage was not something she hid (page 18). In short, I think it is undeniable that the producers made a conscious decision here.
Dixie was a wonderful housemate from the snippets I saw that year and I never wished to take anything away from her experience in the house. Again I ask the question though: why was it so important at that juncture to highlight a housemate's Aboriginal heritage when they had completely ignored it in previous years? Was it their inherent racism because they had, this time, chosen an Aboriginal housemate that was more immediately visible? Was it, as mentioned earlier, a deliberate ploy to increase ratings because they had filled the Hansonite character as well? Or were they just stupid?
So I did tune in this year to see if their handling of Aboriginal representation in the house had improved. Tahan seemed to enter the house with little drama on the intro show. One glance at her online profile makes me shake my head however. I was led to wonder if the people behind Big Brother had bothered with cultural appropriateness training since those earlier seasons? "Part-Aboriginal", for example, is not a term many of Aboriginal heritage use. Even if a couple in the public eye do find it a perfectly fine way to describe themselves, many more others find its links to blood quanta theorems used to remove children under previous government policies a little raw. Also, how correct is it to refer to someone who has descent from the first peoples of this land as "exotic"? Cracking open a dictionary before applying words might help, content writers. It's early days yet, but I don't hold out much hope.
I hope Tahan has a wonderful time in the house. A lot on Facebook from the mob were rooting for her that night, and there are many keen to see much more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inclusion in our mainstream shows. I just hope that throughout the course of this season the people behind this show learn a thing or two about appropriateness and inclusion and take the opportunity to educate themselves further. I doubt they will though.