Big Brother – Baby Boomer Edition

Theoretically, I like the concept of the reality show Big Brother, but watching horny kids in their twenties throw tempests in teacups becomes less appealing every year as I get older.  Youth really is wasted on the young.  With the first season, back in 2000, I thought it was a great anthropological experiment, with us TV viewers observing the private conversations of caged Americans.  The contestants were more aged varied back then, and more unique personality-wise.  Now the shows seems to focus on the young and the randy. 

Big Brother has local editions in 70 countries – see the above Wikipedia link for a rather fascinating account of the worldwide success of this show.  But pardon me if I bitch and moan a bit about the television’s obsessive focus on youth.  Give us reality shows for the over 50 demographic.   Why can’t they have a Big Brother with all Baby Boomer Houseguests?  I’d like to see a dozen people from my generation trapped in the Big Brother House together. We’d see an “Oh, my God, I’m getting old!” melodrama instead.  I could relate to that.  And this summer would have been perfect, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Woodstock.

I doubt TV voyeurs would find the same titillating action with boomer houseguests, especially after 10pm.  Would many young internet viewers rise with the dawn to watch the oldsters when they are fresh and frisky?   Would old flabby bodies draw in the same Nielson numbers?  How many Beatles generation women, would want to prance about in their big white granny panties and show off their droopy asses?  Or how many men from the same generation, who once might have had hippie hair and sinewy bodies preen their bald and flabby bods for TV viewers, and as for being studs, reveal their only wood comes in the morning when they are half asleep, or their major lust is to be left alone to drink a beer in peace and quiet, away from female chatter.   

On the other hand, Big Brother Baby Boomer edition might be rather educational for the young.  Listening to my generation talk about their regrets over lost youth could inspire the under 30 crowd to get off their asses and stop watching so much damn TV.  Would teens and twenty-somethings watching fifty-somethings find warm and fuzzy lessons about life?   Or would the inner lives of old house guests be as invisible to young viewers as the inner lives of their parents?

I find the reality shows do have value.  They are very revealing about the varied types of personalities in life.  Unfortunately, most reality shows focus on the brawn and bikinied, who all seem to have a very shallow inner lives.  Or do producers just cut out all the philosophical conversations, and leave just the whining?

And would Baby Boomers debase themselves so willingly in the Food Challenges?  Maybe the young and the clueless are all Big Brother can recruit.  But if we did get to eavesdrop on a bunch of fifty-something imprisoned in the Big Brother House, all sitting around the mini-pool, what would we hear?  Bragging about success?  Soliloquies of regret.  Tales of memory loss and fears over physical decline.  Or would we see examples of fighters, people who won’t go gently into that good night.  Stories of world travel and adventure.  Deep philosophical rants.  Meditations on mystical insights?  Normally, the houseguests are young, and they have their whole life ahead of them, so what would a show be like full of contestants that are heading into retirement?

I wish CBS would change the format of the game.  Most reality shows are based on the idea of eliminating one player each week.  With Big Brother, the appeal to me is the interaction between the players,  I wish they’d invent a system where they kept all players till near the end, then find a way to compete based on a more complicated scoring system.  In real sports, you don’t vote out players.  Eliminating people solely based on likability, or lack of, and chess-play like endgames is getting boring.

I think Head of Household should be an elected position, because the politics for winning it would be far more fun than just a twenty-minute game.  It would give more purpose their daily lives.  To make it more complicated, make the reason to win Head of Household different each week.  One week, they could elect the most ambitious member of their group, and the next, the smartest, or the sexiest, or most scientific, or the most conniving, or even the most spiritual.  Acting and lying would be allowed in these competitions at an extra dimension.  By keeping all the players, there would be more alliance intrigue.  Then have a rush of eliminations in the last two weeks of the show, like in sport playoffs.

Also, make the Food Challenge and other games less clownish, and more elaborate, and maybe longer lasting.  There is too much sitting around doing nothing by the contestants.  Give them more to do, make them work for that half-million.  I’m not sure mature people would put up with all those silly competitions.  And maybe that’s why the producers can only get silly people to want to be on the show.

For example, have a trivia contest that lasts a week.  Allow the players to talk with each other and share guesses.  If the producers gave out a 20 question quiz with really hard answers, imagine how much the contestants would struggle as a group-mind to find the answers, but still selfishly horde answers to be the winner.  Or have an art show contest, giving the players a week to produce a work of original art voted on by the TV public.  Another fun thing, would be to have them build elaborate mouse-trap like gadgets.  A weekly cooking competition would be great for people trapped in their situation.  The current games are getting stale after 10 seasons.

The Big Brother reality TV show is like a science experiment in psychology and sociology.  The producers should work with scholars in these subjects to develop real science worthy experiments, letting the TV viewers in on the setup.  Big Brother 11, the 2009 season, is working with high school cliques.  That might turn out interesting.  It would be fascinating to see the current season run concurrent against the Baby Boomer edition, to see if the same cliques 30 years older play out in the same way.

To be honest, I can barely watch reality shows.  Their novelty has worn off.  I will admit I did find a lot of guilty pleasure in the first seasons of Survivor, Big Brother, The Amazing Race, Project Runway, America’s Next Top Model, Project Greenlight, and a few others.  I still watch them sometimes to be social and have something to talk about with my friends and workmates, but as a whole they are getting to be a tired concept. 

Yet, I have to wonder if the shows are getting tired, or if it’s me, by getting older.  I do long for shows and movies about people my own age.  And I hate it in reality shows when the token old person gets voted out immediately.  I also hate when the token old person is a nut job.  Or if the old contestants aren’t nutty, they come off bitchy or bossy by the young, and get immediately voted out.

Of course, are there young bloggers out there complaining that the young are totally misrepresented on reality shows, and they would like to see the youth of America get better TV representation?  And why do reality TV producers always make up teams from a collection of token diverse stereotypes?  Why not have an all computer geek Big Brother, or all African American Survivor or GLBT Biggest Loser that might get viewers for forget the personality clichés and see individuals.

I have to give these shows credit for one kind of success.  Watching reality TV reveals deeper personality aspects than what we’re normally exposed to in our day-to-day work lives.  This happens in two ways.  First, the contestants are willing to let more of their inner thinking hang out naked for the world to see, and second, television viewers get to hear thoughts from groups of people they normally never get to know.  How many people would ever get to meet a Richard Hatch in real life?  And I’m not referring to the gay issue per se, but maybe how many people get to meet such unique Machiavellian?

I think reality shows could capitalize on this virtue of theirs by getting past their own successful formula.  What would a reality show reveal if all the players were older than 75?  And why not show foreign reality shows here, with sub-titles and commentary about local customs and traits.  Right now reality shows like Big Brother and Survivor contain a mixture of people, mostly whites in their twenties, one or two black people, maybe a Hispanic or Asian, one gay person for sure, and a token old person, either in their forties or fifties.  Get away from that  PC formula.  For instance, what if Big Brother 11 was composed of all gay contestants, but still organized by the same cliques of Athletes, Populars, Brains and Off-Beat, with a varied age range.  Now that wouldn’t be tired.

JWH – 7/12/9

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