Friday, September 20, 2013

Big Brother Season 15 - How Gender and Sexuality Mattered in the End

Though I’m not the biggest fan of reality television, I do have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with Big Brother. I am not a “super fan.” I don’t watch the feeds. I can’t name former houseguests off the top of my head. I’m lucky if I even remember who came in second each year. Some seasons I’m super invested, others I watch casually. But in the end, I enjoy the game because it’s like chess with people. As a communication scholar, I enjoy watching how people navigate relationships in this confined environment, particularly as power shifts from week to week.

This season I watched with great fascination as the discourse about houseguests, CBS/production, racism, homophobia, etc., circulated (all unbeknownst to the houseguests until the game ended Wednesday night). As the game progressed, I was rooting for Andy. There are a lot of reasons I felt Andy was a strong player, and deserved the win at the end (you can read here for a great summary by someone who knows far more about BB than I do – I pretty much agree with every word).

BUT – I can’t get over this nagging feeling. This oddity of hate that continues to circulate about Andy, about his gameplay, and his so called “rat” status. Toward the end, everyone agreed that he should probably win, but no one was really happy about it. And the more I think about it, I have a strong suspicion that this discourse is firmly rooted in gender and sexuality. First, I doubt Andy would have incurred the title of “rat” if he were female. Women ducking into rooms, gossiping about other players and whatnot wouldn’t be seen as “rat” behavior – it would be expected. If a woman played the same style of game, she’d probably be complimented on her social game. And eventually, that behavior, because of her position as female, would be seen as threatening to other players and she’d be voted out. Andy was able to play this type of game successfully because of his positionality as male.

Similarly, as the only gay houseguest (and one that the other houseguests marked early as effeminate), his sexuality influenced this positionality. Andy’s behavior was seen as anti-masculine from the start. He was not included in the male discussions of alliances early in the season. As a player, he was ignored by the more masculine men (and the aggressive women) as a weak threat at best. To play a more aggressive game (as many fans were calling for “big moves” and “stronger” gameplay from Andy) would have been suicidal. He is the first openly gay houseguest to win – and I’m not sure that ANY OTHER type of game played by a gay contestant would have been successful, especially given the rampant racism and homophobia expressed by this season of houseguests. It makes me wonder if there would be any other way for a gay houseguest to play this game in the “strong” way fans seemed to want without making them a target for eviction. Homophobia is real. It’s ugly. And no matter how much “progress” we’ve made, throw 16 people in a house for three months – 16 people cast specifically because they are different so as to instigate the most drama – and you’re not exactly going to get an ideal, utopian social experiment where everyone can just get along.

So, I am content with the season and how it ended, but had to get my thoughts out about this. It’s about time I updated the blog anyway. Now you’ll all just have to wait another two years for something to be interesting enough for me to blog about.