Society’s Values and UK Big Brother (2013)

In Media Texts and Society's Values, Unit 4, VCE Media



Whilst the American version of Big Brother is largely about it’s competition aspects, The UK version has other things on it’s mind. As with many other British reality, the UK Big Brother series concerns values of class and taste. 

Uk Big Brother started in 2000, and up until 2010 was on the commercially operated yet publicly owned Channel 4. The format of UK Big Brother is much different to the US version – mostly due to the fact that the viewers still vote out contestants via a poll. 

Class placement and belonging are major values within the UK series. Chosen housemates are often from a range of class backgrounds, with a mix of old and new money.  It can be seen as quite a harsh or mean show. Unedited swearing is common in episodes and contestants are allowed to smoke on set. The producers cast for scandal, putting in self confessed ‘sugar daddies’, cougars, ladies of leisure and gay policemen.

This can create a large sense of ‘otherness’ with the show. They are characters that the audience are able to laugh at because they are not ‘us’. But if these characters show a ‘down to earth’ quality that the audience will back them. Previous winners of UKBB includes two transsexuals, various glamour models and someone who has tourette’s syndrome.

The syntax of the show is quite different from America’s version. Like Australia when it is said someone is ‘playing the game’ it has a negative connotation – meaning that the character is not being their true self on the show. And while the idea of transformation is present, it is seen only as positive when it is a shared experience within the group – characters can only learn something about themselves through the other characters on the show. When the discourse in the dialogue turns to individual transformation – such as using the show to spring board into another career like many have done. This is seen as a negative attribute – an offset of not being ‘real’ or down to earth  enough.

Amongst all this, UK Big Brother is the format that relishes in performance the most. Constructed through a task or not, contestants feel it is their duty to bluntly point out their disagreements with each other as this is an expected trope of the show. The audience plays along as well, quickly choosing heroes and villains which will continue in the tabloid newspapers. UK Big Brother plays out like a televised pantomime.

The differences don’t just come from the values of English society but also the style and form of the show. A publicly owned station, channel 4 has a remit which asks of the station to create innovative programs that pushes boundaries. The fact that the daily show airs at 10pm is also an important factor as it allows far racier content that CBS or channel 9 could ever dream. Daily shows are an hour long, which gives the show more time to concentrate on personalities of the characters and less on the show’s mechanics. 

This documentary approach also comes out of the documentary history of the UK. Daily shows are peppered with a voice over narration and time displays which play in this, often highlighting unimportant aspects of the day.

Eviction shows highlight the pantomime aspects of the text. Played to a larger, chanting audience, evicted contestants are often jeered or booed if they are unpopular as they walk down the catwalk and pose for the paparazzi. The UK Big Brother host takes on the role of an amused ringleader, relishing in what they have created.

The 2013 season of UKBB, subtitlted ‘Secrets and Lies’ was significant for a few reasons. The first was the role reversal of the character of ‘Wolfy’. Based on her opening night introduction VT and the first week of house footage, Wolfy was the crowd favourite and looked to be a top contender to win the show. However, characters can turn on a dime on Big Brother, and the representation of Wolfy very quickly went from Hero to Villain. 

Contestants are given an indication of their popularity outside of the house by the way the studio audience cheers or boos them when Emma Willis crosses live to the house for eviction announcements. Wolfy received large cheers from the audience during the first eviction episode. This lift of ego changed how Wolfy acted in the house and ultimately how she was portrayed on the show. 

Wolfy began stating how she thought she was going to win the show, which was represented as her being ‘arrogant’. The show also started up-playing Wolfy’s  more vulgar habits such as spitting which reflected a more negative tone in her footage. This all culminates to her receiving large boos from the audience upon her eviction, her transformation complete.

Also of significance in this season was the portrayal of character ‘Hazel’. Hazel O’Sullivan, a glamour model is shown flirting with professional boxer Daley. Throughout the season, Daley and Hazel are shown flirting even though Daley was in a relationship outside of the show.

Hazel was represented as the instigator as producers would continue to show other contestants comment on Hazel’s actions, admonishing them because Daley had a girlfriend. The general UK public agreed, with people yelling out ‘Homewrecker Hazel’ during the live eviction shows.


Whilst watching the July 12th episode of Big Brother UK ( do the following activities:

  1. Create a breakdown of the episode – record what each segment is about and how long it goes for.
  1. Log any words that are used to describe the game and other players used by any of the contestants. Pay close attention to any metaphors used in the episode.

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