Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Big Brother turkey slap incident

The latest catastrophe controversy over Australia's Big Brother "reality TV series" is the so-called "turkey slap" incident, where two male contestants, Ash and John, are said to have sexually harrassed a female contestant, Camilla.

The following is a transcript of the events:

    Ash and John call Camilla to their bed
    Camilla: "Why, what are you doing? You're not going to fart on me, are you?"
    John: "No, better."
    Camilla: "Did you just fart?"
    John: "Get in the middle."
    Ash: "We're not going to do nothing, seriously."
    Camilla laughs
    John: "Lie down and shut your eyes."
    Camilla: "Why?"
    Ash: "Just lie down and shut your eyes."
    Camilla: "What are you going to do? You're not going to turkey slap me, are you?"
    Ash: "No."
    Camilla: "You are, you liars. Let me in. I'll hurt you if you do. I'll come and bite it."
    John: (pins Camilla's arms in bed) "Go."
    Ash: (as he unbuttons his jeans and pushes his penis into Camilla's face) "Check this out, hold her down, hold her down."
    Boys both laugh
    Camilla: (screams) "Hey ... I just got turkey slapped!"
    Boys cackle
    Camilla: "You guys are mean to me."
    Ash: "It's funny though."
    Camilla: "You're mean. That was so mean."

What a wonderful invention reality TV has become!

Was this tasteless and childish? Absolutely.

Was it sexual harrassment?

I find it hard to understand how we can even talk about sexual harrassment in an environment which is as highly sexualized as the exhibitionistic Big Brother. The contestants talk about sex, masturbate and have public sex -- if not directly on camera, at least just off camera. And the contestants are all volunteers. This is something like the tenth series of BB on Australian television -- it is just not credible that the contestants didn't know that BB is a sexualized environment. There are no innocents on BB.

If you are a boxer, being punched in the face in the course of your job is not assault and battery. (This is not open-season on boxers; boxers still have protection from being assaulted outside of the constraints of the boxing match.) If you are a soft-core porn actress, you're going to get penises stuck in your face from time to time -- it's part of the job, like miners get dirt on their faces and boxers get punched in theirs. And, let's be honest here, being a BB contestant is being a soft porn actor or actress. Sure, the TV executives don't actually give you a script that says "Tim and Jill have sex here", but the expectation is that there will be lots and lots of sexual tension, and just enough sexual relief to keep the viewers from getting bored.

As the transcript shows, Camilla expected that the guys were going to turkey slap her. When they denied it, she called them liars, and still insisted that they let her into the bed. If this was real life, we'd say she was stupid and foolish to put herself in danger like that. But BB isn't real life, there was no real danger. It is a game, as artifical as any other movie or television series despite the lack of script. Camilla knows the rules of the game (as, no doubt, do John and Ash, and the TV executives). The good people at home want to see penises waved about, they want that tiny little thrill of seeing a woman held down against her will (even if she volunteered to be held down against her will) and most of all they want to be shocked, SHOCKED!, at how terrible it has become.

Camilla's response is telling. "You guys are mean to me." Is that the response of a person who has been harrassed? No way -- that's the response of somebody who is pretending to be upset. It's a knowing wink -- "What you did is socially unacceptable, and I'm supposed to be upset, so I'm going to tell you you've been mean to me, but I don't really mind." I'm not saying that Camilla enjoyed the turkey slap -- although it's conceivable that she might have -- only that "mean to me" is such a weak, watered-down, tongue-in-cheek protest that it is beyond all credibility that she was genuinely upset at the treatment.

Rude, crude, childishly stupid, nekulturny and obnoxious -- but not harrassment. And also, no doubt, incredibly good for ratings.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is the sixth year of Big Brother in Australia.