Possibly ahead of schedule, the internet's first outrage-fodder investigation into the Big Brother houseguests has revealed that one of them is a gross bigot. Cowboy Caleb Reynolds, a Hopkinsville, KY "adventure guide," was found to have posted a lot of really ugly bullshit on the internet in his life, before starting a game whose fandom thrives on sniffing this shit out. But is that really a problem?
Early on during last summer's edition of Big Brother, the question on everyone's lips was not about the conversation surrounding privilege, race and gender that the show had pushed into the limelight, but instead whether subsequent seasons of the show would go back to the well. While the reality mainstay's ratings had been in steady decline for several years, the publicity surrounding each year's hateful contestants has been a dependable goldmine—the one story you were guaranteed to hear about the show, even if it was otherwise off your radar all summer, was the inevitable racist bullshit, or douches dropping the r-word about their autistic students, or whatever sexist micro- or (occasionally, terrifyingly) macro-aggressions.
Me, I love it. I hope when we get into that house on Wednesday it's chock-full of the worst human beings alive, because it means we get to talk about it. Everybody gets involved: The Social Justice Tumblr psychos get to have a huge party for themselves, your dumbass relatives on Facebook get to complain about how intolerance of intolerance is still intolerance, and Julie Chen gets to drop the mask and bitch out an idiot. There is no downside.
"You believe in murder? You agree with fags? I guess so but I don't agree with murdering A innocent baby which he clearly doesn't mind. Nothin has changed in these last four years. You know it. Your just a democrat that wants that Muslim monkey in office. I'm done with you, your dismissed…
Also if you could see straight and wasn't color blind the map if the US is completely red, thank god he only gets 4 more years. You and the other democrats will wish you never voted for him soon. Good job."
I think the fact that we're so ready to jump to "CBS is being irresponsible/pandering to the evil America/doing this for ratings" is a little easy. A little lazy. While the show's "social experiment" mandate has rarely been useful, the fact is that there have always been pieces of shit on Big Brother, racists and homophobes and beaters of women. Is this because the show seeks these people out? No, it's because they're all around us. The only difference is, last year that began to matter because CBS stopped editing them out.
I've always felt that we easily fall into a trap of seeing Teabaggers struggling to think, or poorly camouflaged racist critiques of our president, or what have you, and thinking, "America is really going to the dogs!" when I think the truth is, those nasty people who have been denied a voice weren't ever gone, we just didn't have to hear about them. Inviting the sadder and more backward parts of our nation to the conversation is not, itself, the bad thing. It is how the bad thing becomes a good thing—it's how we heal, as a country and a world, from the illusion that what divides us outweighs what connects us.
In the case of Big Brother, then, you have several competing narratives: There are the hardcore watchers who knew this stuff was going on the whole time. There are the fans of the show, who maybe were disheartened to see it come up so front and center, because of what it implied about them as fans of the show. You have casual viewers, who tuned in because it was last summer's hot-button media issue. And you have people whose understanding of the show is based on some article they saw this one time, somewhere.
But for somebody who watches every season and gets my background information from my best friend Erik—a superfan and savant who can predict things like what the next physical challenge will be, based simply on some arcane set of numbers that exists only in his head—I was not only excited to see these things aired, but to watch dispassionately as a strong story unfolded, about a girl who was racist as fuck coming to a place of, not redemption exactly, but certainly twice the insight she had going in.
But we viewers also got to see the web of conversations and side-fights that blossomed out of that drama, as every player in the house ended up confronting their own issues of privilege and mistaken assumptions and simple blindness to the facts of other people's lives. Not a lot of people come out of that house better than they went in, but believe it or not, Aaryn is one of the few. (Believe it or not even moreso, she left the house as one of the more likeable, and liked, players of the season.) Imagine being one of those Duck Dynasty/Chik-Fil-A people who has redefined hatred as a virtue, picking her racist ass as your number-one favorite, and then watching her weep as she finally grasped the concept that black people are not actually just defective white people: You're too far in, you're a fan, you're caught in the story, and now the story is suddenly flipping around on you.
That, in its sick and unsatisfactory way, is still a move toward positive change. If Aaryn were more articulate, that would be better—we, and our fellow Americans, could see the changes not just in her behavior but in her thinking itself—but as it stands, I think of it this way: I'd still rather watch 16 oblivious, mean white chicks getting their faces pushed into the mat by Julie Chen, and attain even the tiniest shred of self-awareness by the end of it, than to live in actual 1965.
Or, failing that, watching America collectively deal with a golden-voiced triple threat like Caleb Reynolds, who can't spell or sing, and who thinks "Muslim monkey" is a perfectly fine way to refer to a fellow human, much less the President of the United States.