"Big Brother," the phenomenally successful CBS reality show, has produced fourteen seasons with little controversy. This summer, however, it’s a different story.
Since early July the show’s fifteenth season has been overshadowed by a disturbing and deeply offensive racism and homophobia scandal, primarily involving contestants Aaryn Gries and Gina Marie Zimmerman. Both women have made, on numerous occasions, insulting remarks pertaining to the race and sexual identities of other contestants. The majority of the incidents in question were broadcast on the show’s live feed, before being hastily cut from the evening broadcasts.
The tense situation came to a visible and explosive head when Gries became embroiled in an argument over her offensive behavior with African-American contestant, Candice Stewart. The incident in question began after Gries overturned Stewart’s mattress. Stewart proceeded to confront Gries over her actions, which led to an aggravated Gries screaming, in an offensive and stereotypical ’black’ voice, "Whatchu gon do gurrl ... class girl? Where’s yo class?" Zimmerman then joined the altercation, rushing to Gries’ defense, and making the incident more explicitly racist in the process by asking Stewart "You want the black to come out?" The other housemates swiftly defused the confrontation -- but the situation marked the offensive zenith of racial tensions in the house.
Consequently, viewers and critics alike have been left baffled and outraged over the complete lack of awareness and sheer ignorance displayed by Gries and Zimmerman. Even the show’s host, Julie Chen, made a statement over the incidents, explaining to TMZ , "I was offended by all the comments -- the anti-gay, the anti-black, but especially the anti-Asian ones... for obvious reasons. I’m hopeful she’ll change her view of the world."
Houseguests also spewed anti-gay rhetoric on the "Big Brother" live feeds. Gries, along with fellow contestant Spencer Clawson, were caught using anti-gay epithets towards out player Andy Herren. Gries called him a "queer" while Clawson called him "Kermit the fag" and "faggoty Ann."
Gries further demonstrated the grave extent of her ignorance after a fellow housemate, Amanda Zuckerman, diplomatically suggested that her behavior could be interpreted as racist. Gries’ response to the intervention was curt and dismissive. She bluntly stated in response to the allegations, "That’s the most obnoxious, annoying thing I’ve ever heard... I’m not even gonna acknowledge it, because it’s the biggest joke... I really just think that it’s the most immature thing ever. They call me Barbie and all sorts of ---- about me being blonde all the time, so what’s the difference? I wish that I cared more about this, but I don’t."
Rendering the matter more contentious still, Gries and Zimmerman have yet to face any consequences from the CBS network. Both of the contestants have been axed from work commitments outside of the house -- Gries lost her position with a modeling agency, and Zimmerman has been fired from her job as a pageant coordinator. But, of course, both women are unaware of this fact, given "Big Brother" rules that prohibit any contact with the outside world -- and CBS are standing by their resolve not to reprimand the women.
The network have, however, condemned the comments, with network chief Leslie Moonves labeling them "absolutely appalling." Furthermore, CBS released the following disclaimer in response to the growing scandal: "’ Big Brother’ is a reality show about a group of people who have no privacy 24/7. At times, houseguests may reveal prejudices and other beliefs that CBS does not condone. Views or opinions expressed by a houseguest are those of the individual speaking and do not represent the views or opinions of CBS. Viewer discretion is advised."
The statement, however, has failed to alleviate the anger of viewers and critics. CBS’ inaction over the issue led to a call from the Anti-Defamation League to axe the racist contestants. They issued an open letter to the network executive, in which they argued the following:
"We welcome CBS’s statement acknowledging that you ’find the statements made by several of the Houseguests on the live Internet feed to be offensive,’ and distancing your network from those hurtful views. It is our understanding, while several of the Houseguests have suffered real life consequences of their behavior; neither the producer nor the host has confronted any of them during the broadcast.
"We urge they be publically reprimanded and that you explore whether their conduct justifies CBS terminating them or, at minimum, any financial benefit they are entitled to receive from their participation."
At the time of writing, CBS has ignored this plea and the use of offensive language directed towards minorities has persisted well into the month of August. Though she warned Gries about her insensitive comments, the newest offender is Zuckerman, who attacked Stewart for her "nappy hair" and also referred to evicted contestant, Howard Overby, who is African-American, as a "black mamba." She was also caught calling herself a "fag hag" and using anti-gay language about Herren.
On a recent episode of "Big Brother," Zuckerman and Stewart got into a fight during a competition, which resulted in Zuckerman calling Stewart "Shaniqua" then asking, rhetorically, if "that was racist?"
Ultimately, it would seem that a reality show like "Big Brother," which does in essence chart "reality," is perhaps unavoidably going to encounter such issues. Although the U.S. version of the show has dodged a scandal of this nature in previous years, past international versions of the reality hit have been plagued by similar problems. A notable example is the British celebrity version of the program, which bore witness to a racism scandal involving the late entertainer Jade Goody and Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty back in 2007.
Thus, the question remains as to whether the behavior should remain on screen, to serve as an example of the racist and homophobic realities that minority contestants face, or whether it should be axed in an attempt to curb the dissemination of hurtful and offensive language.
Watch a clip of Zuckerman’s comments below (NSFW):
From our media partner EDGEDouglas Baulf