‘Voting is Easy, Just Press the Red Button’: Communicating Politics in the Age of Big Brother

Valentina Cardo

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    6 Citations (Scopus)


    The rise of reality TV and the growing number of viewers tuning in to watch it to the detriment of news and current affairs programmes has sparked accusations of ‘dumbing down’. According to this reading, a Public Service that does not provide its citizens with the means to participating in politics endangers democracy. The fear is that some forms of entertainment are transforming viewers into passive ‘couch potatoes’, uninterested in taking part in public life. In particular, reality TV viewers are failing to acquire the necessary political knowledge they need to participate in politics. In this paper I argue that the format and content of Big Brother tell a different story. The emphasis placed on voting for or against contestants is linked to the information gained through 24-hour television coverage, which in turn suggests an attempt to re-engage ‘the people’. The implicit suggestion is that low turnouts and disengagement are a result of the ways in which politics is traditionally portrayed and ‘performed’. Popular culture, it is suggested by Big Brother producers, can play a role as a ‘public service’ by popularising the mechanisms of participation and therefore by engaging citizens/viewers with an ‘alternative’ type of politics. While this populist rhetoric is undoubtedly linked to the fact that Big Brother is a commercial venture, aimed at attracting advertising deals, it also raises important questions about the role that television entertainment plays in relation to modern forms of political participation. This paper aims at addressing precisely these questions.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationChallenging the Primacy of Politics: Political Communication in Postmodern Democracies
    EditorsKeys Brants, Katrin Voltmer
    Number of pages17
    ISBN (Print)678-0-230-24335-4
    Publication statusPublished - 2011

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