Friday, August 05, 2005

Put a Progressive Back In The Big Brother House

I have a problem: I love me my reality shows. Between Rock Star: INXS and Big Brother, I'm good for several nights of TV -- a perfect summer diversion since most of what airs elsewhere are repeats (although HBO, Showtime, FX and the World Series of Poker on ESPN are doing their part to keep me occupied.)

But you'll be happy to discover that my "obsession" with these much reviled reality shows is not without its redeeming moments. I've been particularly interested in how politics seeps into these shows and what I've found is that through casting choices, Viacom has been head and shoulders above the rest in bringing the Iraq War into millions of homes in a different way -- through the magic of reality TV.

First there was Iraq War POW Ron Young on The Amazing Race on CBS. Last season, he was cast with his then girlfriend to be one of the two-person teams racing around the world in a quest to win $1 million. What immediately struck one about Ron was how he constantly talked about Iraq but it was clear that that's simply what the editors focused on -- he was cast for a reason and they were going to milk it for all it was worth. While his presence and the spin of his character was certainly pro-military service, there didn't seem to be a distinct political agenda other than to derive drama from the situation. And they got it when his girlfriend, late in the race, accused him of being a quitter, saying he quits everything and when he asked her how he quit the military, she responded "by becoming a POW." That was a classic moment.

Then MTV's Real World cast an Iraq War veteran to be among the cast of its most recent edition: Real World Austin. Rachel too was clearly a proud veteran -- she was a medic and apparently saw some horrifying sights taking care of wounded soldiers in Iraq. She, however, has had a more overtly political perspective. In one episode she rails against Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 for being hostile toward the war (except that it's a freakin love letter to the troops, but whatever!) and in another episode she and fellow cast member Nehemiah get into it about the war: he calls it propaganda and she calls him the most ignorant person she's ever met. Not the height of intellectual discourse but hey, they're like 22. But what MTV is doing is showing the debate to its young viewers and more importantly, showing that it's OK to debate, to have disagreements, especially when the two people in question end the episode hugging it out as Rachel and Nehemiah do.

Finally, CBS is airing Big Brother three nights a week this summer and the most interesting and coolest houseguest on the show is a 24 year-old Iraqi-American Muslim named Kaysar. Well, he was until yesterday anyway...he got voted out last night.

Kaysar, being of Middle Eastern descent and an overt Muslim, was the outcast from day 1 and survived elimination the first week. After his secret partner got evicted the next week, he knew he had to upset the balance of power in the house if he was going to survive. He had the opportunity to do just that when he won Head of Household for the following week. This meant that he could nominate two people for eviction and through an ingenious sequence of maneuvers, he managed to rally a majority to his cause and oust Eric, the charismatic leader of the opposing group freakily dubbed "the friendship". Unfortunately, that also meant that he was a target and his enemies rallied to vote him out last night.

One of the things that makes Big Brother unique of course is that it happens in essentially real time -- they are in that house as we speak and in fact the Thursday eviction episodes air live. There is also an interactive element to the show -- you can watch them live on the web and there's always an "America's Choice" feature where America votes online to reward a particular houseguest. This week, America gets to vote one of the evicted houseguests back into the house.

I want you to help me vote Kaysar back in.

Why am I asking for your assistance here on a political website? Because this kid is smart, the kid is cool and from what I can tell, he is a progressive. Clearly, CBS cast him in part for the novelty of having an Iraqi-American in the house and hopefully to provide the valuable service of portraying a Muslim-American in a positive light, something mainstream America rarely has occasion to see. But in one episode a few weeks back, the Iraq War ceased to be merely subtext and came to the fore of the conversation and this time, it wasn't just debate for debate's sake. Kaysar argued forcefully against the war, talked about family members of his in Iraq who have been killed and how the country has been ravaged and full on won the argument. And when the small minded James parroted the talking point about wanting to fight them over there rather than over here, Kaysar slammed him "I thought you were an intellectual, James, but you're really disappointing me!" James listened to Kaysar and really seemed to get Kaysar's point and think twice about his own support of the least that's how it was edited. Yes, that's right, CBS, Sumner "I vote for what's good for Viacom" Redstone's network, not only aired this debate, but they edited the sequence to promote the anti-war stance. Kaysar is the man and needs to get back in the house so he can continue to be a mouthpiece against the war and for other progressive values that may come up over the course of the series. We have the power to put him back in the house, back on the air 3 nights a week, so help a guy out. Vote for Kaysar HERE.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fahrenheit 911 is as much a "freakin love letter to the troops" as Lord Haw Haw and Tokyo Rose's broadcasts were in WWII.

The people who know this best are the troops. This woman was just expressing the general consensus.

12:46 PM  
Blogger TWB said...

have you seen the film? I found his final voiceover pretty moving: "will they ever trust us again?"

2:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, "Will they ever trust us again?" is a standard by which to judge Moore's propagandizing?

Moore's question is easily answered by looking at military (and specifically US Army) reenlistments, which, according to USAToday are far exceeding expecations within all services.

As an added bonus, the question of what Moore's propaganda (and those of his fellow travelers) is doing to new recruitment can be answered by the article as well ...

1:41 PM  

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