August 2nd 2008

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY : WORLD YOUTH DAY 2008: Christianity challenges the secular age

EDITORIAL: A tale of two countries ...

CANBERRA OBSERVED: How Rudd could avoid climate change backlash

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Future threats from China

FOREIGN INVESTMENT: Sovereign Wealth Funds threaten Australia's independence

NATIONAL SECURITY: Let our security services do their job

EDUCATION: Reclaiming the school syllabus

SCHOOLS: Will more computers help under-performing schools?

MARRIAGE AND FAMILY: Under threat - the roles of motherhood and fatherhood

MEDIA: Ten's Big Brother finally bites the dust

STRAWS IN THE WIND: A new political and moral map for Australia?

VICTORIA: Women's Hospital counsel defends abortion

OPINION: Carbon emissions hysteria is economic suicide

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Bastille Day reconsidered / Sharia law in Europe

Answer to water crisis (letter)

Global-warming scepticism challenged (letter)

Advances in solar power technology (letter)

American health care (letter)

BOOKS: FORGOTTEN ANZACS: The campaign in Greece, 1941, by Peter Ewer

BOOKS: HOMER'S THE ILIAD AND THE ODYSSEY: A Biography, by Alberto Manguel

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Ten's Big Brother finally bites the dust

by Bill Muehlenberg

News Weekly, August 2, 2008
The general coarseness of television shows such as Big Brother contaminate more than the viewers, argues Bill Muehlenberg.

When there is so much bad news around, it is great to get some good news once in a while. And it doesn't get much better than to learn that Big Brother will no longer be disgracing our small screens. The Ten Network has just announced that it will not run the show next year. The last episode for this year was aired on July 21.

Although this decision is eight years overdue, I can hear the popping of champagne corks all around the country. Millions of Australians will be able to sleep better at night, knowing this trash is no longer contaminating our airwaves.

The 1,316 episodes of the show were certainly 1,316 episodes too many. BB was arguably one of the worst shows ever to air on Australian television. "Big Brothel" was one big excuse for voyeurism and the exploitation of young people - all so that the fat cats at the Ten Network could line their pockets.

It was always a cheap, crass gimmick, which revelled in controversy and shock value. It was of course never serious TV, and its producers were always happy to aim for the gutter. And the gutter is where it stayed.

The first Big Brother appeared in the Netherlands in 1999. It ran for four seasons, but was then cancelled due to poor ratings (boring characters, lack of ideas, etc.). Two more seasons were tried in 2005 and 2006, but they too came to an end. It still enjoys some success in other parts of the world.

Although known as a version of reality TV, it certainly never had anything to do with reality. Just where in the real world do hormonally-charged young people live in cramped quarters, with communal beds and showers, plied with all the free alcohol they can consume? This totally artificial environment was always designed to bring out the worst in young people, and to show off as much flesh as possible.

Ratings, of course, had been going down over the past several years, but the corpse of BB had to keep being dragged out. Indeed, it was a corpse from episode one onwards, but the TV executives at Channel Ten were happy to get rich from such prurient voyeurism.

Of course, BB is not the only sleazeball show to air on television in the past decade. There have been plenty of other contenders for the worst show of the year. But BB excelled in pushing all the wrong buttons, all in the name of ratings and revenue.

Mind you, don't expect things to get any better in the future. While the removal of BB ranks up there with the Geelong Cats premiership and the invention of penicillin, the Ten Network has already said it will introduce a similar "reality" show in 2010.

While ordinary Australians are rejoicing at this decision, critics will roll out the usual excuses: "If you don't like it, don't watch it." But that totally misses the point. To put it crudely, sleaze matters. And when sleaze is beamed into our homes on prime time television, the negative effects will be forthcoming.

The general coarseness and crassness of such shows do contaminate those who watch them. And those who don't watch them will still be on the receiving end of those who do. The more immoral, perverted and juvenile our entertainment tastes become, the more they will filter through to the entire community.

It's sort of like passive smoking. Non-smokers still pay a price for what smokers do. And when we dumb down a whole generation by sleazy shows like this, it affects everyone in the end. And the worrying thing is, as the shock value wears down, television networks then look for something even more shocking, more offensive and more disgusting.

So there is a downward spiral to all this, and it does have an impact on us all. If every decent Australian threw out their television sets, they would still be subject to toxic programming in the form of downstream pollution from those who still continue to soak it up. The whole culture is tarnished by such programming.

Human depravity

So it is tremendous news that this particular bit of trash is finally over. But don't expect things to be all sweetness and light henceforth. As I said, the networks are only interested in one thing: ratings and revenue. There are no limits to human depravity, and the big boys at the networks are surely already planning the next primetime outrage.

In the past, boycotts of offensive shows have proven to be effective. Targeting the advertisers of sleazy shows has cut the number of sponsors and, with it, advertising revenue. A number of shows have been pulled off the air over the years using this technique.

Undoubtedly, it will need to be used again. Sure, simply turning off the telly is one part of the solution. But, as I said, it does not solve the whole problem. Unfortunately, those concerned about decent programming will have to get more involved and active in sharing their concerns when the need arises.

But simply remaining silent helps no one. The free-to-air networks have an obligation not to pump toxic television into our homes on a daily basis. And we have an obligation to speak out when standards decline too far, and the boundaries are pushed too widely. If we do not speak out, things will only get worse.

So, enjoy the champagne over this particular win, but expect more heated battles in the future.

- Bill Muehlenberg is a commentator on contemporary issues, and lectures in ethics and philosophy. His website CultureWatch is at:

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the wider impact of transgenderism on society.
TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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