It’s time to can Big Brother

2015-04-19 15:00

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Big Brother was again dealing with a media storm this week with reports that a housemate had allegedly been raped.

Big Brother Mzansi’s Siyanda “Adams” Ngwenya allegedly had sex with Axola “Bexx” Mbengo when she had passed out after drinking alcohol. If so, this would constitute rape.

It is believed that Adams boasted about having sex with Bexx the next day. He apparently told housemates: “I dipped her, but don’t think she remembers because she passed out.”

Mzansi Magic said it “suspected that there may have been an incident of sexual misconduct”.

M-Net enlisted the services of a law firm to “independently investigate”.

Bexx has since lodged a claim of rape against Adams.

But this is not the first time this has happened on the global franchise.

In 2012, viewers in Brazil watched in horror as contestant Daniel Echaniz apparently forced himself on 23-year-old student Monique Amin, who had passed out drunk after a party.

Closer to home, a cast member of Big Brother Africa, Richard Bezuidenhout, penetrated his housemate Ofunneka Molokwu with his fingers while she was lying in a drunken stupor next to him.

He continued even after another female contestant told him to stop. Producers called paramedics and cut the live feed.

Endemol, the company that produces Big Brother Africa, claimed that what happened to Molokwu was consensual sex.

Molokwu also made a statement later that the sex was consensual and she was lucid.

But viewers were not convinced, flooding newspapers and internet message boards with comments expressing outrage.

Bezuidenhout went on to win the 2007 competition. Molokwu came second.

Rape culture has flashed on to our TV screens, even on something as constructed as reality TV. But what does this say about human beings? Leave 20 women and men cooped up in a house, add alcohol – and inevitably someone will be raped?

Or is Endemol – known for promoting nudity, sex and outrageous behaviour (and fuelling it with booze) – staging a show that makes these situations more likely?

A source close to the first few seasons of Big Brother in South Africa and Africa says Endemol’s casting process is notoriously rushed. Housemates are often primarily cast for their looks, with too little investigation into their personalities and psychological states of being.

This is not how it should be. The Survivor franchise in the US, for instance, makes use of psychologists who work for months analysing future contestants. Yes, this is done mainly to find possibly volatile contestant combinations that would add entertainment value to the show, but thorough psychological profiling might also be used to check a contestant’s attitudes towards sex and consent. Especially in a country in the grip of a rape crisis.

Another worrying issue is that contestants – and no doubt plenty of viewers – think engaging in sex with an unconscious person is not rape. Especially if the female housemate had dressed sexily, flirted or consented to sex with them in the past.

That does not mean “yes”. And rape is also not just someone saying “no”.

Rape is sex that is not consensual. Consensual sex involves a partner who is sober and coherent enough to say “yes”.

In the UK, Big Brother contestant Lesley Sanderson, who entered the house wearing a PVC nurse’s uniform, was raped after she left the 2005 show.

Viewers took so badly to her “character” on Big Brother that she reported having glasses thrown at her, being kicked, and verbally harassed on the street.

Sanderson alleges that the man who raped her seemed to think it was payback for her being a “slut” on TV.

Endemol is responsible for the way it portrays people on its show. Through unfair editing and characterising, it is literally putting people’s lives at risk once they leave. It has become clear that Big Brother needs to be canned.

One would think three cases of alleged rape is enough for Endemol to pull the plug on the franchise.

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