Criticism of Big Brother (U.S. TV series)

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Since its beginning in 2000, the concept and implementation of the American reality television show, Big Brother, has regularly been the subject of controversy and criticism among the public and news media, including claims of "HIB" (harassment, intimidation, and bullying).

Big Brother 1[edit]

Copyright infringement[edit]

After the premiere of the first season, Chicago attorney Marvin Rosenblum filed a lawsuit against CBS, then-corporate parent Viacom, and production company Orwell Productions for alleged copyright infringement. Rosenblum, a producer of the film 1984 and the owner of the film and television rights to the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, claimed that Big Brother "illegally borrows from it".[1] Rosenblum accused the network of illegally using the Big Brother moniker from the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and "deceiving the public into thinking the author's classic novel was the origin of the show". CBS, Viacom, and Orwell Productions filed a motion to dismiss the $20 million lawsuit.[2] The dismissal was denied on January 4, 2001. In 2001, Rosenblum, CBS, and Viacom settled the lawsuit under undisclosed terms.[3]

Big Brother 2[edit]

Violence in the house[edit]

Season 2 houseguest Justin Sebik was expelled on Day 10 for breaking Big Brother rules. Justin threatened his fellow houseguests with physical violence and intimidation, a violation of one of the most serious House rules.

Julie Chen, host of Big Brother, explained that Justin was given an official warning that such behavior was not appropriate in the Big Brother house. Justin repeated the warning, proving that he understood the rule. His behavior included destruction of house property, culminating in a final incident during which he and Krista were kissing on the kitchen table. He picked up a metal carpet sweeper and asked her, "Would you get mad if I cracked you over the head with this?" He swung the carpet sweeper towards Krista but put it down and kissed her. He walked away from her in the kitchen and asked, "Would you get mad if I killed you?" He then picked up a large knife, returned to Krista and, while they kissed, placed the knife against her throat. He briefly took the knife away from her throat but, with Krista's encouragement, returned the knife to her throat and than began kissing again. As the kiss ended, he put the knife down.[4]

After being called to the diary room by producers, a consultation was made with the show's psychologist and it was decided that Justin would be expelled from the Big Brother house.[5] Krista Stegall later sued CBS over the incident.[6][7]

Big Brother 4[edit]

Violence in the house[edit]

Season 4 houseguest Scott Weintraub was expelled on Day 8 after having a violent outburst in the house, related to the season twist, X-Factor. Scott tossed furniture around the house, delivered an expletive-filled rant, and refused to go to the Diary Room when called. He later apologized to his fellow houseguests, who were uncomfortable with his actions in the house. Once Scott went to the Diary Room, he was removed from the house and expelled.[8]

Big Brother 6[edit]

Violence in the house[edit]

In season 6, houseguests Eric Littman and Michael Donnellan got into a confrontation regarding comments Michael made about Eric's family. Earlier in the evening, Rachel who was eavesdropping on Janelle and Michael in the "Gold Room" overheard Michael make a bad joke about Eric's grandparents to Janelle. Rachel told Eric that she heard them badmouthing his family. Later that night Eric and Ivette were outside discussing the incident when Michael went outside. Eric provoked Michael who retorted, calling Eric "a midget with a small penis." Eric lost all control going after Michael. The other houseguests blocked Eric's attack at Michael. Big Brother intervened, telling Eric to leave the backyard and go to the Diary Room, and telling Michael to go to the storage room. Shortly afterwards, Ivette told Kaysar he had no respect for women, attacked Kaysar's beliefs and made racial remarks. Big Brother intervened again giving warnings to all houseguests. Eric apologized to his fellow houseguests, saying he would never hurt anyone.[9]

Big Brother 8[edit]

"Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying"[edit]

Several houseguests during the eighth season made controversial remarks regarding religion and women during the course of the program. Richard "Evel Dick" Donato, the eventual winner of the season, was known for his loud abusive behavior towards houseguests, with Jen Johnson as his most notable "target." Fans of the program and the National Organization for Women called for his expulsion from the house after an incident where Evel Dick poured iced tea over Johnson's head.[citation needed] He's also known for making anti-religious and homophobic remarks and joking about rape to his fellow houseguests.[10]

Big Brother 9[edit]

"Controversial remarks"[edit]

Houseguest Adam Jasinski made disparaging remarks during the first episode of the season, causing Autism United to demand an apology from CBS.[11] During the first Wednesday episode, after the Power Couple Competition, Adam stated that he worked for an autism foundation and would spend his winnings on a hair salon for people with developmental disabilities "so retards can get it together and get their hair done." His partner in the house, Sheila, told him not to "call them that", to which he said he "can call them whatever I want" because he "work[s] with them all day."[12][13] In a letter obtained by TMZ from John Gilmore, Executive Director of Autism United to Sumner Redstone, Chairman of CBS Corporation, Gilmore demanded action be taken after the Wednesday episode. Gilmore claimed that the network chose to air the segment for "their own personal goals." The organization also called for the show to be canceled and the organization contacted advertisers over the issue.[14] Due to the controversy, Lowe's decided not to advertise during future Big Brother episodes, but it was unclear whether or not they were currently advertising during the program. Autism United also contacted other advertisers, such as Campbell's Soup, Claritin, Geico, McDonald's and Taco Bell.[15] Autism United and various parents in South Florida called for an investigation into Adam Jasinski and the United Autism Foundation. The organization claims to be a 501c3 charity.[16] The website for United Autism Foundation apologized regarding Adam's behavior and states that he no longer works for the company.[17][18]

On Day 31, Matt McDonald said "What up, nigga?" to another houseguest. The incident in question was aired on both the live Internet feeds and the spin-off show Big Brother: After Dark on Showtime 2.[19]

Breach of integrity[edit]

A controversial Head of Household competition was held during the ninth season on Day 70. In the competition, Adam, Sharon and Ryan were read a series of seven statements relating to events in the game. The houseguests were to determine if each statement was "fact" by stepping forward or "fiction" by stepping backward. Each houseguest had their own section, so they could not see the answers of the other houseguests. Many fans of the show, including House Calls co-host, Dick Donato, were displeased with the final "fact or fiction" statement.[20] The controversial statement was: "Everybody knows that Jacob/Sharon and Ryan/Jen were two pre-existing relationships in the Big Brother house, but there is a third pre-existing relationship still in the house", which was considered "fact" due to the guinea pigs knowing each other prior to entering.[21] Many fans considered this question unfair because the guinea pigs were not actual players and just house pets. While many other fans considered the statement not only to be unfair, but deceptive on the part of Big Brother producers as the relationship between guinea pigs is not equivalent or comparable to players of the game. If the question had pertained to only human relationships, Sharon would have become the new Head of Household. However, Ryan won and Sharon ended up being evicted that week.[20]

Big Brother 10[edit]

Obscene language[edit]

The tenth season of the program came under fire from critics such as the Parents Television Council for airing the term "fucking" uncensored during the August 5, 2008 episode of the show. The event in question was aired during an argument between Libra Thompson and Jessie Godderz, in which Libra said: "Memphis was in the fucking room!"[22]

Big Brother 11[edit]

The editing process came under controversy during the first week of the 11th season where several houseguests made controversial remarks. Viewing figures for the first two weeks entered a decline with each episode during the weeks of the controversies. A homophobic comment made by Jeff Schroeder was censored during the television broadcast while it remained uncensored online.[23][24][25] Racist and derogatory comments made by Braden Bacha in an argument with Kevin Campbell and Lydia Tavera were also censored during the television broadcast while unedited online. Braden was nominated for eviction with Chima Simone who brought up the comments made by Braden including a sexually insulting word to describe Julie Chen, host of the program, that was aired on the spin-off program Big Brother: After Dark. Chima's final plea speech that contained the comments was censored during the live broadcast.[24][26]

The editing of the events in question during the broadcast episodes created controversy for the show and CBS, the broadcaster of Big Brother. While the comments couldn't air due to FCC regulations, the manner in which the events were edited caused critics and fans of the show to speculate that the show was being edited to make the houseguests look good to the viewing public. One critic suggests the recent decline in ratings is due to the editing process of the show.[26] Chima revealed to her fellow houseguests that she was informed in the Diary Room by Big Brother, the producers, that her comments were censored during the live broadcast.

I said, I don't think it's fair because I don't think they showed when it first was said, and I was like, "If someone's a racist, they should be portrayed as one. You shouldn't edit it to make them look good."[24][26]

CBS released a statement on July 17, 2009 regarding the censoring of the controversial statements saying the statements in question were offensive and did not meet the network's standards and the views or opinions of the contestants appearing on the program are the views of the individual not the network.[24][26] National Public Radio's pop culture correspondent Linda Holmes noted that CBS officially disavowing such statements while allowing them to continue amounts to a publicity grab for the show and for the network:

This show is meant to get a good part of its attention from the difference between what you see online and what you see on the show. If it manages to cast a hard-charging racist whose work only appears online, it can seize all the attention of a scandal while claiming that it's tastefully trying to protect viewers from anything "offensive."[27]

During the 11th season the program came under fire with accusations of homophobia and racism from several contestants. In the first week Jeff Schroeder made a homophobic comment during an argument with Russell Kairouz regarding the Power of Veto competition.[23][24][25] Braden Bacha made several racist and derogatory comments after the first Power of Veto ceremony to fellow houseguest, Kevin Campbell and Lydia Tavera, in an argument. Braden also used a sexually insulting word to describe Julie Chen, host of the program, at the conclusion of a "Julie Says" game played by the houseguests a couple of nights earlier as viewed on Big Brother After Dark.[24][26]

In season 11, Chima Simone was expelled from the Big Brother House for destruction of production property (her microphone, which she threw into a jacuzzi), refusing to put on her microphone, bad-mouthing the producers and refusing to go to the diary room.[28]

Big Brother 13[edit]

Breach of integrity[edit]

During week 8, a controversial Pandora's Box twist left fans questioning the authenticity of Big Brother and left many wondering if production was rigging the game for certain players. Jeff Schroeder had just been evicted from the house, leaving Rachel Reilly and Jordan Lloyd as the only veterans left in the game. As HoH, Porsche Briggs was clearly targeting Rachel and Jordan for eviction. But when she opened Pandora's Box, she unleashed the duos twist back into the game, thereby making Rachel and Jordan a duo. If one of them were to win the PoV, they would both be safe from eviction. The Pandora's Box twist seemed very last minute after Porsche won HoH with it coming out of nowhere and the editing of the episode, and fans wondered if this was a plot by production to keep Rachel and Jordan back in the game. These questions heightened after some of the houseguests remarked that the PoV competition seemed like it was thrown together last minute without it being tested well and also because it seemed like a competition geared for Rachel, who ended up winning the competition and saving her and Jordan from eviction.[29]

Big Brother 14[edit]

Violence in the house[edit]

In season 14, an argument between houseguests, Willie Hantz and Joe Arvin, escalated into a physical confrontation between the two men. After being commanded to break up the fight, Willie was seen giving Joe a headbutt. Willie was then sent to the Diary Room, and the houseguests were later informed that due to the violent outburst, Willie had been expelled from the game.[30]

Big Brother 15[edit]

Bigotry scandal[edit]

Big Brother 15 became highly controversial after a variety of bigoted remarks were made by several of the houseguests, both on the aired episodes and on the live feeds.[31] The main source of the controversy was centered on Aaryn Gries, who made numerous offensive remarks directed at houseguests who were minorities.[32][33][34][35][36] Other houseguests were also criticized for their comments, including GinaMarie Zimmerman,[37][38][39] Spencer Clawson,[39] and Amanda Zuckerman.[40][41] These remarks were widely condemned as racist, homophobic, antisemitic, and misogynistic.

The behavior exhibited this season led to a very negative reaction from viewers, with over 27,000 people signing a petition asking for CBS to expel Aaryn from the Big Brother house before she was evicted on Day 70.[42] About the controversy, CBS stated:

Big Brother is a reality show about watching a group of people who have no privacy 24/7 — and seeing every moment of their lives. At times, the houseguests reveal prejudices and other beliefs that we do not condone. We certainly find the statements made by several of the houseguests on the live Internet feed to be offensive. Any views or opinions expressed in personal commentary by a houseguest appearing on Big Brother, either on any live feed from the house or during the broadcast, are those of the individual(s) speaking and do not represent the views or opinions of CBS or the producers of the program.[32]

A similarly worded disclaimer began appearing before the episodes shortly afterward. It was later speculated that the houseguests had been warned about these comments.[43]

Several of the discriminatory remarks first started to air on the show during the July 7 episode.[44][45] Following these revelations, it was reported that Aaryn had been dropped by her talent agency and lost her job as a magazine spokesmodel. GinaMarie was also fired from her job as a pageant coordinator[46][47] and Spencer's employer later released a statement acknowledging his comments made on the live feeds.[48]

Chen expressed her opinion on the topic on her CBS talk show The Talk. "It stung," said Chen. "I took it personally. The really sad part was it took me back to the ’70s when I was growing up in Queens, when I was 7 being bullied and being called a chink… the year is 2013! Then I felt ignorant. There are still people who feel that way? Yes, there is."[49] She claimed that her Twitter account was "blowing up" with people demanding her response to the incident.[50] Furthermore, Chen stated that the network and the show take this very seriously and they would not show this if it didn't affect the game play of the other contestants.[51]

Leslie Moonves, the CEO and President of CBS, spoke with reporters about the controversy during his network's Summer Press Tour.[52]

"Big Brother obviously is a social experiment, it always was. It was established as a social experiment and clearly that's what's happening this year. I find some of the behavior absolutely appalling personally. What you see there unfortunately is a reflection of how certain people feel in America. It's what our show is, I think we handled it properly. A lot of it makes us uncomfortable. I've watched every episode of the show, obviously [Julie Chen] would kill me if I didn't. So I do know what's going on there we do discuss it quite a bit. I think we are handling it quite appropriately. We did not comment on some of the racial things being said until it started affecting what was going on in the household. There was a lot of chatter about it on the Internet and I think we've handled it the way we should have."

Big Brother 16[edit]

Prior to the season's premiere, controversy arose when it was revealed that houseguest, Caleb Reynolds, had made defamatory comments on his Instagram page towards President Barack Obama along with using homophobic slurs as well.[53]

Houseguest Frankie Grande came under significant fire, most notably in two separate incidents when speaking about Jocasta Odom and Victoria Rafaeli, two of his fellow houseguests.[54] Grande said that two of the male houseguests, Cody Calafiore and Caleb Reynolds, should "team up" and "take all her virginities," along with making suggestive hand gestures.[54] These remarks provoked the ire of Rafaeli's family, with her mother claiming that these jokes make her daughter "a target for rape," and demanding an apology from Grande.[54] However, shortly after coming out of the house Grande apologized to BuzzFeed about the joke saying "One of my strategies was to be one of the guys of the house, to bro it out, In that moment, they were finding me extremely funny. Obviously, I’m a very colorful and effervescent person, so I take things a little too far. Of course, there was no malintent. You know how much I love Victoria. She's a wonderful person, so if I did offend anyone, I apologize from the bottom of my heart. It was not my intention."[55] Grande had already made headlines for saying that Jocasta "can go kill herself" if she was upset after being nominated for eviction, which was particularly scrutinized after Jocasta had just led a funeral service for his grandfather who passed away days beforehand.[56] More controversy centered on Grande when it was revealed that he, who placed 5th overall, would appear on The Talk the day following the finale along with winner Derrick Levasseur. This led fans to believe that CBS was condoning the controversial comments he had made while in the house, although part of his appearance centered on clarifying the controversial statements he had made in the house, including a comment about lesbians being able to choose their sexuality.[57]

Big Brother 17[edit]

Houseguest Jeff Weldon was accused of masturbating under bed covers and then wiping semen on fellow houseguest, Julia Nolan, shortly after.[53][54]

Big Brother 18[edit]

Houseguests Bronte D'Acquisto and Paul Abrahamian were captured on live feed making racist remarks about fellow houseguest James Huling, who is ethnically Korean.[55] Although Huling is a lifelong resident of the United States, D'Acquisto stated that she "will send [Huling] back to Hong Kong".[56][57][58] In another incident, while discussing Huling, D'Acquisto said: "I want to kick his little Asian ass back to Hong Kong. Wherever he came from."[58][59][60] Furthermore, Abrahamian referred to Huling as a "little Korean man" on multiple occasions.[58][61] These incidents were not aired on the CBS television broadcasts, leading to speculation that CBS was editing the show to protect the image of houseguests who displayed bigoted behavior, similarly to season 11.[55][60]

Houseguest Corey Brooks was criticized prior to the start of the season, and again after the season began, due to homophobic tweets found on his Twitter account, as well as homophobic remarks he made while inside the house.[62]

Houseguest Jozea Flores created controversy during the beginning of the live feeds, saying that the 4th of July should not be a holiday. A comment was brought up that "a lot of Americans died for our freedom", in which Jozea replied back "Ain't nobody told them to do that." Even though his initial comments did not make the live feeds, many HouseGuests have talked about it.[63]

Houseguest Paulie Calafiore made a series of offensive remarks to fellow houseguest Natalie Negrotti about her breast implants. Upon realizing that the house had grown weary of his abuse and running the game, among whom was Natalie, Paulie began a campaign of harassment referring to Natalie's implants and body. Paulie routinely referring to Natalie as "F.T." (Fake Tits)[64] and telling Negrotti that she was "as fake as those things on her chest".[65] Paulie also received criticism for his misogynistic and sexist comments about women from New Jersey, stating they "play" men and "spit them out and eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner." He referred to these type of women as "Jersey Girls" and afterwards received backlash from female viewers, particularly those from New Jersey, viewing it as a derogatory comment and reinforcing stereotypes.[66][67][68]

Houseguest Frank Eudy was criticized for sexual harassment due to his behavior with women in the house. In one incident, Frank slapped Da'Vonne's buttocks without her consent; in another, Da'Vonne called Frank a douche, with Frank retaliating and calling Da'Vonne a slut.[69][70]

Houseguest, Paul Abrahamian, was quoted calling another female houseguest, Michelle Meyer, a "cunt". This didn't change her vote, as she still cast her vote at the season finale for Paul Abrahamian. However, her close friend Natalie Negrotti cast the deciding vote for Nicole Franzel to win due to his comment to Michelle and his harassment towards her as well.

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