"From the age of Big Brother, greetings," the bitter words of Winston Smith: George Orwell’s hapless character drawn from the nightmare scenario he outlined so prophetically in "1984."
But Winston didn’t know how good he had it. No Pop Idol; I’m a Celebrity, Get me out of Here; or Survivor, perhaps the three mostly virulent mind sedatives the book’s "thought police" could ever have wished for.
Today’s Big Brother remains the archetypal reality TV show, however.
Unlike Fame Academy and Popstars, it doesn’t purport to serve any greater good. One can at least appreciate (however objectively) the hazy entertainment value of c-list celebrities brought to the brink of insanity in the jungle, but Big Brother is stripped down to the barest basics.
You can just imagine Endemol UK, the production company behind the programme, making its pitch to Channel 4 in the beginning… "It’s about nobodies. Eleven narcissistic nobodies with no identifiable talents, plucked from obscurity, placed together in a house to overact in a bid to become somebodies and win a prize of £70,000 for doing nothing much at all."
But the formula seems to work. The show has returned for a fourth series, forcing us to watch as the "contestants" compete not only for money, but for the dubious fame that comes with starring in the programme, positive or otherwise. The question is: How far are they willing to go to get it?
The Sun, ever eager to splash "Big Bruvver" faces over its front page has recently tried to up the tempo by offering £50,000 to the first couple to have sex on the show.
Programme bosses have made no attempt to hide the fact that they would show sex in a bid to save the show from its falling ratings.
Exhibitionist and loud-mouth extraordinaire, Jade Goody, came closest when she had a fumble in the dark with fellow housemate PJ in the last series. Bosses were distraught this year when flirty Anouska was first to be ejaculated from the house, as they had banked on her being first to seduce and bed one of the lads.
But would we really wish to watch people having live sex on national television? More to the point, why do we watch ordinary people doing ordinary things in extraordinary circumstances and locations? Do we really have nothing better to do? Obviously not, our tastes have spoken through our remote controls – and supply is trying to catch-up with demand…
There are a variety of different reality TV shows here in the UK; the primary examples being: "Airport" – a camera crew sitting around an airport, in case you couldn’t tell and, "Driving School" – I’ll let you guess – both of which elevated their terminally ordinary subjects to media superstars for all of about five minutes, before casting them back from whence they came. Sounds familiar "famous people" from Big Brother 1, huh?
It will be interesting to see if this year’s round of reality shows produces any worthwhile talent.
Rarely does a reality TV show contestant strike it lucky. Brian Dowling, a former Ryanair steward and the winner of Big Brother 2001, secured a job fronting Saturday morning show SM:TV live for a reported £100,000 a year. Not bad. However, many simply return to their old jobs.
Take Big Brother’s Paul Clarke. Paul had high hopes of becoming a TV presenter and international pop star, but both dreams failed to materialise. He has since returned to his job as a car designer.
Whereas Paul’s fellow Big Brother housemate (and now girlfriend) Helen, has a her own slot on Sky TV and has released a fitness video.
The only relief one can gain from Big Brother and its accomplices, is knowing such fads have relatively short life-spans.
For the time being our voyeurism is bound to bloat.
We will long to see more pain, more action and more vicariousness for our time. So the question remains, how long until we witness the first live TV murder?