#LWTE in the smh – more than Big Brother?

fascinating article in today’s smh by Bridget McManus, “SBS’ Living with the Enemy v Nine’s Big Brother: who needs enemies?” exploring where Living with the Enemy fits into the “reality TV” spectrum,

In an ironic twist of parallel programming, the reality show that started it all returns to our screens just as a local documentary series takes the original fishbowl idea to another level.

As Big Brother Australia enters its 11th season, still brandishing the “ultimate social experiment” banner, an SBS documentary series made by a former Big Brother producer puts diametrically opposed people inside each other’s houses to watch them thrash out polarising issues of gay marriage, detention centres, immigration, Islam, the legalisation of marijuana and hunting (in that order).

The hallmarks of the reality genre, which permeate all forms of light entertainment, are fast becoming staples of serious documentaries. The six-part series, Living with the Enemy, embraces the self-reflective video diary, and scenarios designed to put people well outside their comfort zones. Does such a concept, inspired by the 1999 Dutch program that forever changed the course of television, spell the end of straight documentary as we know it? Or is it merely putting a popular format to the altruistic purpose of promoting peace and understanding?

McManus thinks some help might be needed:

In the first episode of Living with the Enemy, a gay male couple take on a church minister who believes their relationship is sinful and should not be consummated by marriage. This naturally fraught meeting of minds frequently blows up into emotional shouting by the condemned, while the composed minister calmly repeats the absurd reasoning for his prejudice. While the issue couldn’t be more timely, the conversation seems in need of mediation to promote any real understanding. But then a strange thing happens. The minister is invited to participate in the couple’s New Zealand wedding, and then the St Kilda Pride March. It is a real-world version of a Big Brother challenge, except no one is eliminated and there is no prize money. Instead, a man who decries the sexuality of others is forced to look many more than two of them in the eye.

Just a few observations,

  1. There’s an excellent interview with the series producer Tim Toni. It gets to the heart of Tim’s desire to really explore the issues in this series and attempt to do the conversations justice. One of the main reasons we agreed to participate was a confidence in what Tim was trying to achieve and I’m glad that his enormous contribution will be acknowledged.
  2. Once again, notice the narrative: “condemned”, “absurd reasoning for his prejudice”, “decries the sexuality of others”, “forced to look many more than two of them in the eye” (as though I go out of my way to not have contact with homosexual men and women). I agree that “mediation really might be needed to promote any real understanding”. When does Bridget want to come to the table?

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