June 26 marks three weeks since the world discovered the NSA has been collecting data on American citizens. It also marks the season 15 premiere of the U.S. version of Big Brother. Given the increase in interest for things with a surveillance theme like the show Person of Interest or George Orwell's 1984, CBS is probably giggling with glee at the timing of the Big Brother release but profitability doesn't make it okay.
For those few who have managed to avoid all traces of Big Brother for the past 15 years, the basic premise of the show is that strangers are isolated in a house and their every move is video taped and watched by the viewing audience. Amid the drama, house-guests are gradually eliminated until only one remains and wins half a million dollars.
At a time when we are appalled now that we know the government is collecting information on our daily activities, we should not be turning around and condoning that same behavior all in the name of entertainment. Seeing how often people Google cat videos has probably given a lot of people at the NSA some fun-filled afternoons but it's still not okay that they know that information. Generally, when you peep in someone's windows or listen in on their phones calls we consider that a crime, but apparently when America does it under the guise of entertainment or national security we have no problem with it.
But we should have a problem with it. Besides perpetuating the idea that reality television is a worthwhile substitute for quality scripted shows, Big Brother furthers concepts that we need to step away from as a society. Besides the obvious voyeurism issues, past seasons of Big Brother have included violent outbursts and discriminatory language. A run down of controversies surrounding the show just in the US can be found here. Several versions of the show worldwide have been tainted by sexual content from the Big Brother houses finding its way onto the internet (Google such content at your own risk).
Escapism has long been a vital part of entertainment. We want to forget our problems and enter a world where bad things only happen to other people and we can suspend our dissatisfaction with the world around us. Big Brother does the exact opposite. It tells us that surveillance is okay and your "private" moments can be used in unsavory lights. In a climate where our government has become more and more like the Big Brother of 1984, voyeuristic shows are more harmful than helpful. Use the time you might have spent watching the show to read the book and you'll figure out why.