A Place on The Great Bull – My Crowning Achievement?

Pic: Dr Gary Wood on Big Brother's Little BrotherWhen stand-up comedian, James Cook, sent me a Facebook message that read ‘I think we may have something in common’. I was intrigued. I’d attended James’s Stand-Up comedy course, partly as a bit of research for some courses I was writing about confidence and partly to see if I could stand up and make people laugh. Anyway I digress. I’d kind of assumed that we already had quite a lot in common – apparently not –  so what new revelation might ‘a click of the mouse’ hold?

The Great Bull Map of Birmingham 'Celebrity'

The Great Bull – The Crowning Achievement of Dr Gary Wood

It was a link to the ‘Birmingham it’s not sh*t’ website. This looks promising, I thought. (Not!)

The post entitled The Great Bull mirrors The Great Bear, where celebrities’ names instead of stations are on the London Underground map. This new version does the same for Birmingham. I quickly found James Cook on the map – he was the stop before Stewart Lee. A well deserved accolade. However, I could not see how this meant that we had something (more) in common. Much to my surprise, I did find my name over at ‘the rough end’ on the Reality TV line. I’m so pleased that those appearances on Big Brother’s Little Brother and Trisha  (as a life coach) paid off over my long, hard years of study. However, curiously, I’m flattered. I suppose it’s better than being on there for being a serial killer.

Whereas James Cook is over on the Tony Hancock end (with Lenny Henry), I’m on the Robert Kilroy-Silk end along with Enoch Powell and Bill Oddie. Although over on my side we have William Shakespeare and Bob Carolgees. Being on the Reality TV route I suppose I must clutch at straws.

This bit of nonsense and whimsy has made me think of the importance of ‘just doing something’. Everyone who knows me knows that I take any opportunity to encourage people to continue learning. I also constantly seek out new learning opportunities and new challenges, particular when they scare me. I often make the point:

We live and we learn!

Life will teach you lessons whether you like it or not.

So, why not set your own agenda?

I like to take control of some of my own agenda for my learning. Setting learning goals that stretch us contributes to happiness and builds confidence and esteem. I often say that it doesn’t matter what you learn as long as you actively continue to do so. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a stand-up comedy course but I can heartily recommend it. You might want to learn a different language, learn to play a musical instrument, learn to bake or tap dance or polish up on computer skills or wood whittling. It doesn’t matter that none of these may not gain you a ‘prestigious’ place on the map of your city. It will, however, transform your own internal landscape. Never underestimate the power and knock on effect of learning something new. Don’t let others put you off. Just do something for you. Learning something new. Yes that’s my feedle attempt to get off Reality TV and on to William Shakespeare line. Yes I have a long way to go, but trying will be fun.

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Down the Back of the Couch: The Problem with Big Brother

Poor George Orwell must be turning in his grave. Two concepts from his dystopian novel 1984, have been mauled and distorted beyond recognition to form two of the naffest TV programmes, namely Room 101 and the interminable Big Brother.

So what’s wrong with Big Brother? Well, for starters, doesn’t it now just stink of desperation as the producers  seek to wring every last bit of advertising revenue from a tired old format that never lived up to its promise? Each season the choice of contestants gets  more bizarre and tasks become more degrading in a attempt to boost the flagging ratings. Isn’t it just all a bit sad that this is what passes for entertainment today? Once billed as a ‘social experiment’, yeah right! It’s a delusion to suggest that this so-called ‘reality TV’ programme tells us anything about human social behaviour in real life, except how people behave in the Big Brother house. That’s it!

If you want to find out about social behaviour then get yourself a social psychology book. It’s all in there. You can real about the Obedience to Authority experiments of Stanley Milgram, the Stanford Prison Experiment by Philip Zimbardo and the inspirational work of Jane Elliot with her Blue Eyes / Brown Eyes experiment. And there’s so much more. A great deal of the material to be found in the humble social psychology book gives us real insight into why we behave in the way we do, how we behave in strange situations and why. Big Brother has added nothing apart from  maybe footnote here and there.  Reality TV has never had anything to do with reality.

So what exactly does Big Brother offer? Well, it tells us that people desperate for celebrity status will do almost anything to achieve it. It also tells us, that programme makers can broadcast people sleeping using night vision cameras some members of the audience will stay up into the early hours in the vain hope that someone will snore or better still ‘let one off’ and startle the other house mates! Oh how we’ll laugh! It’s also the modern day equivalent of Bedlam, where the programme makers create insane situations and people behave insanely.What a surprise.  In the past, a ‘gentleman’ would take a lady out for a nice fish supper then off to the lunatic asylum to laugh at the mad people. What foreplay! Nowadays, you can just order a pizza and stay at home and watch the mayhem from the comfort of your own couch. You can also vote on the fate of the inmates, which is a great way for the producers to get the audience involved and make a lot of money. It’s perhaps a sad indictment that many people are more likely to vote for ‘reality TV’ than they are at elections.

Much has been made of the ‘shrinks‘ who advise on the show stringent psychological screening process for contestants, but let’s have a reality check here. ‘Psychologists’ or ‘counsellors’ or ‘therapists’ (we are never clear which) band together to make sure that the contestants are psychological sound enough to undergo psychological distress. Surely that’s a conflict of interest for any psychologist. Maybe there’s a temptation to let a few borderline cases through to spice up the show a little. Watching the predictable meltdowns each and every year, it’s clear that some vulnerable people do ‘slip through the net’. Maybe, the best qualified shrink associated with Big Brother, is the shrink in ratings.

Now hands up, I confess,  I have been involved with a spin-off of the show, appearing on Big Brother’s Little Brother (many moons ago). It was my first live TV appearance and an amazing learning experience. I was treated very well by all involved on the show. They were all very nice people and a pleasure to work with. The mistake I made was believing that the show wanted any real psychological input. The sad fact is that ‘psychobabble and pseudoscience’ just sound a lot sexier, especially as there’s no issue with making up quirky theories to fit the events. And yes, I have to agree with colleague Petra Boynton that the producers have settled on a motley crew of analysts. I just wouldn’t want to be sitting on the same couch with many of them, much in the way that any reputable trades person would want to be seen to endorsing the kind of cowboys who appear on consumer programme Watchdog.

Occasionally a suitably qualified commentator does some manage to fly in below the  radar and offers some  insightful comments and may even, occasionally,  sneak in a bit of psychology. However, they are in the minority, as a number of regulars are have no qualifications whatsoever, although they claim to be psychologists and one even claims to be a psychiatrist. Now a psychiatrist has a medical degree but having checked the website of this particular BBLB regular all I can find that remote applies to anatomy is the ability to walk in high heels!  I suppose the equivalent is saying you are a surgeon, just because you own a craft knife. The sad thing is that instead of any real psychology getting out there, we get to hear utter drivel. It’s dressed up to sound significant but is more often than not just stating the bleedin’ obvious.

If we think about it, there have been ten seasons of Big Brother with what, 12 people per show (120 in all)? Now this tiny sample is in no way selected to represent the general population, just in the likelihood that the people will ‘kick off’ or ‘crack up’. So, in terms of the psychology of social behaviour in general, it tells us virtually nothing. It doesn’t even tell us very much at all about the people on the inside, except how they cope in a particular season in the Big Brother house. Again, not an every day occurrence and in no way generalizable to the real world.

One spin off show, Big Brother on the Couch, offers the kind of detritus usually found stuck down the back of the couch! We are served mainly crumbs of psychobabble largely from a bunch of phonies and quacks who engage in meaningless discussions about manipulated clashes and disputes in a make-believe house full of self-absorbed people, duped in to believing that this could be their big break, and placed under psychological stress for the amusement of others. What does this say about us? Even George Orwell didn’t dream it would get this bad! Karl Marx once described religion as ‘the opium of the masses’ but perhaps today it’s the cult of reality TV.

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Britain’s Got Some Thinking To Do.

A journalist friend, Paul Flower, has run with my post on Susan Boyle and Britain’s Got Talent and expanded on some of the issues that have been overlooked at large, which in turn has given me more food for thought.

The current debate seems to be focusing on whether contestants on Britain’s Got Talent should be subjected to psychological screening as they are with Big Brother. However, those jumping on this bandwagon seem to be missing the point that BGT and BB are two very different programmes.  With BGT, people with a modicum of talent are looking for a break, whereas in BB, people without talent are chasing celebrity (at any cost). It’s also worth pointing out that if we applied the same psychological screening criterion to all ‘talent’ and celebrity, a significant percentage would be screened out.

Most of the 350 complaints received by Ofcom related to the treatment of ten year old Hollie Steel. However 80% of the complaints were about the unfairness to other contestants that she was given a second chance. Only 14% were questioning the ethics of having children on the show. The remaining 6% complained about the treatment of Susan Boyle. So for the 14% of complainants, they really need to contrast one crying ten year old with the other kids who appeared on the show. Shaheen Jafargholi gave a vocal performance that a adult would be envious of, and dancer Aiden Davis had to cope with having a moving stage sprung on him at the last minute. Then we have to consider that kids cry all the time. They get extremely upset about things that adults consider trivial. They cry and scream when they have to go to bed early and cry in supermarkets and roll around the floor and wet themselves if they can’t have sweets (I know I did).

There has been a great deal of emphasis on what the producers of BGT could be doing to protect the contestants from distress and in particular Susan Boyle. One thing that springs to mind is 24 hour protection from media intrusion but clearly that’s impractical. Of course BGT stage managed the whole thing from the outset. The run up to the audition ensured that our expectations of Susan Boyle were lowered. Judges sneered and audiences sniggered and rolled their eyes. It was a well-crafted piece of television designed to get strong reactions. We were all manipulated. However, I don’t thing anyone could have predicted the impact this few minutes of television would have, helped along by YouTube and Twitter. And exactly, who is going to regulate those? Paul Flower in his blog echoes sentiments from the first BGT winner, Paul Potts, who pointed out that he only had nine days of press attention whereas Susan Boyle had seven weeks from audition to finals.

One thing we need to turn out attention how we collectively take responsibility and rethink out attitudes to celebrity and whether we condone editors paying fortunes for ‘pap-snaps’ of people in distress. In the hotel incident with Susan Boyle in the run up to the final, two journalists allegedly deliberately set out with the intention of causing her distress. They did not report the news but created it, just for the sheer hell of it.

Susan Boyle has ‘enjoyed’ a lightning speed rise to celebrity-dom, which apparently makes her fair game. Some have commented that ‘she needs to get used to it as it goes with the territory’ but few have questioned the morals of hounding someone who just ‘entered a talent contest’ a couple of months ago. It’s welcome news that the Press Complaints Commission have emailed editors reminding them of their code of practice.

Even seasoned professional media-manipulators would have had problems dealing with the media attention,  speculation and intrusion Susan Boyle is receiving. Let’s hope the banality of Big Brother spectacle will provide Susan Boyle with some respite so that she can recover and pursue her dream of ‘being a professional singer’ rather than the main attraction in a media circus.

I suppose we should at least be thankful that no-one has used the term ‘subogate‘. . damn. . spoke too soon!

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Big Brother’s Job Centre Easter Egg Hunt!

I suspect I’m not the only one who is disgusted by the Easter egg hunt at the JobCentre Plus contractor Skills Training Centre UK (STC)  in Southwark, South London. More than 150 unemployed people have been invited to look for 35 chocolate eggs hidden in the STC offices. Prizes include payment for a licence to work on building sites, vouchers to buy clothes for interview, and the chance to become a security guard.

However, I doubt whether anyone who has been in a job centre will be that surprised. The last time I had to use the service I was sent on a course run by some  private training company to update my CV and show me how to use the phone, and lick a stamp! The best advice I got was to lie on my CV! I was told to ‘play down’ my qualifications as I was likely to put employers off!

And now we have this so called fun and innovative approach to job seeking. It’s  nothing of the sort. It sounds as if some bright spark devoid of any imagination, creativity or respect for human dignity has spent too long watching the reality TV programme Big Brother.  It begs the question of what happens next year, chicken costumes or maybe eating worms or maybe selling a few tickets to have an audience to complete the humiliation? Unemployment can have a devastating effect on self-confidence and self-esteem and I’m hard pressed to see how humiliating people is going to help with this.

It’s all the more worrying the the organiser of this fiasco Catrina Lynch does see there’s a problem with the approach and some jobsworth at the Department for Work and Pensions has said: ‘We encourage providers to develop innovative ways of addressing unemployment. The most important thing is to find ways to get people back into work.’

Clearly, there should be an Easter egg hunt for the idiots who think this is a good way to treat human beings. We could have “choccie-woccie eggy-weggies”  filled with invitations to training courses on ‘how to treat people’ or better still containing their P45s! Maybe this would put these ‘people’ back in touch with values of respect, compassion and professionalism.