Bigger, Better, Brother
26 July 2001
Portillo was probably the deciding factor. He always was a smart boy. Little too clever for his own good, in some ways. He was bound to be the first one to go for the young, stupid or housebound vote.
Asked to explain certain inconsistencies in different accounts of his life, from himself and others, he it was who leaned back in his chair, took a big suck on a doobie big enough to stone the Israeli police, and, eyes dilated, croaked:
My adult life has been lived like I was an international pop star.
Robbie Williams presumably, commented one wag, but the damage had been done. Big fucking Brother had permeated the one area of British culture generally immune to this century, or indeed or the latter half of the previous one - the Conservative Party.
After that the air sort of went out of anybody trying to keep themselves aloof. Seemed easier, on the whole, just to throw in their lot with the madness and follow the swell to the bottleneck. After all, they reasoned, be over soon.
Except that once an idea is demonstrated to sell ad space, it never dies. We never quite knew what we were in for. The Americans got off lightly - Americans being so fucking dull that a program dedicated to ten of them sitting around watching television and eating pies was never going to be a goer. Not when Survivor provided the tempting vista of a gang of equally stupid people slowly starving to death. But we were doomed.
At first there were attempts to add some kind of interesting new spin on the formula. One of the guests is a plant. One of the guests is a vegetable. One of the guests is just an irremediable shit. None of them worked.
Then, the desperate quest for novelty started to set in. Five symbolist painters, two L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poets and three professional wrestlers. Eight manic-depressives and the Bulger killers. An armed policeman, nine paedophiles and a backyard full of chickens.
And meanwhile, among the chaos and collapsing ratings, Helen and Paul continued their glacial process, a decerebrated Charles and Diana for the twenty-first century. Sure, they had some lucky breaks. Big G, it turned out, was in fact a big letter G - limbless. Moving by puling himself along the ground through muscular contractions, the only clear sign of humanity or feeling in the big cartoon eyes and downturned mouth hovering in front of his downward curve. Asked why she had never thought to mention that her boyfriend was a human-sized cartoon letter, "Hel" just giggled and said that she had forgotten. Things got a bit hairy when Big G's mate, the letter K, made it known that if Paul ever showed his face on Sesame Street he was fucking claimed, but it all blew over.
Even now, nobody really understands why the glow of celebrity, so swiftly dimmed on the brows of the other likely lackwits, stayed with the couple whose incompetent, fumbling romance entrapped a nation's heart. Perhaps, in an age of renewed protest, it was restful to have figureheads on whom any person of any ideology could hang their hats. Literally, sometimes, if they were distracted by a particularly challenging piece of fondue at a top showbiz party and froze into immobility.
But this level of adoration for such a dangerously dim duo was always bound to end in tears. One day, interviewed by a leading fashion rag to complement their article on "The Helen Look - How Lying in Used Teabags can Give you that Healthy Permatan Glaze". Gazing up, those pallid circles framing the vacancy of eyes deep-set in her Orangina face, she pronounced, "It's just a shame that everyone can't do it, you know".
Well, that was it. The people's princess had spoken. And, deep down, everybody wanted to be like her. Well, except possibly in some cases a less startling colour. By the end of the month the cameras had gone up in every room of every house in the country. CCTV was extended to every street and every field, and, within the year, every nation on Earth. The British Empire restored by a nation's hollow desire to deprive people of the chance to nip off to Mauritius for a crafty wank and a bit of privacy.
Eyes in the sky, eyes in the bathroom and underneath the stairs, the stares, eyes everywhere. Genetically modified human eyeballs harvested for real cash prizes, hooked up to the Big Brother network. Clusters of eyes like grapes or jellied wasps' nests hanging from traffic lights, eyes on stalk in the botanical gardens questing blindly for the light. Cats eyes, Gecko eyes set into bedsteads and headboards for those low-light moments. Nictating membranes wiping clean. The sound of damp cicadas in the night. Blinking, blinking. And everybody after the ultimate prize - sole ownership of Planet Earth.
So I for one am nominating myself. Nobody does anything anymore - they just watch and wait and hope that somebody will do something on screen. The same gang of fat perverts have sex every night, and everyone else just sits around and watches them. Nobody's written a book for three bloody years, except books about what its like to be on television, writing a book about being on television.
Well, fuck it. I'm sick of the lassitude, sick of the despair and the heroising of banality. Fuck this, and fuck you all.
To nominate Dan, call 0898 471 9612. Executions will be carried out at 9pm on Friday, with the glowing, Christ-like astral form of Davina McCall.
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