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Swiss tune in to voyeur television

Swiss viewers have made a success of voyeur television

(Keystone Archive)

The new phenomenon of "voyeur television" (or VTV) seems set to grow in Switzerland when the second series of the hit TV show, "Big Brother", airs next Sunday. Viewers will tune in to watch the ordinary lives of ordinary people cooped up in a container.

The runaway success show is back, giving people with a passion for peeking the chance to vicariously live the highs and lows of 10 strangers who are thrown together for 105 days.

Twenty-seven cameras and 50 microphones will record every conversation and interaction in every room. And yes, the cameras go into the bathroom.

But why do increasing numbers of people want to watch strangers take a shower with other strangers?

"It is a mirror of our society," Louis Bosshart, a professor in the sociology and media department of Fribourg University explained to swissinfo. "People enjoy reality TV because it's similar to everyday life. Also, since people are quite bored in contemporary society, they're looking for stimulation and Big Brother gives some kind of stimulation."

There is tension, gossip and even sex to interest viewers of the show. There is also the humiliation of being voted out of the container.

VTV is a form of escapism and its suspended realism gives it an edge. Unlike the early soap operas that chronicled the lives of the rich and beautiful, VTV tracks the humdrum life of ordinary people.

"The success of Big Brother and other voyeuristic shows lies in the fact that people can relate to it," said Bettina Frymerman, producer of the programme.

Private life in VTV becomes public, but the boundaries demarcating where the peeking ceases to be tasteful and reasonable are blurred.

"This kind of programme is worrying because it goes to the heart of society which is the family and partnerships and we don't know where it will lead," Bosshart said. "People are getting used to this sort of stimulation and they are asking for more."

"Temptation Island" on an American TV channel takes a number of couples to an exotic island inhabited by singles. The aim is to see whether any of the couples are unfaithful.

The creators of Big Brother are reportedly considering a new TV show in which unmarried women choose between potential sperm donors.

Bosshart is unsure whether live executions will come next, but Frymerman admits that VTV is becoming more provocative.
However she believes that ratings rely on more than a programme with provocative content: "You have to have a good programme and it has to be positive. If you see people really suffering and only having disputes and quarrels, that is not the idea. As long as they can face themselves in the morning, then I think it's okay."

The next series of Big Brother goes a step further than the last episode. There will be a wood stove and two people will have to sleep in the living room.

Frymerman denies that the show is deliberately setting the stage for conflict over who chops the wood. Rather, the new elements are designed to create a more interesting programme for the viewer.

The gender breakdown of Big Brother 2 is still unknown, but it will be interesting to watch how they negotiate who has to sleep in the communal area.

by Samantha Tonkin


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