March 20, 2019

Hell as a business by Sagy Zwirn

The show Big Brother has been successful for some time now, but apart from its name, it has little to do to with Orwell’s grim and dystopian predictions. In fact, the idea behind the show seems almost original. But it’s not. Much more than 1984, it resembles a play that was published four years before Orwell’s work: Sartre’s No Exit. The play is very well known:Three people go into a room, a man and two women. As the door closes they are assured that they will stay in that room forever. Why? Because it is hell. Fire and brimstone have become outdated. This is the new and improved hell. I doubt Sartre had Big Brother in mind, but the similarities are striking, aren’t they? After all, the point of the show is the point Sartre was trying to make:You put people in a room and lock the door behind them – eventually all hell will break loose (pardon the pun)… Of course Sartre was a philosopher and a smart one at that. He was trying to say more than one thing, and the point is much more subtle than I made it out to be. But to put it bluntly, and Sartre himself does so near the end of the play – hell is other people. Human interaction is the cause of most pain, people being around other people is the place where trouble starts. It’s a pretty pessimistic look at things, but isn’t it exactly what Big Brother depends on? Their recipe is a simple one: people and a locked room, right out of Sartre. Then they put it on camera and air it. This is the face of the times, I suppose. Take hell and make it into a business. Put cameras everywhere and broadcast it. Why not really? Is there anything better on TV? After all, Hell Live makes for great television. The network is happy with its cash cow and the competitors, well, they’re happy too, because they get to be, even if for a moment, celebrities. And what is a couple of months in hell in return for one’s fifteen minutes? It’s a fair trade, is what it is. Yes, it seems that it is the spirit of the times – make hell itself a product, make it a business, take Sartre’s point about people and put it on TV in prime time. And then let you, the audience, decide what happens next.You decide who stays, who leaves. It’s quite brilliant, when you think of it. Only it begs the question: If you get to decide what happens in hell, what does that make you?

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