Thursday, 15 January 2009

Using Big Brother to solve all our problems

This is an edited version of my column in the Bath Chronicle of 15 January.

I came to the surprising conclusion this week that there may be a very simple way to solve the majority of our problems - be they local, national or international. And bizarrely, perhaps, it was reality TV that gave provided that Eureka moment.

OK, reality TV isn't to everyone's taste (although have you noticed that many people who pooh-pooh Big Brother and I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here for example still enjoy the likes of Strictly Come Dancing or The Apprentice which are cut from the same cloth?) but it just may help the world too...

It was while watching the admittedly rather dreary ‘Celebrity’ Big Brother this week that it struck me just how incredibly boring it must be for those who are caught up in this curious jail without bars. Each night we are shown an hour’s worth of ‘highlights’ which are supposed to be the best bits of 24 hours of conversations, tasks, debates, arguments and philosophical discussions. And yet many of these so-called highlights are mind-numbingly trivial which begs the question – what were the other 23 hours like?

The reason that the people involved find it so hard to keep their own pulses racing (let alone ours) is because life inside such an environment lacks all the ingredients that normally make life interesting and challenging. Most of us find our source of debate and conversational interest is centred around the things that all the housemates are deliberately deprived of – their families, their friends, their hobbies, their jobs, sport and, of course TV, newspapers, films and all other forms of media and entertainment.

But what if it was different? What if that free time was used for what they called in Hot Fuzz - “the greater good”?

There are so many issues in our city, our country and the world as a whole that need the sort of full and undivided attention that the equivalent of the Big Brother house could offer, that I can’t help thinking that the Big Brother concept is wasted on the Big Brother contestants. Just imagine if we threw out all the fading pop stars, wannabees-who-will-neverbees and has-beens-who-were-never-really even ‘been-beens’ and put into this locked, distraction-free house a group of experts with a real, important task – one where they would not get “voted out” until they had solved it?

Imagine, for example, in a local sense, if we were to put all the key players in the city involved in transport into the Big Brother house, switched off the TV cameras (so they were not playing to them) and not allow anybody out until they got a workable plan for the city’s transport future? Perhaps they could find a way of avoiding the traffic pictured here....

And if we can do it with transport in Bath then we can do it with everything from world peace to why can’t Gerrard and Lampard play in the same team together.

The idea has certainly worked before. In the 1970s, when unions and bosses were forever at each other’s throats, I can remember that all-powerful organisation called Acas being used to find compromises, and they worked round the clock to find them.
More recently, I recall reading Alistair Campbell’s diaries about the Blair years when he talked about the historic agreement in Ireland which was forged in similar circumstances where people locked themselves in a room and didn’t come out until they had something tangible. He refers to former president Bill Clinton being asked to talk to people in the middle of the night to keep things on track. and that is exactly the kind of “no -one gets outta here until we’ve achieved something” policy that I think could have some legs.

So, as you look around the world and see problems, why not join me in putting forward the idea that a possible solution lies within the most talked about reality house in Britain?

Could it work? As Big Brother would say - you decide!!!

1 comment:

bobbins said...

Sounds suspiciously like a prison for focus groups to me :-)

You're right though, too many big decisions are left to people who have no *real* incentive to decide anything. Councillors only really (i.e. publicly and noticably) take an interest in the affairs of the people that they're elected to represent when the time draws near for them to justify their jobs (i.e. a local election). In the intervening years the sense of urgency disappears and they get caught up in The System.

These people do need to be coerced into actually doing something useful, but I reckon a BB-type situation would just force them to come to a quick decision that wouldn't necessarily be the best. It's what always seems to happen whenever I'm caught on one of these dreaded team-building exercises anyhow ("once you've come up with a solution to the problem you can have a coffee break" - so naturally we all agree to the first half-workable idea then leg it to make sure we get our share of the custard creams).

Perhaps what we need is a publicly-viewable "score sheet" with a list of issues that the council will be addressing per term. This could have a set of "due by" dates, names of people responsible for driving it etc. When the due date is reached you simply put a big green tick or a big red cross next to it. Then everyone can see that Cllr Bloggs didn't pull his weight on the A36-A46 link :) To give them some legroom to blame other people I guess progress reports could be published alongside the agenda items. Naturally the opposition would also be able to use this hard data in their own election campaigns, so it would be in the councillors own interests to work hard on the jobs they're given. Okay, I know the council would argue that they already publish progress reports etc, but the big picture is obscured by all the detail. We know in our guts that they're pretty ineffectual, but there's no easy measurement for us to prove it. And of course it's not in their interests to provide us with simple data either...