Julie Chen Has Every Right to Be Pissed About Racism From 'Big Brother' Cast

As the network finally aired many of the horrible comments made by contestants on the show, the host speaks out

Well, folks, apparently Big Brother wasn't bad enough already. Forget you ever complained about the insufferable conversations among inarticulate, mean-spirited model types. That was quaint, people -- at least compared to the racist and homophobic slurs spouting from the show's current, beautiful empty vessels of season 15.

Though TV viewers can only see what CBS chooses to air (Wednesdays at 8 p.m., Thursdays at 9 p.m. and Sundays at 8 p.m. on CBS), the show's 24-hour live feed -- which fans can watch on the website for a fee -- has shown at least seven contestants making the above-mentioned slurs. Naturally, various bloggers have documented their infractions.

The chief bigot appears to be a Daisy Duke look-a-like named Aaryn. You can sample her ignorant remarks here.  

For those who've managed to miss out on the bizarre cultural phenomenon that is Big Brother, here's the nutshell: For three months, a group of people are isolated in a house, where they take part in competitions and vote weekly to evict someone -- all while enduring (or, let's be honest, enjoying) 24-hour camera surveillance.

When word spread about the prejudiced smears airing on the live feed, an online petition was created on Change.org, which called for Aaryn's ouster from the show. Her modeling agency released a statement that she'd be fired. GinaMarie was also sacked by her employer, while Spencer's only released a statement distancing themselves from his comments. CBS released a statement distancing itself from the remarks, which do not "represent the views or opinions of CBS or the producers of the program.” And Julie Chen, the Chinese-American host of Big Brother, spoke on her other CBS show, The Talk, about her own reaction to the comments.

"I have to be honest, it stung," she said. "Those things, in my opinion ... it felt mean-spirited. It felt ugly and it felt mean. When I first found out that Aryan, who is a 22-year-old girl, made anti-gay, anti-black and anti-Asian comments, I have to be honest, the Asian ones hit me the most. It stung. I took it personally."

 

Truth is, Big Brother gave the comments a much broader airing when CBS chose to highlight them during a segment on Sunday's show. (Spencer's remarks were so egregious that they weren't included in the TV montage.) “I do feel it would be irresponsible to put hate on the airwaves just for hate’s sake,” admitted Allison Grodner, an executive producer of Big Brother. “You need to have some sort of context.”

The producers got that context when Aaryn won a ridiculous barbeque sauce-carrying competition (don't ask), and became Head of Household. “That gave us a launching pad to be able to tell this story,” said Grodner, because Aaryn's new position as leader led the other contestants to grumble about her offensive comments.

Of course, CBS and the Big Brother producers didn't have to handle this problem the way they did. This all began when a small number of online, paying customers watched some contestants spew close-minded insults at one another, provoking an uproar among bloggers. Did Big Brother help the situation by creating a montage of the worst comments, and highlighting them in Sunday's episode? Now hundreds of thousands more people have seen Aaryn cast all Asians as rice-cooking nail salon workers.

No doubt the producers saw this racism and homophobia as one of the main components of season 15's story, and of course it is. But they also saw an opportunity for some sensationalistic TV at a time when the show itself has long since become stale. With these types of reality shows, exploitation -- of the oppressed as well as the bigots -- always wins in the end. No doubt the producers are giddy with anticipation about Thursday night's episode, when Chen is likely to interview Head of Household Aaryn. Will she confront her about her remarks? You bet she will, and lots of people will tune in to see Aaryn squirm.

Jennifer Graham Kizer is an Atlanta-based writer who covers pop culture and watches too much TV. Luckily, iVillage gives her an excuse to watch even more. Follow her on Google+.

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