Tuesday, 22 January 2013

My Speidi Sense Is Tingling

Every TV show needs a great villain. The Fugitive had the one-armed man. Twin Peaks had Bob. And Jim’ll Fix It had, well, you get the idea. Following this line of reasoning, the producers of Celebrity Big Brother have gone all-out this year, casting a pair of sociopaths so calculating that they make Nasty Nick seem like a Pride of Britain nominee.

From the moment they appeared next to Brian Dowling, and promptly got told they’d be taking up residence in the basement, Heidi and Spencer have made no attempt to appear likeable or empathetic. Spencer even declared in his VT that he intended to wind everyone up until he was the last man standing – opting for the ‘touch the truck’ strategy for winning. In retrospect, it was probably the only option available to him, since this toxic twosome couldn’t win a popularity contest at a Liberal Democrat fundraiser.

True to their word, they’ve managed to get right up Rylan’s velour onesie, and I don’t imagine Claire will be adding them to her round-robin mailer list next Christmas. But before you start lining up outside Elstree to pelt them with flaming bags of faeces when they finally get evicted, consider the fact that they’re not really villains at all. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that they could be the saviours of the increasingly stagnant reality TV format.

Bear with me. I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ve only scratched the surface of a couple who’ve built their entire career on façades. And having watched how they conduct themselves in the Big Brother house, I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re not actually a pair of no-hopers stuck in a publicity-seeking marriage of convenience. They’re a pair of audaciously talented performance artists. Like Andy Kaufman in his heyday, they’ve managed to create comedy personas that have fooled the world. And the subject of their satirical performance? George W Bush’s America.

Let’s consider the evidence:

On launch night, when Brian introduced the pair, they came out in an incongruous mix of outfits. Heidi was predictably spilling out of a sparkly evening dress, her famously reconfigured figure representing the synthetic, cosmetic aesthetic that constitutes modern media-savvy glamour. In stark contrast, Spencer looked to be recruiting for some hopeless Midwestern militia, decked out in scruffy camouflage combats.

Here, in human form, was an eloquent articulation of the conflict at the heart of America’s self-identity. If Heidi represents bi-coastal blue-state liberalism, then Spencer is providing his own commentary on the reactionary right wing ideologies of the fly-over states. Two separate mismatched personalities, thrown together in a troubled on-again-off-again partnership.

What should we make of Heidi and Spencer’s unwillingness to fully engage with the other housemates? Are they genuinely unsociable, or are we actually witnessing an incisive pastiche of US foreign policy? On opening night, Heidi at least made a cursory attempt at civility, robotically parroting her standard “Hi, I’m Heidi, nice to meet you,” as she made her way around the basement. But it was clear from the get-go that neither of them were willing to make any effort to get to know their fellow guests, particularly Rylan and Frankie, who had arbitrarily relegated them to the under-stairs hovel. In a stark echo of George W Bush’s troubling “You’re either with us or against us” post-9/11 rhetoric, Spencer and Heidi made it instantly clear that it was up to the rest of the housemates to join in a coalition-of-the-willing with them, or else suffer the consequences.

Throughout the series, they’ve displayed a consistent apathy towards getting fully involved in any of the tasks, preferring instead to sabotage any collective effort that didn’t specifically reward them. They also refused to be separated, even for the duration of a single task. Tellingly, this seemed less to do with their desperate need to be with each other, and more the fact that, shorn of their conjoined identity, they might simply cease to exist. Like the American tourists who visit Europe, but refuse to dine anywhere other than in familiar fast food restaurants, theirs is an insular take on the world. It’s one that expects everyone else to cater to their tastes, rather than branching out and embracing new experiences.

The last time Heidi and Spencer took part in a reality contest, they were dumped in the Australian jungle for the American edition of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of here. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the objectionable pair didn’t fare too well, and were soon voicing the irony-free get-out clause that saw them swiftly evacuated from the camp. But before they departed, Spencer allowed himself to be baptized by Stephen Baldwin (himself a former CBB housemate). Unnecessary background detail, or proof of Speidi’s commitment to transforming their lives into a coruscating commentary on contemporary American ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ Christianity?

Last week, former Playboy model Heidi confronted Lacey for showering naked, telling her that such behaviour was ‘inappropriate’. Hypocritical outrage aside, Heidi’s reaction highlights the misplaced priorities of populist right wing America – an obsession with the sinful nature of the human body, and an impatience to cast the first stone. Conversely, the pair initiated yet another fight in the house yesterday by laughing when they prevented Claire from hearing a letter from her kids. They can’t possibly be that spiteful, so we must conclude that their performance is a critique of the modern Christian charity and the subjective nature of ‘family values.’

It’s often been said of our ‘special’ relationship with our transatlantic cousins, that we’re two nations divided by a common language. Cleverly, Heidi and Spencer have offered their own perspective on the subject, with their esoteric take on communication. Spotting Spencer drinking wine straight from the bottle, Frankie Detorri asked whether he’d like a glass. “No, we’re American,” the pair retorted, offering justification, explanation and validation, all in one abstract declaration. Even their portmanteau tag feels like another quintessentially American noun – another consumer brand name to sit on a supermarket shelf alongside the Coca-Cola and Doritos. Like them, Speidi promises no natural ingredients and zero nutritional value.

So before you clench your fists and rail against the TV, exhorting the rest of the UK to vote them out, think about what they’re doing. As a reality TV entity, they’re greater than the sum of their parts. So much more than a failed pop tart and her conniving husband, they’re a knowing manifestation of contemporary America in all its tarnished glory. I’m just surprised that none of the countless magazine articles about their temporary separation used the headline ‘The State of Their Union’. So here’s to Spencer and Heidi, for bringing performance art to the masses. Forget about winning Celebrity Big Brother, I think they deserve the Turner Prize. Unless, of course, they really are just a massive pair of twats.

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