In 15 seasons, Big Brother contestants have been brought back to compete on the show TWENTY-FIVE times. Of those 25 returns, producers have only asked a gay contestant to return on one occasion. I’m proud to call that singular contestant my friend. Marcellas and I recently had a conversation about Andy Herren, Big Brother 15’s sole gay competitor. We both enjoyed the debate and thought it was worth sharing. Our discussion was sparked by the following long-winded Tweet I posted this morning:
Regarding @AndyHerren: I’m hesitant to post this on Twitter because I don’t want to deal with the backlash. But when have I ever held my tongue? I’m tired of many BB super fans giving Andy a hard time and calling him a rat. He’s even ranked dead last in Jokers’ houseguest poll. Yes, ANDY, who, by BB standards, is about as innocuous as you can get is ranked LAST, below the racist trio of Aaryn, Amanda, and Gina Marie, below the dude who touted the benefits of the Holocaust, and below the guy who wiped his ass with Elissa’s hat.. He gets called a “rat” for doing EXACTLY what he’s supposed to do in the house: collect information from one side and use it as currency with the other. His only allegiance is to himself, which is how the game should be played. The Andy backlash reminds me of the following sentence from my BB essay: “When viewers tokenize gay characters, they expect for them to be exemplary representatives of their communities; and, if they fail to exemplify greatness, their failures and character flaws—no matter how mundane—are regularly used to justify bigoted attitudes and narratize the assumed worst elements of a gay person’s character.” Not only is Andy one of the least offensive people in the BB15 house, he’s playing a damn good game that will probably get him in the final 4 (at least)–an accomplishment only claimed by one other gay man in the history of US BB. He should be applauded, not ridiculed. I see the Andy hate for what it is. Andy playing all sides (i.e., being a “rat”) is a red herring. I can read between the lines.
Forgive the typos in our exchange. This was more of a casual Facebook conversation than a scholarly treatise.
Marcellas: We’re on different sides of this. Do I think he should be last behind Aaryn, GinaMarie, Spencer or Amanda? No. Do I respect the game he’s playing? No. Strangely it’s similar to how I tried to play All-stars. With one exception: I wasn’t aligned with evil. Perhaps it’s because he seems so blind in his devotion to McCranda that there seems to be no strategy behind how he disperses the info he gets and then so easily and pointlessly gives away? It seems like he’s playing the game for someone else (Amanda). Let me ask you this; are you Team Andy simply because he’s homosexual & he’s gotten so close to winning? Is this gameplay you would respect if you were playing the game? I’m not taking sides one way or the other. I’m simply asking. As an African American gay male people expect me to support the Black HGs & the gay HGs. It’s always been my posititon that I’m human first. So I look for gameplay that represents my human values. And there has been little to none this season. Oh well… Where BB is concerned I’m a pragmatist. Whatever strategy gets you to the end on any season is the right strategy for that season. So if it’s working for him or any other HG, great. I’d like to see Andy, Elissa or Judd win BB15 because they are the least offensive players in this incredibly polarizing season.
Ragan: I’m not Team Andy because he’s gay. I’m Team Andy because he’s playing a solid game and, as a gay man, I can empathize with how people/fans have diminished his gameplay, and, worse, his humanity (e.g., animal metaphors like rat). It’s smart gameplay to team up with a strong pair because you’ll always have a bigger target in front of you. The wheels, for example, came off my game when I split from Brenchel. Now he’s certainly not playing the game for McCranda. He will, in fact, be largely responsible for Amanda’s eviction this week. Amanda currently has Elissa’s and McCrae’s vote. Andy won’t give Amanda the 3rd vote she needs to stay. In sum, he used McCranda as a shield and is dumping them at the perfect time. As you know, this game is ALL about timing. Andy’s a great player. That doesn’t mean that everyone needs to be Team Andy but the super fan ire is TOTALLY unfounded, which was the only point of my critique. I like Andy and I’ll be happy if he wins but there are other players I prefer, like Elissa. As much as I loathe nobody sticking up for Elissa when Amanda berates her, I also don’t like past players willfully ignoring homophobia in all its forms–both subtle and overt–as one of their own gets devoured. It’s important to stand up and say something when you shit like this go down. Each time you don’t speak up, you empower the very mindsets that marginalize you. I don’t see a convincing “different side” of this scenario.
Marcellas: Alas I don’t see the Andy hate as homophobia. I see it as an unfortunate byproduct of being aligned with the wrong players. I aslo see him as being duplicitous & two-faced in a game so often defined by loyalty. Yes, Andy had a good social game early on that slid into a rather one-sighted devotion to one of the worst players in BB history, Amanda. Did he ingratiate himself to other players? Yes. Good gameplay. Did he glean info from other HGs? Yes. Soild. Did he take said info and drop it at the feet of other players benefiting them and not himself? All the time. Did that behavior negatively impact the game of other players unnecessarily? Yes in the case of Elissa and Jessie. Is that all part of playing BB? Sure. I don’t know where you saw his often mindless devotion to McCranda as strategy. If it was he never articulated it as such. So often he seemed to be playing for 3rd place this season. BUT I do agree that part of that strategy is to jettison the right 3rd player at the right time. Even the best players screw that up as we saw Danielle do during BB 3. Andy has made some social mistakes. He’s used the c word often to describe female players (Elissa) and had an unfortunate racist moment in reference to Helen. He’s also fallen into what I call Big Brother Stockholm Syndrome; “They are bad. We are good” and at times been painful to watch as he’s been vehemently hateful about it. Do I think LGBT and ethnic HGs are held to a higher standard of behavior. Yes. But I also think women are. It’s curious no woman in American Big Brother history has ever won against a man… (Danielle should have beaten Dick). I guess if I respected Andy’s gameplay I’d see the disdain others have for him as more but I don’t. Let me say once more, any strategy that gets you to the end of your season is the right strategy for that season. That I truly believe. And I would love to see a gay man win BB. God knows I tried.
Ragan: Here’s my problem with your critique of Andy’s gameplay: you claim he’s playing for 3rd (under McCranda), which assumes the worst in his strategy then argue that I’m reading too much into his strategy by assuming the best in what he’s done. The difference is that his willingness to cut McCranda proves my theory, not yours. What you read as mindless devotion, I see as gaining the trust of two powerful people in the house. Fans, for example, ragged on me for calming Rachel down when she’d go after other contestants. My reason for doing so was twofold: First, I genuinely like Rachel and didn’t want to see emotions trip her up in the game. Second, talking sense into her was a way I gained her trust. As you know, very little we narrate makes it to an actual episode. Regarding your other point about his using the “C” word and making a racial slur directed at Helen: I obviously don’t approve of that shit. That said, I’ll forgive a few transgressions. We ALL say stupid stuff from time to time. My big beef is with sustained racism, sexism, and homophobia. Put differently, does a contestant treat all women like they are inferior? Does he or she constantly use racist or anti-gay epithets? This doesn’t excuse Andy, but, let’s compare his unfortunately statements to the likes of Aaryn, Gina Marie, Spencer, Jeremy, Kaitlin, and Amanda. There’s no reason he should be last in ANY poll? I’m not saying that ALL Andy hate is exclusively homophobia. What I’m saying is that we’d be foolish to assume homophobia is NOT playing a salient and disguised role in fan punishment that does not AT ALL fit the crime.
Marcellas: I see what you mean. I feel you. However there are problems with that strategy and that is where his gameplay has faltered. He’s not cutting McCranda so much as floating to another side. OR allowing GM to do his dirty work which IS smart gameplay. Finally. I agree, we can’t read a HG’s mind. Nor do we get the full picture through editing. His gameplay seems to be similar to what you tried to achieve in your season & what I tried to do during BBAS. However I think the lionshare of hate towards him stems from his behavior coupled with his gameplay. I like and respect you Ragan. I think you are one of the smartest and most thoughtful men to have played BB. But… I must ask this question: Are you perhaps personalizing Andy, fan reaction to him, and what Andy is doing ethically and strategically during BB15? So often we LGBT HGs are thought of as monolithic. Lumped together. What one does, we all do. Is this you internalizing that?
Ragan: Seriously, give credit where it’s due. He’s the DECIDING VOTE this week. If Elissa sticks with the plan to keep Amanda, GM has to break the tie but McCrae will know that Andy committed the ultimate betrayal (as far as he’s concerned). Andy has been working with Spencer and Judd, pulling GM’s strings—not the other way around. GM’s not the mastermind here. SHE is the puppet. And that’s what makes it awesome. I’m sure there’s a bit of personalization going on here. I mean, I’m human. But I’m also a logic-driven person. I FEEL for Andy but I’m much more inclined to speak out by the double-standards to which gay HGs are held. The emotional reaction I have to that is not divorced from logic. In fact, the two elements are entwined. I’m responding to fan emotion (i.e., hate) with logic (e.g., “Fans dislike Andy more than the guy touting the benefits of the Holocaust? REALLY?). The fans who claim they hate Andy aren’t couching their disdain in the single anti-Asian epithet (not that single makes it ok) he uttered this season. They claim to hate him for being a “rat,” or stabbing allies in the back, using information against people, and ingratiating himself to people in power. Disliking him for PLAYING THE GAME the way countless others before him have played it. Point being: Regardless of character flaw, Andy, as most gay players, will fall to the bottom of polls like that season after season because fans will continue to cherry pick their behavior and use it to substantiate a narrative they already have about gay people. Fans like to claim BB is a social experiment, what many fail to realizes is that THOSE SAME FANS ARE PART OF THE EXPERIMENT. Trust me, there have been gay players I didn’t like. Josh from S9, for instance.
Marcellas: Gameplay aside do I think he’s worse than the current players left in the game? No. Do I as a gay Black man, the victim of racism and homophobia on a day to day basis, think he’s being held to a much more rigid standard than other HGs? Absolutely. Do I see how his behavior in the game could garner this response? Yep. And that has nothing to do with homophobia. I think he’s unlikable working an unlikeable strategy. Do I think this represents who he is outside of BB? I hope not. It’s just a game with it’s own stresses & rules. On this one we disagree Ragan. I still love and respect you and thank you for a provocative and thought provoking discussion.
My latest article, “‘You are Not Allowed to Talk About Production’: Narratization on and off the Set of CBS’s Big Brother,” was recently published in Critical Studies in Media Communication. The essay is FREE TO VIEW for a limited time by clicking here.
Glanced over a few responses to my dialogue with Marcellas. The stats function of my blog directs me to all websites that link to my entries, which gives me a pretty unfettered view into people who read our exchange. Thanks for taking time to read our thoughts on the issue. A few responses to people who disagreed with me and the counterpoints they offer: 1) While it’s certainly convenient to assume gay men only defend one another when they want to sleep with one another, I promise I didn’t pen that blog to get into Andy’s pants. I have a boyfriend of nearly two years and Andy’s not my type. Believe it or not, gay people can be kind to one another and it has nothing to do with sex. 2) I’m not saying that the only reason people dislike Andy is because he’s gay. If THAT is what you took away from my debate with Marcellas, you’re probably a 20-year-old boy with Glee gifs clogging up your Tumblr page. My argument is an extension of the peer-reviewed scholarly research to which I linked at the bottom of the blog entry. My point was that, throughout television history, gay and lesbian characters have routinely been coded as villains. In fact, the earliest homophile movements in the United States largely focused on negative depictions of gays and lesbians on (wait for it) TELEVISION. This isn’t just my opinion. This is a fact documented in several historical and scholarly accounts. As a television audience, we have been trained, since the inception of the medium, to mark sexual minorities on TV as deviant, without home, sad, lonely, and villainous. This coding mechanism is so engrained that it often works outside of our conscious minds. Again, for those of you who need it spelled out in the most precise terms, I wasn’t arguing that homophobia is the only excuse for disliking Andy. That’s a reductive and intellectually lazy interpretation of my argument. My point was that homophobia plays a part in how ALL gay characters are read on TV, because homophobia, racism, and sexism aren’t just PERSONAL CHOICES; these things are SYSTEMIC, or built into the very structures of how we encode and decode messages. What I’m saying isn’t groundbreaking. This is the type of stuff you’d learn in a freshman level critical theory course. 3) I don’t automatically like BB characters because they’re gay. In the FB exchange with Marcellas, I listed a few I didn’t enjoy but opted against sharing those names on my blog. Why? Because there are enough boneheads who give gay characters on the show a particularly hard time after the finale and I don’t want to add to their pain. Rest assured, gay character have been among my least and most favorite contestants. They’ve also been among the ones I’ve felt ambivalent. Andy’s not my favorite HG this season. My post was never an explanation of why he should be YOUR favorite. 4) I don’t write shit like this to be pretentious. I pen this crap because I author critical/cultural scholarship for a living and I’ve played Big Brother. 5) I’ve written defenses of past Big Brother contestants when they were on the show. In BOTH previous cases, neither contestant (Kalia and Shelly) was gay. One tie binds my advocation of Andy, Kalia, and Shelly: fans were relentlessly shitting on them for stupid, mundane reasons. Claiming I only defend Andy because he’s gay says more about the person articulating that critique than it does about me, or Andy.