Here's watching you, Big Brother

Despite the tabloid sleaze-fest, will the reality TV show survive its move to Channel 5?

Here it comes, whether you like it or not.

Big Brother is approaching for its annual cavalcade of fame-hungry stage-school kids fighting, shouting, crying and shoving wine bottles up their vajayjays - but this time, there'll be a difference. This is Richard Desmond's Big Brother now it's on Channel 5.

I wrote a short while ago about how Desmond's publications have turned into an incestuous circle-jerk of cross-promotion in which it's hard to work out where the plugging ends and the actual content begins. And BB is going to be all of that, but turned up to 11.

It has already begun.

"We're starting to get really excited about the return of BB," says New magazine, ahead of the usual rather predictable celebrity flimflam in which it's reported that Cheryl Cole zeugmatically lambasted her sometime beau Ashely Cole on the phone: "You'll never be in my life, my home or my heart again".

Meanwhile, Star magazine says "We're all talking about Big Brother's return!". Are we? Apparently, we are. Well, when you're in the Desmond universe, we are.

OK goes with "Big Brother presenters finally reveal their shocking new celebrity housemates" on the cover, introducing a story in which, surprise surprise, the new celebrity housemates aren't actually revealed. But regular readers know by now that the coverlines aren't so much a description of what's inside the mag as a series of long-range salvoes intended to hit as many targets as possible. Brian Dowling, host of the new show, reveals that he would love to see "Britney Spears and the Octomom".

So now we know.

As well as all that, there's a handily-timed celebrity coupling of former Big Brother contestants - Alex Reid, crossdressing cagefighter and onetime husband of Katie Price, has become smitten with Chantelle Houghton, the celebrity who wasn't a celebrity, but then she was, but then she wasn't again. Never let it be said, by the way, that I'm snooty about this kind of publication because it contains some delightful prose:

When these two heartbreak refugees, drowning in the shark-infested waters of failed celebrity relationships, clambered aboard their love life raft and bumped lips for the first time, the nation raised a collective eyebrow and tutted,

splurges the intro, rather joyfully anticipating the cynicism. OK is well worth a read, even if you have no love whatsoever for the parade of beaming physogs within.

The stage is set, then, for an all-out assault from Desmond's assets over the coming weeks. The Daily Star has always prided itself (if "pride" is a feeling we can, hand on heart, associate with that publication) on plastering its pages with Big Brother whenever it turns up; and this can surely only accelerate as the frenzy begins; the Daily Express will no doubt show a great deal more interest in BB this time around, due to the Channel 5 connection.

There's nothing wrong or unethical with any of this, by the way; it's just that I think it might be interesting to see the way in which the rival publications deal with it. How are the Star and Express's non-Desmond-owned tabloid counterparts going to cope with giving what is essentially free publicity to a competing business? On the other hand, it's going to be difficult to pretend that Big Brother isn't there, either. Is there going to be some way of covering it without covering it? Perhaps we'll start to see a slew of articles on how BB isn't what it used to be, how it should have ended with Davina, how it's all gone pear-shaped since it moved from Channel 4... and perhaps it's not beyond the realms of imagination to think that these kind of articles are already being penned in preparation for the battle ahead.

As for me, I've always watched Big Brother, and I suspect that isn't going to change any time soon; whether it survives the transition from Channel 4 to Channel 5 we don't know just yet. But I think that the move might actually be a chance, to use that horrible phrase, to "reboot the franchise" and clear out the clutter. If it does fail, I have a feeling it won't be because of a lack of support from Richard Desmond's other assets.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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I am special and I am worthless: inside the mind of a narcissist

There's been a lot of discussion about narcissists this week. But what does the term actually mean?

Since the rise of Donald Trump, the term “narcissistic” has been cropping up with great regularity in certain sections of the media, including the pages of this journal. I wouldn’t want to comment about an individual I’ve never met, but I thought it would be interesting to look at the troubling psychological health problem of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

People with NPD (which is estimated to affect about 1 per cent of the population) have a characteristic set of personality traits. First, they have a deeply held sense of specialness and entitlement. Male NPD sufferers frequently present as highly egotistical, with an unshakeable sense of their superiority and importance; female sufferers commonly present as eternal victims on whom the world repeatedly inflicts terrible injustices. In both cases, the affected person believes he or she is deserving of privileged treatment, and expects it as a right from those around them.

Second, NPD sufferers have little or no capacity for empathy, and usually relate to other people as objects (as opposed to thinking, feeling beings) whose sole function is to meet the narcissist’s need for special treatment and admiration – known as “supply”. In order to recruit supply, NPD sufferers become highly skilled at manipulating people’s perceptions of them, acting out what is called a “false self” – the glittering high achiever, the indefatigable do-gooder, the pitiable victim.

The third characteristic is termed “splitting”, where the world is experienced in terms of two rigid categories – either Good or Bad – with no areas of grey. As long as others are meeting the narcissist’s need for supply, they are Good, and they find themselves idealised and showered with reciprocal positive affirmation – a process called “love-bombing”. However, if someone criticises or questions the narcissist’s false self, that person becomes Bad, and is subjected to implacable hostility.

It is not known for certain what triggers the disorder. There is likely to be a genetic component, but in many cases early life experiences are the primary cause. Narcissism is a natural phase of child development (as the parents of many teenagers will testify) and its persistence as adult NPD frequently reflects chronic trauma during childhood. Paradoxically for a condition that often manifests as apparent egotism, all NPD sufferers have virtually non-existent self-esteem. This may arise from ongoing emotional neglect on the part of parents or caregivers, or from sustained psychological or sexual abuse.

The common factor is a failure in the development of a healthy sense of self-worth. It is likely that narcissism becomes entrenched as a defence against the deep-seated shame associated with these experiences of being unworthy and valueless.

When surrounded by supply, the NPD sufferer can anaesthetise this horrible sense of shame with the waves of positive regard washing over them. Equally, when another person destabilises that supply (by criticising or questioning the narcissist’s false self) this is highly threatening, and the NPD sufferer will go to practically any lengths to prevent a destabiliser adversely influencing other people’s perceptions of the narcissist.

One of the many tragic aspects of NPD is the invariable lack of insight. A narcissist’s experience of the world is essentially: “I am special; some people love me for this, and are Good; some people hate me for it, and are Bad.” If people with NPD do present to health services, it is usually because of the negative impacts Bad people are having on their life, rather than because they are able to recognise that they have a psychological health problem.

Far more commonly, health professionals end up helping those who have had the misfortune to enter into a supply relationship with an NPD sufferer. Narcissism is one of the most frequent factors in intimate partner and child abuse, as well as workplace bullying. The narcissist depends on the positive affirmation of others to neutralise their own sense of unworthiness. They use others to shore themselves up, and lash out at those who threaten this precarious balance. And they leave a trail of damaged people in their wake. 

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times