There was a time when it didn't take much to be a reality TV villain. You didn't need to racially abuse someone to get headlines or objectify women and scream profanities to get a “tell all exclusive” in the red tops. You didn't even have to act out sex, in tight underwear in the garden, more's the pity. Back in 2000, “Nasty” Nick Bateman was the most hated man in Britain. The broadsheets and tabloids alike bayed for his blood, police escorted him out of the Big Brother house for fear of public violence and women gripped their children's hands tighter when he walked past them in the street. And what did this monster do to warrant this persecution and trial by public opinion? Did he grope a young girl in the confines of a toilet? No. Did he physically threaten or torment a more vulnerable housemate? No. So what did he do? He tried to win. In fact, apart from a rather regrettable fabricated story about a fictional fiancé passing, he was doing pretty bloody well. He remains the only housemate to never receive a single nomination and is quite possibly the best player of the game to ever enter the infamous building. How things change....
Fast-forward 15 years, and Nick is a comparative saint and about as evil as Dennis the Menace stood next to some of today's villains. “The most hated person in Britain” is a tag that gets passed round on a weekly basis between convicted killers, political leaders and Dapper Laughs like it was prison pornography. CBB, of course, keep note of all the non-criminal names and cold call them twice a year, like PPI for the already rich. A good percentage of celebrities who break the law, or lose their job end up doing a turn in reality TV. Ron Atkinson, Kerry Katona, The Hamiltons, Brian Harvey to name but a few. There's something quite sour tasting about rewarding those who make racial slurs, or defraud the public with another shot in the public eye and a nice pay cheque but by God does it make great television, as well as leaving Justin Lee Collins staring longingly at the telephone (who is too scared to look away).
Then of course there is the odd person who proves they aren't so bad after all. They aren't horrible, or bigoted, or psychopathic and they win the hearts of the nation by winning the UK's most notorious popularity contest. I like to call it The Davidson Effect.
Jim Davidson was/is one of the countries most reviled comedians and somehow managed to beat off the opposition to become CBB's most controversial winner. So he must be a nice fella then, right? Wrong. Jim Davidson is still a horrible irk. The Davidson Effect isn't the transformation of public opinion due to a character misjudged on closer examination! It is how a horrible little man can appear normal when surrounded by absolute lunacy!
Take this series. Before airing, Katie Hopkins was probably disliked by a good 95% of the British public. I would say after only a week or so on our screens that is now at 50/50, 60/40 at worst. People are starting to warm to her in the aftermath of the ridiculous Perez Hilton, the unstable Jeremy Jackson and the pretty disgusting Ken Morley. The Davidson Effect is in full flow, with people actually mistaking this comparative sanity for affection. This is still the same woman who says kids named after places are working class, despite calling her daughter India. It is still the same woman who called for Israel to bomb 'filthy rodent' Palestinians and it is still the same woman who joked at the expense of those killed in the Clutha helicopter disaster, using tragedy to get more twitter followers. However, when you stand even this vile woman next to the level of surrealism that calls the Big Brother house home, she frighteningly becomes a character you relate to. I can't find common ground with the man in a dress who humps garden furniture, or the drug addled handsy actor, or the perverted pensioner and so alarmingly Katy Hopkins becomes a voice of reason. However, just because she says what you're thinking among the unstable, don't be confused. If you went to jail, you would spend more time with the shoplifters, than the murderers, and more time with the murderers than the paedophiles. None of them are preferable.
When Jim Davidson was asked his advice on the Lee Ryan love triangle by a helpless Casey Batchelor, he looked down the lens and said “If you can fake sincerity, you can fake anything”. We still voted for him to win, as this admission flew over the heads of millions. This season's winner is still firmly in the balance but win or lose, Jim Davidson is still Jim Davidson. And Katie Hopkins is still Katie Hopkins.