Watching Vinnie Jones saunter around the Big Brother house like a straight-to-DVD lord surveying his minions, I find myself marvelling that, yet again, TV’s most famous ‘social experiment’ has exposed how casually some middle-aged men fall into the position of bullying young women.
We’ve seen this on Celebrity Big Brother before — rich, powerful men, high on brute strength and the backing of a sycophantic pack, sniffing out female vulnerability and exploiting it.
The show encourages a Lord of the Flies atmosphere by locking contestants into a claustrophobic, over-crowded pod with no access to the outside world and its perspective-enhancing inhabitants.
And that often means a return to the most primal of instincts; a high-speed rush towards sexual contact, a proprietorial obsession with food rationing, and a reversion to Neanderthal male-female relationships.
So we remember the appalling spectacle of George Galloway, Pete Burns and Michael Barrymore crowding around glamour model Jodie Marsh and whimpering ‘non-celebrity’ Chantelle Houghton and shouting threats and insults into their faces until the girls retreated from the communal living room to conduct their rather innocent gossip sessions in the bedroom.
These men spent hours badmouthing the girls’ childishness, their reluctance to slavishly follow an imposed cleaning rota and their lack of worldly knowledge and good taste. This from a group which included a man with a face like a melted clown-doll and a politician who got down on all fours to lick milk from Rula Lenska’s saucer while pretending to be a cat; so not then a group in which worldly knowledge and good taste were always apparent.
This year Vinnie Jones — the 45-year-old ex-football hard man and bit-part player in numerous violent, artless films — has decided that he is the house’s natural leader. Thus anyone not immediately subservient to his rules has been declared a serious troublemaker whom he has encouraged his subordinates to, depending on his mood, belittle, shun or verbally attack.
Jones quickly labelled socially awkward, deeply insecure rapper Lady Sovereign and Ronnie Woods’s mousy little ex, Katia Ivanova, ‘idiots’ without anything worthwhile to say. How his gang laughed when, with the great wit for which he is known, he suggested it took all of Katia’s concentration to put one foot in front of the other. How gravely they nodded when he branded Lady Sovereign a nasty ‘little bugger’ when she ate her egg before Vinnie-appointed dinner time.
Strong, aggressive characters often draw weaker characters to them, and Jones has successfully turned the majority of the housemates against both girls, leading to them becoming two of the first three contestants to be voted out. When Stephen Baldwin suggested that Lady Sovereign was merely a moody, tongue-tied kid who might have blossomed with a little compassion and inclusion, only Nicola Tappenden — the one young woman left in the house — accepted that her treatment had been unkind.
It’s depressing viewing, but for many young women watching it will be no surprise. The same melodrama is played out in more subtle ways in offices across the country. Most men, of course, are decent and fair-minded and simply don’t behave in this way.
But most of us know at least one of these ‘uber-men’ — often in positions of power — who automatically undermine any younger woman they aren’t sleeping with.
I suppose we should thank Vinnie Jones for his exemplary demonstration of an attitude that we have struggled for years to convince other men really exists.