Why is it called Big Brother? Links to George Orwell and 1984 explained - what does it mean?

Big Brother the reality show takes inspiration from George Orwell
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Often cited as the original reality TV series, Big Brother returned to television screens last night (8 October) for its 20th series.

Now finding a new home on ITV - after previous stints on Channels 4 and 5 - the show may not quite be the ground-breaking "social experiment" it once was, but its return still made for a significant television moment.

The show sees a group of people, known as contestants or housemates, live together in a house for several weeks, isolated from the outside world and constantly monitored by cameras and microphones.

The goal is to be the last person remaining in the house, as contestants are periodically voted out by their fellow housemates or the viewing audience.

But why exactly is the show called "Big Brother", and what links does it have to famous British author George Orwell? Here is everything you need to know about it.

Why is Big Brother called 'Big Brother'?

(Photo: ITV)(Photo: ITV)
(Photo: ITV)

Big Brother is named after the concept of the same name from George Orwell's novel 1984, which has had a significant cultural impact since its publication in 1949.

In 1984, Big Brother is a symbolic figure who represents the oppressive and totalitarian regime ruling the dystopian society of Oceania.

The Party, led by Big Brother, exercises complete control over the citizens, including constant surveillance through "telescreens" and the "thought police", manipulation of information, and suppression of dissent.

The term "Big Brother is watching you" serves as a constant reminder to the citizens that their every move and thought are being monitored and controlled by the state.

Big Brother the reality show takes inspiration from this concept by placing a group of people in a house together with cameras and microphones recording their every move and conversation.

Contestants live together in isolation from the outside world and are constantly under surveillance, and the show's format involves competitions, alliances and evictions, creating a microcosm of social dynamics and power struggles.

Contestants are well aware that they are being watched by both the audience and their fellow housemates, and they must navigate this surveillance while strategising to win the game.

While Big Brother doesn't necessarily have the same dystopian and oppressive themes as 1984, it does draw on the idea of constant surveillance and the impact it has on people's behaviour.

Contestants on the show often adapt their behaviour and strategies based on the knowledge that they are being observed, which adds an element of psychological and social tension to the competition.

In terms of its many international versions and adaptations, the show retains the name Big Brother in many countries, since the term carries a universal association with surveillance and observation.

Some notable differences to this trend include the Indian version - titled "Bigg Boss" - and the French version, which uses the name "Secret Story".

1984's themes of totalitarianism, surveillance, propaganda, and the erosion of individual freedoms have resonated with readers and viewers, leading to its enduring relevance and influence in popular culture.

The book is often cited in discussions about government surveillance, censorship and the abuse of power, and the term "Orwellian" is frequently used to describe situations where government control and surveillance infringe upon personal freedoms.

It has also played a foundational role in the development of dystopian fiction, and has inspired numerous novels, films and television series exploring similar themes of authoritarianism and surveillance, such as Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.

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