This chapter examines the representation of domesticity in three contemporary televisual texts: the Channel 4 reality shows Big Brother (2000-), Wife Swap (2003-) and How Clean is Your House? (2003-). These programmes share an objective to demystify domesticity-to deconstruct the myth of domestic bliss and to expose an underside of domestic discontent. Popular culture is saturated with images of home, most conspicuously via the inherently domestic medium of television. In turn, reality television, says Germaine Greer, “is popular culture at its most popular” (2001, par. 4) and, as such, it has exploited the contemporary preoccupation with domesticity to excess: property, interior design, cookery and parenting programmes are pushing the traditional family sitcom from its domestic pedestal. Crucially, however, viewers are enticed to the reality television programmes discussed here not by the idealized images of home that defi ne so many popular representations of domesticity but, rather, by an invitation to indulge in overtly negative portrayals of the domestic. Here, reassuringly baked, caked and icing-sugared idylls of home clash with the shamelessly contentious and acrimonious conceptions of Channel 4: if Big Brother contrives a deliberately dysfunctional household, Wife Swap delights in family discord and confl ict, while How Clean is Your House? positively relishes offensive displays of domestic sloth. And such perverted depictions of domesticity represent high appeal for viewers; for there appears to exist, as this chapter explores, equal escapism in glimpses of the dystopian as in fantasies of the utopian. Introducing this discussion of domesticity is Henrik Ibsen’s own infamous portrayal of home. With its connotations of control, performance and observation, the motif of the doll’s house is central to a dialogue between feminism, domesticity and reality television-it is a model of the domestic that is reproduced and renovated in these contemporary texts. In turn, Ibsen’s celebrated heroine is the everywoman of this discussion: Nora has become synonymous with feminist domestic discourse and she provides a salient starting point for a reading of these contemporary texts. Feminism itself provides effective fuel for ‘home fi res’: the gender politics of domesticity feeds an enduring and infl ammatory debate and, when
combined with popular culture, ignites the fi ery confrontations that are sweeping reality television.