Big Brother UK: Darnell says blind housemate Mikey not a “performing monkey”

There are two people with disabilities in Big Brother UK this year.

Mikey and Darnell are not being presented by the production team purely as “The Disabled Housemates”, with their disability as the only facet of stereotyped caricatures. They don’t seem to have been offered any particular “special treatment” by BB producers.

This is incidental disability, though it has inevitably woven into some of the storylines of the show. Darnell is a Black singer-songwriter who grew up in the USA, and he has albinism. Mikey is a Scottish radio producer with a Masters degree, who deals in war memorabilia, likes cross-dressing, and tells crude jokes; he is also blind.

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It has been illuminating to watch the reactions to these two housemates, particularly to Mikey. As “Ouch!” blogger Damon Rose has noted here, Mario has gone particularly overboard, patronising Mikey and treating him like a small child.

Mario is a gym manager alpha-male-wannabe chock full of his own benevolence and importance. He has been ostentatiously fussing over Mikey. He shadowed him around the house even once he knew his way around, pronounced that he is BUSY HELPING MIKEY when people want him to do something, repeatedly and loudly informed the house that MIKEY IS BLIND, and disingenuously used Mikey’s blindness as leverage to try to make himself look magnanimous.

While he’s been playing saviour, Mario has completely failed to respect Mikey’s abilities. In one particularly egregious example, despite Mikey being musically competent and working in a musical field, Mario unilaterally assigned him the triangle – the triangle! – in a musical performance task. This was against Mikey’s protests that he could try a more challenging instrument. It was notable that Mikey was the only one in the house who so much as knew what a theremin was. Yet Mario dismissed him as incompetent up-front, without asking him what he would like to play.

In an incident in the first week of the show, Sylvia was vocally pissed off with Mikey after he drunkenly donned her knickers and clowned around. Mikey dressed her down, saying that she shouldn’t be upsetting him “because he has a disability”. Mikey showed himself to be more than capable of defending himself in his own way, deadpanning at Sylvia as the argument wound down, “What’s your name again?”

The other housemates have reacted a less artificially, but with varying degrees of respect. Darnell seems to be the one person who has taken his presence completely in stride and just treated him like a fellow human being.

In the Day 29 episode, just to air, simmering discontentment has come to a head. Mikey had a go at a boxing speed bag, and did ok at it. Mo and Kathreya and Rachel went over the top in praising his effort, screeching and carrying on about how amazing it was.

Darnell came out just after, and they breathlessly informed him that he had just missed Mikey! Punching! A! Bag! Darnell got sick of their patronising behaviour. He told them off in no uncertain terms, telling them that it was not cool that they were treating Mikey like a performing circus monkey. He told them that Mikey has hands and rhythm like anyone else, and that since boxing on a punching bag isn’t particularly visual, they shouldn’t be making a big deal out of it.

This didn’t go down very well. The was screaming, there was pouting, and the Blind Friend card was played.

Right now, Darnell is the only person in the house pushing other housemates to see Mikey as a human being with abilities, not a cardboard cutout who is defined by his disability. I wonder how this will play out?

Here is video of the whole incident (a transcript follows).


[this is incomplete, as some of the housemates were talking over each other and were unintelligible.]

Narrator: 8:13 pm. Some of the housemates are in the garden.

[Rachel and Mikey are standing by the speed bag. Kat, Mohammed and Rex are in the background. Throughout, Dale and Stuart wander in and out, punching the punching bags and mostly staying silent.]

Mikey: Is that the thing that [punches speed bag]

Rachel: That’s it!

Kat: Get the bigger one, that you can kick it!

Mo: Go, Mikey! Do it for the team!

[Mikey keeps punching the bag]

Kat: Woooooo!

Mo: Go on, Mikey!

Rachel: You’re the best!

Mo: He’s actually doing better than me.

[Rex sits with one eyebrow arched at Mo]

[Mikey punches faster, finds his rhythm]


Mo: [sits forward] Goooo Mikey! [applauds]

Rachel: Mikey Yeah! WOOO! That’s awesome!

[various shouts of More! More! Yeah!]

Rachel: Come on Mikey!

[Kat approaches, punching her fist in the air.]

Kat: More! More! More! Go, Mikey, Go!

[chants of Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!]

{Mikey stops punching.]

Rachel: Mikey, you were the best in the whole house! [hands Mikey his cane]

Mikey: Was I?

Rachel: Yeah!

[Cut to later]

[Kat, Mohammed, and Rex are in the smoking area outside. Dale is punching the speed bag, Mo is singing “Baby please don’t go” and smoking.]

Darnell wanders out.

Mo: [to Darnell] You missed Mikey punching out that bag, man.

Darnell: [sarcastically, waving his arms] Ooooh. That’s so weird. It’s almost like when you go to the circus, and everyone’s like ‘Did you see the monkey at the circus, dude?” That’s how I feel about them kind of things, honestly.

Kat: [affronted] That’s really very negative!

[objections from Mo in the background]

Darnell: Well that’s how I feel. I mean – like I don’t –

[Kat objects]

Darnell: Well he has hands, doesn’t he? Like – he has hands!

Kat: Yeah, but he’s good!

Mo: [simultaneously] No, but the thing is, he was doing it fast, that’s why I was quite impressed.

Darnell: But it’s not – it’s not really a visual kind of thing, dude. It’s a rhythm thing, man.

Mo: Yeah, he got the rhythm!

Darnell: Yeah, you can close your eyes and do it. You can close your eyes and do it.

Mo: […] you got the rhythm.

Darnell: I don’t know, I just don’t like when people do that shit. I don’t like when people do that, dude. It’s just weird.

Mo: Man, what you saying now? Don’t take it too deep, man!

Darnell: It’s the truth, dude! Like every –

Mo: Maaaan!

Darnell – Every time he does something – He is a human being. Like you know, he does have capabilities.

Kat: But he’s cooool! When someone does something cool, you have to support them!

Darnell: But it’s not – it’s not, no, it’s not the same thing. [turns away]

Kat: It is!

Darnell: Because if Stu does it, no-one’s like ‘Oh my god, Stu punched a bag!’

[Darnell punches speed bag.]

Mo: [motions to big punching bag] Nah, he punched that one. He – he fucking lifted that one up there, with a punch.

Kat: [to Darnell] Oh, you’re just so negative, Darnell!

Darnell: I’m not! That’s not negative! That’s nothing to do with negative and positive, in all honesty dude, in all honesty.

Kat; He’s cooool!

Darnell: That’s silly, dude.

Mo: He was so cool! Like he was just smiling, as he was doing it!

Kat: He’s cool!

Darnell: Yeah, because why not? That’s what I’m trying to say. Why is it the story of the century?

Mo: It is!

Darnell: I think that’s wrong, dude. Like honestly.

Mo: You’re making me look bad now.

Darnell: You make yourself look bad.

Mo: I’m not making myself look bad.

Darnell: That’s ridiculous, dude.

Mo: [blows raspberry] That was not ridiculous.

Darnell: See, I can be confident when I speak on this, because I have blind friends as well dude, and I actually visit – I actually go to –

Kat: [interrupts, screaming] I have blind friends too!

Darnell: This is how you treat them? If you treated me like that, I would be pissed off.

Kat: [screams unintelligibly over Darnell] … and he came to my house practically all the time, and he is my friend. And he blind, he likes me. And he’s not negative like you.

Darnell: And if you treated me like that, if I was your blind friend and you treated me that, I’d be pissed off, dude. But that’s just me.

Darnell: [tries to punch speed bag] I can’t do this shit at all, it is hard.

Stu: [sings] Get a-rhythm [Darnell cheerily joins in the singing]

Kat: [pouty] Darnell! You’re so – you’re so upset.

Darnell: I’m not upset, dude. I’m just sayin’. Like to me, I’m not – like I don’t get shocking, I’m not shocked when Michael accomplishes things that he can obviously do. Now if he flew a fighter jet, then I’d be like, ‘Oh my god’, you know what I’m saying? Just like I’d do if anyone did. Now that’s an amazing feat right there!”

[Stu cheers]

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4 replies

  1. Thank you for posting this! I was beginning to think I was the only person who could see Darnell’s point of view. For the record I really like Darnell precisely becuase he treats Mikey (and everyone else as far as I can tell) as if he is a fully rounded human being, and not just a “blind man”.
    Your portrait of Mario (real name Sean – looks like Sylvester Stallone, acts like David Brent out of ‘The Office’) is spot-on, but he seems to have eased off Mikey a bit now thanks goodness, but now Rachel has taken his place, squealing and clapping every time Mikey stands up, or walks, or takes a breath, or whatever. Urgh, it’s sickening.
    I’m mad at Mario and Rachel and some of the others, but I’m also mad at Mikey because he does let them do it to a certain extent. When he gets a round of applause and a kiss of Rachel for performing some super-human task like eating his breakfast, he loves it a bit too much, and I really just wish he would say, “oh for god’s sake, I’m blind, not stupid and incapable”
    Ahem, that’s better. I watch too much Big Brother!

  2. Your portrait of Mario (real name Sean – looks like Sylvester Stallone, acts like David Brent out of ‘The Office’)

    Oh HAR. This is _exactly_ who he acts like. You’ve got him pegged.

    I’m mad at Mario and Rachel and some of the others, but I’m also mad at Mikey because he does let them do it to a certain extent.

    I don’t really fault him too much for that; he may well think (and with good reason) that kicking up about it is likely to get him labelled the bad guy. He does get back at the worst of them in his own snarky little ways.
    I’ll fault him for his misogynistic jokes, though, and his, erm, leering (or leering-equivalent). Not that he’s alone in either of those.
    I have quite a lot of time for Darnell. He’s not perfect, but he’s a darn sight more genuine than the petulant Mean Girls(Guys) crowd who are prancing around whining about how they’re the ONLY people in the house who EXPRESS their OPINIONS, and how all those polite people aren’t being REAL. I’m rather looking forward to a little schadenfreude at the next eviction.

  3. I know nothing about the show.. but the situation, oh yes, I know the situation.
    *My* favourite circus trick was to wander into the gym where the boys were playing with the stuff and lift the weight that they had decided weighed 60 kg (more than I weigh) and watch their jaws drop. (It didn’t weigh sixty).
    But yeah, people trying to outdo themselves praising you is bloody patronising, but it’s what you get all the item if you’re a woman in a man’s job and every second person is shocked that you can actually do your job.
    I’m impressed at Darnell – he stuck to his point through that transcript. I think a lot of people would have backed out of that conversation for the sake of appeasement.

  4. this is why darnell should win, he has a better insight to things than those bunch of idiots who think mikey is special for punching a speedbag, why shouldn’t mikey be able to do that, the bag is just in front of him and it moves in pretty much the same way if you hit it right and keep a rhythm.

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