The 2021 Australian series of I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! has just concluded. In the show a dozen or so celebrities live in the jungle for a month and are required to take part in challenges in order to obtain food for the camp, or to avoid eviction. A major premise of the show is the ability for a celebrity to state, “I’m a celebrity, get me out of here!” if it all becomes too much and they want to leave.
It is informative, in our understanding of Basic Linguistic Acts, to examine what is happening here linguistically.
Early on in the series, comedian Mel Buttle uttered the show’s catchphrase due to her phobia of snakes and withdrew from the show.
On the face of it this sounds like a Request. Mel needed assistance to take care of her concerns (i.e., fear of being bitten by a snake and I assume dying from that), and one way we typically take care of our concerns through uttering a request. For a request to be successful it needs someone to first make the request (Mel) and someone to listen to it (the show’s production team). The problem with this as a request is that we know if a celebrity asks to leave their request will be listened to, and a request may not always have a listener. That is, simply making the request is not enough to guarantee a response.
Could Mel have been using a different type of basic linguistic act — a Declaration? A declaration is a statement that from this point forward the world will be different. In Mel’s case this meant she was no longer in the jungle. Importantly a declaration needs someone with authority to make it. “I’m a celebrity, get me out of here!” shows clearly Mel has the authority to make the declaration. It declares its own authority and she is, after all, a celebrity. Yet, that is where it ends. By itself, that’s not enough to guarantee her extraction from the jungle.
In my view, the basic linguistic act at play here is an Offer and the Declaration of Acceptance thereof. The show is built around the audience knowing that at any moment a celebrity can “break” and decide they need to leave. Mel is not the only celebrity to have ever done so. It’s part of the “will they/won’t they” Grant Denyer’s struggle buried with snakes in the “viper pit” was something truly amazing to behold, even if you don’t agree with the ethics of the show.
Why was this an offer and not a request or declaration? Simply because the production team have said in advance, “If you utter these words you can leave the show” and the celebrities trust that is the case (for this year and based on past examples). They have made an offer and it is up to the celebrity to accept it. They do so by declaring their acceptance in a prescribed form (note: while still a declaration, it’s not the same as the one above). The end result is they leave the jungle.
Basic Linguistic Acts are a core set of tools within the broader Conversational Technology we use daily to alter our world. Improving our understanding of what they are (including the many guises they come in) and how to use them can greatly increase our ability to take beneficial action when we want to.