Has ‘The Circle’ Revolutionised Reality TV?
On Tuesday 18th September 2018 The Circle aired on Channel 4 for the first time. The show was slow paced, to begin with, but by the time the final rolled around this Monday, it was so popular that the final had three trending hashtags on Twitter.
YouTuber ‘JackMaate’ even went so far as to congratulate The Circle for ‘completely revolutionising reality TV.’ This is a heavily weighted claim, but one that has been supported by the public’s response to the show. Each of the four finalists: Freddie, Sian, Dan, and Alex, gained at least 10,000 Instagram followers during filming. Twitter is also filled with memes, stills from the show and quotations of contestants’ conversations, which is ironic, considering the programme was designed to highlight the dangers and complexities of social media.
So, why are some claiming that this programme has changed the game in terms of reality TV?
The structure of the episodes themselves has a lot to do with it. Whilst many online have criticised the show for being dull and repetitive, personally, I think this is what makes it relatable. Eight contestants, stuck in their apartments on their own, with no contact from others except via their social media app ‘The Circle’. They start group chats and private conversations with other players – who may or may not be whom they say they are – and rate each other every day. Whoever gets the lowest rating is blocked from the ‘Circle’, leaving the remaining contestants to build their popularity and stay in the game. Sounds like a cross between Black Mirror and reality, right?
With each contestant locked away in their apartment, their activities and solo ramblings entertained the nation. In this way the drama was unconventional, there were no drunken brawls or screaming matches like we see in Big Brother or Geordie Shore. The entertainment factor came from the competition itself, as The Circle is, essentially, a game show.
Additionally, the programme was also a social experiment- and a successful one, at that. The Guardian stated that The Circle was ‘an out-and-out social experiment that primarily seeks to ask important questions about who we are and how technology alters our behaviour.’ This was proven true not only for the audience but also for the contestants. Finalist of the show, Dan Mosaku, left empty-handed thanks to catfish Kate (Alex Hobern.) Mosaku writes that the experience has ‘changed the way [he] feels towards strangers’ and Alex himself told Newsbeat that he ‘wanted to raise awareness that a lot of social media is fake whether it’s just putting a filter on a picture, all the way to what I did which was playing someone completely different to who you are.’
This idea of social media being a fake presentation of reality was most evident when comparing how much contestants would say out loud, compared to on text. When they were alone players did not hold back, expressing what they really thought about a situation or person and detailing their game plan. A particularly surreal moment in the show as when the contestants had to describe the emoji they wanted, as the app worked via voice recognition, instead of typing. With Disruptive Advertising finding that 3.03 billion people, nearly half of the world’s population, regularly use some form of social media, it is not wrong to assume that the difference between online and in-person conversation is significant and also a prevalent issue.
Dan’s extreme reaction to being catfished by Alex actually raises awareness of how easy it is to be fooled; though the show was accused of glorifying catfishing. Yet this ‘extreme’ form of lying online is just the tip of the iceberg. The things that the contestants do are reflected in our own lives; it’s less about the extremes of catfishing and more about the pressure we put ourselves under to appear pleasing online. The saddest and darkest realisation whilst watching The Circle is that several of the contestants did not feel that they would be popular and stand a chance of winning if they were themselves. Some lied about age, others about occupation and some about sexuality, in order to gain higher ratings.
Overall, The Circle fulfilled its purpose of highlighting how technology can alter our behaviour. It propelled at least four of the contestants to fame, and the most ironic part of all is that now the audience cannot watch the contestants’ daily lives on screen, they are watching them through social media, instead.
If you missed this series, you are in luck, as Netflix has picked up the show for international versions, including the USA (details to be confirmed.)
Photo Credit: Channel 4.