The era of reality TV in the 2000s was plagued with crazy drama and often trashy stories, that would often be scripted.
If you’ve heard anything about behind-the-scenes it’s even worse. Editors and producers on reality TV can be brutal and manipulative to the people on the show and the audience. A good representation of this is the fictionalized series Unreal.
Because of this flat way of storytelling, reality TV took a “guilty pleasure” place in our society. People often referred to it as stupid, basic but insanely addicting. Almost all of us have that one show we know is trash but can’t stop watching.
Whether it’s Keeping Up With The Kardashians, The Bachelor, Jersey Shore, or Real World, they end up having a major impact on us. Most would say a negative one.
So how does Netflix’s new reality show The Circle hit us? Is Gen Z reality TV just, overall, better?
First off what is The Circle?
The show plays on the concept that you can be anybody when you’re on social media. Whether that’s the best version of yourself, the worst version, an aspirational version or just a straight-up catfish.
The show is set up with eight players who live in their own apartments isolated from the world, where they cannot see or hear each other and can only communicate with each other via ‘the circle’ the show’s version of social media.
They must interact, build relationships and ultimately make it through being ‘blocked’ to the end and based on their popularity (rated by each other) win $100,000.
But how is The Circle different from traditional reality TV?
The show was originally a British TV show created by Tim Harcourt, but it’s obvious that The Circle is the brainchild of a Millennial/Gen Z crew. So they’ve got standards. Those standards included authenticity, environmental impact, mental health awareness, and relevancy.
Is it real?
According to former players, The Circle is indeed real and not scripted.
It’s actually quite mentally exhausting. Players are isolated for weeks without access to the outside world. This means no phones, a connection to the internet, not even Netflix! So how do they pass the time when they’re not talking to each other? A book, some cards, a remote control race car.
But is it safe?
With only some allotted time on the roof of the apartment building with natural light and some time at the gym, things can get very “cabin fevery.” Of course, there’s always someone on the production team of The Circle watching. So, help is only a minute away including mental health help with the onsite psychologist.
What effect does it have on us? [Spoilers]
From the people that watched The Circle, there’s a clear understanding from most that it held up a mirror to our current society and how we judge people online. Packaged in a fun and entertaining set of hour-long episodes, The Circle has plenty of examples of everyday issues people face in the ‘real online world.’
“This show is stupid bc it’s supposed to make you feel like “awww everyone loves each other because of what they say not what they look like” highlighted by Chris and Mercedes finally meeting. But like, that’s kind of how I approached it coming into it so I personally loved it. I thought their interactions were hilarious and people are actually really like this in real life” – Medina
One of the characters was Sean, a plus-size social media manager who used her thin best friend’s photo as her image, then later revealed to the other players her true appearance. Some applauded her for bravery to share her true identity.
Others said they valued honesty and felt that she should’ve come in as herself, a sentiment they did not express when other catfish were revealed. This was noticed by audiences who remarked that the show inadvertently presented us with fatphobia, and how society still reacts towards plus size women.
There was even a group chat titled “Skinny Queens” by one of the characters.
“The catty gendered divisions were upsetting and felt heightened due to its focus on superficial ideas such as profile pictures. Rejecting the blonde model versus the douchey Jersey Shore guy highlighted this for me. But it also showed that women are more critical of each other than men often are. Which is a PROBLEM.” – Joshua
Racism and Stereotyping
Other audiences noted the overwhelmingly all-white influx of new players into the game as it went on.
On the show, there were only two Black women, both of them catfish, one was called “mean” by a contestant who only saw her photo and rated her low. But in the same breath called another woman, a Latina, “feisty” and rated her higher.
One of the players was Indian American and was judged as the stereotype of the adorable techie from the get-go. The players said he seemed cute but regardless he found himself rated at the very bottom in the first round.
“They were dragging Mercedez for the filter she put on her pic, but ain’t say a damn thing when Sean’s catfish pic also had a filter. They kept painting Mercedez as feisty and problematic. Also, it bothered me that the only two black women on the show were catfishes.” -Jennifer
All of the catfish understood the idea that looking attractive would be an advantage in the game. And they’re not wrong. The show presented us with the connection between attractive appearance, popularity, and winning actual capital.
“They definitely judged each other based on how genuine and real they seemed, even if their own persona was fictional.” – Suzana
Should The Circle exist?
If you noticed just some of these themes while watching, then perhaps there’s some positivity in The Circle’s existence. Some of the battles against the worst parts of our humanity is just seeing those parts for what they are.
“It’s cool that those who stayed true to themselves, in the end, made it through and won but the dynamic with the catfish Rebecca still left weariness because no matter the connection people can be different than who they say they are” – Raquel