“Just how far do you go to become popular on societal media if $100K have been at stake?” The host of Netflix’s reality show The Circle requests moments into the first episode. Considering that that the conclusive evidence that people will go to the end of much to be hot on media for absolutely nothing at all, I buckled up. What would not that a particular type of man do on screen for valid fiscal remuneration and a leg up on the cloud-based celebrity of an influencer? That might be good, I believed –by that, of course, I supposed it might be the particular bad-good of a reality show that strings out you and together, until, hours later, you are crackly eyed and hyped to discuss the whole thing in heated, passionate detail. Instead, eight minutes into The Circle, I flipped it off.
The Circle–unlike many Netflix series aired in weekly installments, finishing up with this week –is undoubtedly the most intriguing television series I’ve ever seen I could just bring myself to watch in single-digit increments (and, full disclosure, not even that many of these ). In toto, it is almost revelatory, but in specific, it is lots of watching someone who should be asleep stating,”Purple devil emoji. Send Circle. Thank you” Into a medium-size flat-screen TV mounted to the walls of an apartment together with budget hipster décor. On mute, the series looks like security camera footage of folks going mad: gesturing, yelling, laughing all alone in a room. It’s duh telling us something about the way we live that it is living even as we see so true, staring at people staring at screens.
The premise of The Circle, according to a British show that premiered in 2018, is convoluted, however, the gambit is straightforward: stir up as much reality TV shit as possible with voice-to-text functionality. The contestants reside in an apartment building where they each get their own unit–panopticons with pillows but no organic light\– and are forbidden from communicating with one another except through the social networking platform known as the Circle. Housed in the aforementioned flat-screen, and reacting only to voice commands, the Circle is where the contestant place their profiles as well as additional photographs, engage in private and group chats, and answer the match’s occasional query, all while attempting to turn into the most-liked participant in the sport.
The other players assess popularity. The contestants intermittently rank one another, at which point the two pick which of the two popular to send home. The rankings are determined by days’ worth of DMing messaging, chatting, flirting, strategizing, analyzing, manipulating, and back-stabbing. Every remark, every photo, every profile change is analyzed and dissected. To paper over the reality that nothing visually intriguing is ever happening–on The Circle, tribal councils and secret meetings are very Slack channels–no one ever stops talking. No one ever seems to sleep either, unless the manufacturers shut the Circle down for example parents controlling a slumber party. The manufacturers also intermittently punctuate events with group questions–the girls who answers yes into the highly controversial”Is it OK to pee in the shower?” Is immediately suspected of being a catfish–or activities such as a”party” in which they all dance alone, together, in their rooms. It is like someone made a horror movie based on a Robyn song.
The participants can broadly be divided into three classes: people whose strategy is to be themselves, people whose approach is to be themselves whose self isn’t a coherent or likable package, and also the men and women that are catfishing everyone else, such as the guy using his girlfriend’s pictures and the lesbian posing as a hotter lesbian. Though all of them profess to be jaded, suspiciously eyeing everyone else, they’re –like the rest of us–sporadically innocent, sometimes conned incorrect, and filled with blind spots about nothing so much as themselves.
Their characters are immediately recognizable, not so much from networking, but from reality tv. There’s Joey, with his copycat Jersey Shore persona; Alana, the version who hates other women but says it is because women worry she is likely to steal their boyfriends (trust me, it’s an archetype); Antonio, a cool everydude who would like to be called a professional basketball player; the grouchy, sexy Sammie, that hates fakery; fine guy Shubham, an Indian American who thinks social networking is”the bubonic plague” and wants to win by being his somewhat nerdy self; along with the glistening and debonair Chris, who’s come completely prepared with sequins and tag lines including”godfidence” and”I am a real-ass bitch in a fake-ass world.” It is a testament to the group’s eagerness, professionalism, and egomania that they can be so additional even after speaking to themselves for days and days.
Seeing The Circle, reality TV’s influence on social websites became plain to me in ways I had not previously considered. Most successful social media personalities utilize video (they can’t on The Circle, because it would expose the catfishers), but it’s still a heavily image- and text-based manner of communication. On The Circle, this relative flatness obscures the reality TV archetypes the gamers –and many, many more wannabe influencers–have so snugly slotted themselves . If the players were to fulfill for an instant, they would be much more legible to each other grasping exactly what their profiles, their photographs, their emojis were trying to put across.
That social media is indeed much worse at conveying this sort of dense contextual information is part of the delight of it, and theoretically of The Circle. No one knows who you really are. But while the contestants are mysterious to one another, they are deeply un-mysterious to us. Even the charming ones are clichés. Social media’s hardships can make this setup into a game, but it is hardly a show. It is a lot of reality TV players in search of a play. Watching them try to deliver \themselves, maintaining their energy levels, mythologies, and monologues while sitting alone in a room is poignant and pathetic. Human contact is yet so far — and so shut! All alone, they could not forget the cameras are there, since they are solely responsible for entertaining them.
The whole thing vibrates in the awfultastic frequency of The Bachelor introductions–intermittently humorous, cringey, and clueless–and that’s the appeal. For me personally, it had been too much for not enough. Bring me staged human interaction! Where we had phony conversations, we have”Send LOL.” Where we had heavily overly freighted facial expressionswe now have emojis. Where we had chucked tables, we now have people saying out loud, to themselves,”I do not like her.” Where we had folks hooking up, we finally have players sitting in a room announcing to the camera”This is getting flirty.” The Circle is a simulacrum of a reality series that was itself a simulacrum of real life. I am not saying it is not telling us something important.