Ok firstly, is anyone actually watching The Circle? Because I have seen approximately ZERO chat about it anywhere? (Maybe it’s lurking on Twitter where I tend not to visit too often these days).
For those of you who don’t know, The Circle is a channel 4 TV show which started at the end of September. The basic concept is that a bunch of people have been thrown into a block of (high tech) flats and can only communicate with each other using “The Circle” – a social media system designed for the show. They also have no contact with the outside world. So I guess its kind of like a toned down millennial version of big brother. Considering social media is how most people communicate these days, it’s probably not that far off living in the “real world”. The participants in the show are battling it out to become the most popular and win that alluring 50K cash prize. Now the catch, as with all social media, is that because your fellow players cannot actually see you, you do not have to be entirely truthful about who you are – in fact you can outright lie about everything if you want.
When I first heard about the show I thought, well that sounds like a pile of crap and it unnerved me slightly as a possibly damaging concept. However, the night the first episode aired there was seemingly nothing else I fancied watching and I ended up catching the last half – safe to say I was hooked from there. (Disclaimer: It doesn’t take a lot to get me hooked on a trashy reality show).
Now, after watching every episode so far, I have changed my opinion. I actually think the fact that a mainstream tv show is highlighting the impact of social media is really quite important and it being packaged in an easy to watch reality style rather than a condescending documentary is a bonus, meaning that these messages are probably getting to people subconsciously without preaching.
So here are some things that I’ve picked up on from watching The Circle…
The Crippling Self Doubt
You can genuinely see these people agonise over what others might think of them. Curating the perfect status update, doing a full analysis when picking their next profile picture or umming and ahhing over what to say in the group chat. Of course the premise of this show is to become the most popular, which is why they care so much, BUT isn’t all social media a kind of popularity contest? Especially in the influencer world, chasing those likes and follows.
They are then judged by their fellow contestants in a ratings system. Those who are being completely themselves wait to see if their ACTUAL personality is “good enough” to become an influencer and therefore decide who gets blocked from The Circle. All of this judgement is based on never having met each other in real life. Purely on your picture and what you’ve said “online”. Being bottom of that ratings list means that people don’t care much for your personality and that is a hard pill to swallow IF you’re being genuinely yourself.
Following on nicely… it’s interesting to see that those who are “catfishing” their fellow contestants (for example Alex who is pretending to be Kate and using pictures of his girlfriend), do not seem to be as fussed by the ratings. Obviously they want to stay in the competition but they cannot feel that deep hurt because nobody is actually judging them as a person. They have the safety net of their fake persona. I think this goes a long way to showing why people catfish in general, those who aren’t confident in their abilities to make friends / find love as themselves, seek to make connections under the guise of a different persona to avoid getting hurt. But what about the other people involved? Dan, another Circle contestant, is getting quite close to “Kate” as a friend and I can’t help but wince at the thought of him finding out he’s been played this whole time.
Mairead is a newer contestant and also a catfish, while her profile and personality is completely her, the picture she’s decided to use is of a woman much younger than she is – I think this highlights the issue of older women feeling invisible and Mairead obviously thought that she would only be popular and get noticed as a younger, “more beautiful” woman.
Aside from the above, catfishing looks hard! You have to remember the web of lies you’ve created so as not to get caught out and to be honest that sounds like a giant anxiety fest – not for me thanks.
Trust, Lies and Alliances
As in real life, people tend to gravitate towards those they feel more comfortable with and The Circle is no different. Little groups are forming with private chats and WhatsApp style alliances – “The three musketeers” and ” Lads Lads Lads” to name a couple. You can see here how easy it is for rumours to begin, how quickly bitching can lead to witch hunts and how lies can get you in trouble. These guys have never met in real life so their bond isn’t totally strong, alliances can change with a quick tit bit of gossip. The anxiety of who to trust is heightened in this situation and you just have to go with your instincts.
I honestly find it so interesting watching their interactions. Finding out who’s trustworthy and who’s going to stab you in the back within 2.5 seconds. It’s quite an eye opener, making you question and consider your online communications in real life. Are they just talking to me to get ahead? Do they actually like me for me or am I useful to them in some way? If I pour my heart out to you will it stay between us? If I tell you I don’t like that person are they going to mysteriously find out?
I loved that when Genelle told Dan that she had a baby, he kept it a total secret and that bonded them as friends. I like that Freddie and Sian seem to be genuinely close and that when Ryan tried to come between them, Freddie called him out to Sian and they carried on being friends.
However what is hard to watch is the ganging up on Kate – although not a real person, they do not know this. Kates personality is sweet and innocent, she tends to sit on the fence with her opinions but is genuinely nice and caring to everyone. It is easy to detach yourself from how damaging the comments Freddie makes about her are, because we know she isn’t real … but he doesn’t know that and if this sweet innocent girl did exist, she would likely be devastated by the hate she receives, just by being herself. Freddie has since apologised and toned it down, which I think is in a large part to Sian, sticking up for Kate even though she is also not her biggest fan. This really shows that when you haven’t got the backing of your tribe, you can start to realise you’re actually being a bit of a dick.
What was also hard to watch was the Scotty vs Hannah situation. Scotty and Hannah had a flirty conversation in which he divulged that he had a massive penis (great, thanks for the info *rolls eyes*). Hannah then told Sian about this conversation, who in turn relayed it to Scotty when he took her on a (virtual) date. He of course denied the whole thing because now he’s into Sian. What did this lead to? Hannah being cast as a complete liar when she wasn’t (and subsequently being blocked from The Circle). It really heightened the fuck boy syndrome – why is it that these guys are always believed and it’s the girl who is left trying to defend herself. Scotty eventually fessed up, but it was too late. What I loved though is that Hannah went to see Scotty after being blocked (you get to chose one person to meet before you leave) and she let him have it! GIRL POWER!
Differing Opinions and Judgements
One great part of the programme is that the news feed is intermittently updated with a current affairs story which the group then discuss. It’s fab to see how this opens up debate among the contestants but it’s also interesting to see how people can quickly get judged on the opinions they offer, changing everyone else’s opinion of them. (Likened to the Twitter drama’s we are all so accustomed to now). When Ryan announced to the Circle Chat that he was a fan of Nigel Farage it was like a fire lit inside the group (me included to be totally honest). People can get very passionate and protective over their beliefs and not everyone is going to agree at all times so it’s eye opening to see how each person handles that, whether it’s making a joke, getting angry and lashing out or sitting completely on the fence. Some hold back their opinions for fear of judgement, while others are confident in their beliefs and who they are as a person.
It’s also apparent that it’s not always easy to come across how you intended online. People can read into your words totally differently without hearing the tone of your voice (although their constant use of emoji’s and hashtags assist this).
I mean wow who knew I had so much to say about The Circle – I certainly didn’t realise LOL. But I think this just goes to show the impact it’s having (maybe just on me? I’d love to know your thoughts!). It’s entirely possible that nobody else is analysing this so deeply but there’s certainly some lessons to be learned from it all. Seems like I could talk about this all day long so if you’re watching too and you fancy a chat about it – come slide in my DM’s 😉
(P.S. for those that are interested I think Sian’s my favourite! She seems so genuine, been completely herself and has a good set of morals on her – even if she did almost fall into the dick sand.)