What is it about reality TV shows that draw us in? Could it be that we feel a need to disconnect from our own lives and immerse ourselves into something shinier? Better? More glamorous? Do we just need a break from the monotony of our own reality? Do we desire human connection but succumb to the ease of flipping on the TV and searching for that connection there instead?
Whatever the reason, reality television has become a big deal over the past few decades. Shows like Road Rules, Laguna Beach, Keeping Up with the Kardashians and The Bachelor have captivated audiences with their (arguably) “unscripted,” “real life” charm. And now there’s another show to add to the list: Netflix’s The Circle.
Hosted by comedian Michelle Buteau, the show features eight contestants who are all competing for a cash prize of $100,000. The way to win? Become the most popular social media influencer.
Each contestant is given their own apartment. None of them ever met in person until, it seems, the very end. And the only way they’re able to communicate during the course of the program is through a social media platform called The Circle. On it, they rank one another, create group chats, form alliances, make enemies and try to decide who they do and do not like based on someone’s profile and the limited contact they have through chat.
Not the show necessarily (there’s plenty of problematic content but we’re not going to dive into that right now), but what the show says about our culture. And it says a few things.
First, it proves that we all wrestle with judgment. Just give us a picture and a scenario with little context and we’ll shred it to pieces with our biased opinions. Based on what they post in The Circle, contestants judge and are judged frequently and, often, unfairly—just as we’re prone to do in our own social media spheres.
Second, we all have an innate desire to be liked and to please others, even when we’re not (as the contestants are) competing for money. Think about social media as a whole. We post the best pictures of ourselves. We hope people “like” them. The more likes we get the better we feel. Of course, we know there are plenty of issues that come along with this, like increased anxiety. But we still do it, even though we know it isn’t good for us.
And, third, we willingly give others the ability to determine our value and self-worth.
At the very beginning of the show, the two most popular people are given the title of “influencers.” And one of the first steps these influencers are required by the game to take is “blocking” the contestants they don’t like. Of course, this causes the other contestants to really think about how they’re perceived. And even though the perception and judgment come from complete strangers, they still care.
It’s alarming and eye-opening at the same time—for those who use social media and for those who don’t. The thing is, all of the flaws the show brings to light are inherent human issues even without the presence of social media—we just have platforms now that bring out our worst for the entire world to see.
But the good news is that we still get to choose how we use these platforms. There’s nothing wrong with using social media—it’s just in how you use it.
We get to choose acceptance and truth over judgement. We get to choose to focus our eyes on what really matters instead of being consumed with what others think of us. And we get to choose to rest in our identity in Christ.
After all, reality TV and social media will never fill us because they didn’t create us.