Netflix’s first reality TV show tackles one of modern society’s burning questions: How do we exist online? “The Circle” follows contestants as they fight for popularity and brownie points via an AI-based social media platform by the same name. Everyone involved in the popularity contest lives in the same building, but they cannot see or meet each other — they must only communicate through The Circle social media platform.
Contestants have the choice to present as themselves or catfish the other players. Each person does what they think will garner them the most friends and approval, all justifying their choices differently. Daily rankings are held, forcing the players to choose who gets the power and who goes home.
New contestants take the place of whoever is eliminated, maintaining a constant flow of fresh faces. However, once the game gets to a certain point, it is clear new players don’t have a chance — remaining original players make such strong bonds, toward the end, it is clear they will not betray their original competitors.
Even though the friendships seem genuine — and I choose to believe some of them are — it is important to keep in mind the most popular player wins $100,000. It is every player for themselves.
In their free time, players get to interact in chats and play games with each other, giving them the chance to get to know the other players.
When the show premiered Jan. 1, I was skeptical. I am not the biggest fan of social media, although I know it serves a purpose. The show seemed obnoxious, pointless and borderline gluttonous. When a friend convinced me to actually watch it, I was pleasantly surprised that it was packed with valuable, genuine commentary on existing in the digital age.
The audience gets to see the real person and the presentation. As contestants communicate with each other, their genuine reactions are shown and I learned to appreciate the people over The Circle’s diluted product. Players, no matter how genuine, manipulate each other and make strategic moves to gain trust and alliances — after all, it is quite literally a popularity contest.
The genuine person behind The Circle is often more likable than their profile. Everyone is fighting so hard to be liked that they exaggerate their best qualities, selectively deciding what choices and words will win them approval. By contrasting the real person with the profile, the show displays how narrow the scope of social media can be.
Despite most players expectations, contestants who are most loyal to their true selves do the best in the game. Everyone goes in looking for authenticity and when they find it, they cling to that person.
“The Circle” manages to convey a message that is somewhat anti-social media. If one lesson can be learned from this shamefully entertaining show, it is that reality is always better.