Fox premiered its newest reality show last night and, at least at this point, it’s an absolute train wreck. The premise is that 15 people will live together on 5 acres of land and they’ll have an opportunity to create their society from scratch.
Bu there are two problems:
- Almost all the people they’ve chosen are complete caricatures of human beings. As a friend wrote to me last night, an hour into the broadcast, “I don’t think it’s real. They have to be actors, right?” Obvously, they all wanted to be on television, but it’s not clear why the show’s producers chose people who would necessarily be antagonistic toward one another. The whole idea is to see if they can build a working society, but the deck is completely stacked against them because they’re all maniacs. If these were cartoon characters, people would be offended by them because they’re such overblown stereotypes.
- Fox is going to swap out some of the Utopians every month. I have to wonder whether this just encourages people to go crazy, burn bridges, and not really care about building a working society. If there’s no prize at the end and if you might be there for just a few weeks (or a couple months at most), why put in the hard work to create a working system of self-governance rather than just having fun and getting a bunch of attention from the television audience?
And my fears that there’s not going to be any serious thinking about what makes for a good life or self-sustaining community or a just system of self-governance are pretty much immediately justified. In the first five minutes, the Utopians are tasked with paring down the meager possessions they brought with them and, for no apparently reason, Dave — the homeless ex-convict — throws a tantrum worthy of my four year old about bringing all of his stuff rather than pcking and choosing as everyone else has been doing to fill one big communal crate.
Then, once they start wandering around their new environment, they immediately start arguing with each other. As far as I can tell, it’s mostly becasuse Josh the general contractor is an amazing ass. He talks over all the women, he cuts off one guy who wants to say a prayer before dinner, makes fun of two women who want to calm everyone down by suggesting some yoga techniques, sexually harasses — and nearly assaults — at least one of the women, and gets embarrassingly drunk.
Trying to turn things around after a tough day, Dave says, “I thought we did really, really good with Day One.” But he’s wrong, very wrong. On the first day of Survivor or Big Brother, everyone’s incredibly friendly. And those are people who are actively scheming against one another in order to win a bunch of money by systematically eliminating everyone else from the competition. The Utopians, with absolutely nothing on the line, are literally attacking one another before the show gets underway.
On the second day, Hex the huntress has to be removed from the set because she drank herself to illness the night before. Jonathan, the pastor, spends a fair amount of time crying because three of the women do a lot of skinny-dipping. And then everyone has a meeting/trial to debate Josh’s fate.
In the middle of that meeting, Aaron, a chef, asks the group how they intend to make decisions. Will it be a democracy? No one has an answer for him. So they just vote to decide Josh’s fate (7-6) and the utopia is a simple majoritarian democracy thereafter by default.
I can’t help thinking the whole thing would have been much more interesting if they’d decided that the smartest, the strongest, the calmest, or the most capable had simply governed them and assigned tasks to everyone else. At least half of the people seem to have no discernable skills for surviving without electricity or plumbing, and seem to have been chosen simply because they have strong views or strong personalities. I’m thinking, for example, of Dedeker the polyamorous bellydancer, Dave the ex-convict, Amanda the behavioral specialist, Mike the attorney, Jonathan the pastor, and Rob the security programmer. These people basically bring nothing to the table, at least after three days in which they couldn’t even dig a single trench or keep all of their chickens alive.
But maybe it’s just that I’ve spent too much time reading Plato and this is actually the best we can expect.