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“The Circle” is making me #ConfusedAndAshamed

| Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Circle, message:

“OMG! Can’t believe this is my last column of the semester! #JournalismFlex. Sunglasses emoji. So excited for you all to read this piece. #GirlBossesDoingThings. Hair Flip emoji.”

If you understood that, then you, like myself, may have fallen into the trap that is Netflix’s half-game show, half-reality TV, fully-garbage program The Circle.” Never have I before felt so simultaneously intrigued and ashamed than when watching two players dictating out convoluted hashtags to one another as they try to catfish each other. There is no equivalent to the secondhand embarrassment and morbid curiosity elicited by watching players publicly drag one another with snake emojis. I have been ineffably consumed by this fascinatingly toxic, toxically fascinating show.

Allow me to explain for the people who watch good television. “The Circle” takes a rotating cast of contestants and places them alone in isolated, elaborately furnished apartments. They aren’t allowed phones, laptops or any other devices — just the social media platform known as the Circle, which they access through multiple televisions placed throughout their apartments. All interactions with other players are done only through voice-to-text, so while contestants can play as themselves, others try to gain an advantage by playing as other people. Throughout their time in the Circle, players engage in private chats and group chats with other players in order to form alliances, as well as games that exist solely to stir up drama. Every so often contestants must rank each other, after which the top two players in the ranking become “influencers” (complete with blue check privilege) who must decide which lower-ranked member is getting “blocked.”

The “Circle” refers to both the physical building they’re staying in as well as the omnipresent social media platform they use to communicate. The players directly address the Circle to open up communication (“Circle, take me to the Circle Chat”), dictate responses, “Circle, message, ‘LOL…’”) or just give general salutations (“Good morning, Circle”). Maybe this is a biting commentary on how technology dominates our lives to the point where it’s unclear if we’re living with it or within it. Somehow, I doubt this.

The way that people do speech-to-text on this show is absolutely absurd. It seems like an offshoot of the WatchMojo affectation — a weird, put-on voice that stumbles its way through redundant hashtags and descriptions of different emojis. Are the contestants told to talk like this? And who is typing out these messages? Are there vigilant employees of the Circle hidden in the walls, ready at any moment to take commands like “Message ‘Hi’ with four i’s” or “Circle, put crying emoji, heart emoji, crying emoji”? Does it get weird when the players start to flirt with each other? 

Another thing that bothers me is the unnecessary and frequent hashtag use. Are players told to include hashtags? Emojis I understand, but the actual purpose of hashtags on social media is to connect your post to other posts with the same hashtag. When a player dictates “Circle, message, ‘Ladies, I’m so glad we got this chance to talk, #GirlGang,’” they’re not connecting that message to anything else tagged #GirlGang. So what’s the purpose? Has the hashtag evolved firmly into a marker of summarization? Of emphasis? Of irony? I’m not a linguist — I’m just bored.

Players also just talk aloud frequently, verbalizing their decisions or excitement or anxiety. I understand that this is necessary to give the show actual content, but it’s still disconcerting if you think about it too much. Their reactions are pointedly dramatic, especially to the frequent blaring alerts that occur before they receive new information. It’s just a lot to process visually and mentally.

And brief tangent, but I have so much respect for the video editors of “The Circle.” I imagine it’s no easy feat to cut up footage from several weeks of seven or eight different isolated contestants and then splice it together in a way that not only makes narrative sense, but is enticing and compelling. I wonder if they have to cut out all the times that players “Jim the camera.” They also have to craft an assortment of outrageous cliffhangers, most of which have little to no payoff, since Netflix releases the episodes for season two in groups of four, so more often than not you’re able to just let it autoplay to the next episode. Cheers to the video editors, and cheers to the employees hiding in the walls who have to dictate the messages. You are the unsung heroes of this awful show.

I don’t know what conclusion I was trying to come to in this column. This show is just so bizarre that I had to write it all down and make you look at it too. Watch it and be haunted by the logistics. Or don’t, and live a life unburdened by these meaningless questions.

Ella Wisniewski is a junior studying English and economics. She tries her best not to take herself too seriously. You can reach her at [email protected] or @ellawisn on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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