Netflix has begun to expand its original content into a new genre—reality television. The Circle, which was released at the beginning of January, follows a group of contestants who are only allowed to communicate via a social media platform called “The Circle.”
Players use the platform “The Circle” by speaking to their TV screens so they can change their profiles, view other players’ profiles, and message one another. In each of the show’s twelve episodes, contestants are ranked based on their popularity among players. The two contestants with the highest ratings are the “Influencers” for the week, meaning they have the power to kick out one of the other ten players. The show is further complicated by new players replacing those who have been kicked off in the first few episodes, and the contestants have to deal with constant shifts in the interpersonal dynamics of the game. Whoever is the most popular among the contestants via their social media appearance wins $100,000.
The cast of The Circle makes the show even more compelling, with five main characters each adding their own flair and drama to the mix. Shubam is a UCLA graduate who hates social media, Joey is an Italian mama’s boy, Sammie is a sassy party girl, Chris is a religious, flamboyant Texan, and Seaburn plays the game as overly emotional Rebecca. Out of the five original players, Seaburn is the only one who has an alternate online persona. He decides to create his Circle account using his girlfriend's photos and presents himself as shy and sensitive Rebecca. Throughout the rest of the season, many other characters also pretend to be someone they are not via their Circle profile, mainly with the intention of gaining popularity based on the alternate persona they take on. This catfishing aspect of the show keeps contestants on their toes and viewers at the edge of their seats.
While many think that reality television is mindless entertainment, The Circle inspires important conversations regarding social media. The show makes us question our appearances, both physically and socially, as each contestant crafts a completely unique appearance for themselves at the start of the show, thinking that standing out will help them gain the most popularity. The nuanced ways that all of the players believe that their social media appearance will cause them maximum popularity demonstrates how social media culture often embraces inauthenticity as a natural human inclination—we repeatedly see characters like Sammie send out different phrases like "LOL" while completely deadpan, an ultimate visual of said authenticity.
The Circle also shows us how easy it is to put up a false image of ourselves online. Seaburn's scheme tells us that even if we aren’t catfishing someone, we can put up a deceptive image of ourselves online. People can post to Instagram or Facebook after editing their pictures with apps like FaceTune, almost to the point where they don’t look like their actual selves. On dating apps, people can say anything about themselves, creating the person that they wish to appear as instead of who they really are. Sean, a contestant on the show, exemplifies this idea best. She joined the show as a slim blonde when, in reality, she is a plus-sized influencer on Instagram. In the middle of the season, she regretted her decision and decided to reveal her true self to the other players via the Circle.
As long as these experiences feel real, they are real. This is the key point that The Circle drives home. Not only is it riveting, but it charmingly prompts many thought-provoking questions about society, self-image, and appearances.