There has been a growing uptick in xenophobia since the spread of the Coronavirus, as many of you have already experienced. This in turn has led to violence and hate crimes amongst those perceived as foreign, most notably Asian peoples. This problem is not new, but the current presidency and rhetoric used to alienate other countries also exacerbates the fear that many Americans have of the unknown. What can be done that hasn’t been done already? How do we curb the hate?
Enter a dumb reality TV show where people sit in their rooms and sext catfishes. Yes, really.
Netflix’s “The Circle,” which had its start in the UK and has since moved onto the US, Brazil, and soon France, has increased rapidly in popularity as its premise becomes increasingly ironic. This growing franchise is, in a way, about friendship; the goal of the game “The Circle” is to make friends and influence people, to win 100,000 big ones. You can’t see or interact with any other people in the building — you’re literally spending your days in social isolation.
The United States version of the show has achieved rapid success, but its Brazilian counterpart may be even more popular. Many commentators have noted that the strategies from the Brazilian players were better, and thus was the more entertaining season. But that’s not what I want to focus on today. I want to look at the potential impact shows like “The Circle Brazil” have when viewed from an American lens.
When many Americans think of non-American cinema, it is likely that they either think of British television and films, Oscar-bait foreign language films few people watch, or the Bollywood movement. It is difficult to bridge that divide when a nation as us-centric as the US doesn’t even teach their children to be multilingual.
Enter trash TV. I kid, but reality TV is well known for having more universal appeal than more critically acclaimed works that come out every January. When you want to reach a wider audience, the lowest common denominator is usually a good place to start. Shows like “The Circle Brazil” force Americans who are watching to see participants not as alien entities but as players in an equal opportunity game. In so doing, they shine a light on the more relatable aspects of the culture (such as the schism mentioned in the show between a largely poor North and a far wealthier South). See, other countries can have stigmas too!
It’s frustrating that it takes shows like this to have some Americans even see Brazilians as human, but unfortunately it’s true. Representation is the number one means of normalizing and demystifying things Americans aren’t used to. We’ve seen this demystification occur before; a big example would be Ellen Degeneres, whose coming out in the 90s initially sparked outrage before her talk show became celebrated nationwide. And when that bubble is popped, just like it was then, Americans will look back decades from now and wonder what took us so dang long.
And hey, at the end of “The Circle” there’s a big cash prize. What could be more American than that?