Is This Utopia? A Look at Fox’s New Series

Photo available on Utopia Facebook pageDespite my awareness of the possible negative effects of watching TV — antisociality, heightened materialism, “brain-rot,” etc. — I still do it. For one reason, as fans of the The Wire or Breaking Bad explain, television has gotten really good, approaching cinematic levels of quality. But more importantly, when taken in moderate doses, with a reasonable amount of detachment, it can create enjoyment. So, after a conversation with a friend whom I respect (or used to, anyway, hehe) — and given my interest in the subject — on a Sunday when I had a little time to kill, I began watching Utopia.

Fox’s reality show, naturally, rests on a ridiculous premise. (Or as my friend explained as a disclaimer, “It’s stupid . . . but entertaining.”) The set-up: fifteen people live together on a remote compound for a year, trying to survive and create an ideal society. The producers picked people with widely varying attitudes toward gardening styles, eating habits, spirituality, modesty, temperament, and of course, government. They began with arbitrarily setting constraints (a wooden crate’s worth of personal belongings, shelter and livestock but no electricity or plumbing, visitors allowed but no outgoing visits, etc.) and a collective $5,000.

Predictably, in the first month since the show premiered, little ground has been broken beyond the model first manufactured (and perennially rehashed) by MTV’s The Real World. The cast eats regularly, has found ways to make a little more money, and no one has died or killed someone else yet; they’ve survived. They talk, occasionally make love, and argue — a lot. Various discussions have taken place and ideas been floated about creating an ideal society, but most of the energy has focused on survival (and that, mostly through financial transactions with the outside world) and managing emotions.

It makes sense. Bringing together people from such disparate backgrounds under such an arbitrary set of circumstances, would not seem to create anything substantial — and it does not. But that result in and of itself may prove Utopia‘s most worthwhile contribution to society. Not that in order to create a better life, one must necessarily unite with people of similar backgrounds and temperaments. Rather, in conducting that experiment blindly, the subjects of Utopia have so far merely produced a microcosm of the world outside . . . a world that barely works, in which survival and making peace constitute the best possible outcome.

From a practical standpoint, what can we learn from this experiment/spectacle? Again, I would not argue that a small group of people with different beliefs and attitudes cannot come together and live well. But what seems of utmost most importance — and what essentially has not been demonstrated in Utopia — is the need for open-minded communication.

The Fox show presents its subjects as each having an individual Utopian ideal — one that often finds itself completely at odds with the ideals of other subjects. The producers, again, probably did this on purpose to create drama — the bedrock of reality-entertainment. But in actual reality (that is, outside of the TV screen), we, as producers of our own lives, have the option not to let individual ideals prevent us from creating better lives for ourselves.

We can talk about the benefits and drawback of various gardening methods. We can learn to try different foods. We can discuss various beliefs and spiritual matters and practices — and live communally — without seeing eye to eye on them. Simply put, we have the conditions in place to conduct experiments far more exciting and productive than do the Utopians who we watch on TV.

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About the Author

I like to write, make films, play and watch soccer, meditate, read, and wander. I also enjoy psychogeography, Filipino cinema, craft beer, and strawberry shortcake. You can find me on Twitter and Google +.