Has civilisation got you down? Ever wanted to leave this culture behind and start over? Now you can. Producers have issued a casting call for Utopia, a new reality show that is pretty much exactly what you think it is — 15 strangers, picked to live on a farm and build their own society from scratch.
“This is not a game,” the trailer says. But it kinda sounds like a game:
UTOPIA follows 15 inhabitants as they leave their every day [sic] lives to move to an isolated and undeveloped location in the U.S. — for up to an entire year — and challenges them to create their own world. The series offers people from across America the chance to be part of a groundbreaking social experiment — the pioneers will make every decision about how they will live, work and what the rules and laws of UTOPIA will be.
Since producers are trying to fill all the possible roles for an entire society, the casting call is very, very specific. The producers are looking for people who specialize in: “Construction, Home Decorating, Design, DIY, Transportation, Wood Working, Machinery/Tools, Architecture, Green Living, Sustainable Development, Building/Engineering Trades.” Something tells me the person specialising in Home Decorating will quickly be recruited to Housekeeping.
Like all great reality shows, the US did not invent Utopia; it’s already been a big hit in the Netherlands (trailer below, in Dutch). According to Deadline Hollywood, the Dutch “inhabitants” were voted out in a complicated elimination process that included viewer input. Viewers could also check out webcams that were on 24/7, and just in the Netherlands, 100,000 people downloaded the app to watch after the first episode.
“It is the purest form of reality that I have ever produced in my career,” says executive producer John de Mol, who also produced the Dutch version. He was the creator of the original Big Brother show that birthed the reality genre, and is in many ways the model for this show, so he would know.
Really, aren’t all reality shows where people are forced to live together kind of their own takes on utopias? Isn’t that what we were kind of hoping to see on Big Brother or The Real World or Survivor as well — seven strangers picked to live in a house or a loft or an island who would show us the complexities of human interaction and society-building?
But the problem with these “new civilisation” shows is that in order to start from scratch, they supposedly must remove all technological advances, and therefore make them totally irrelevant to today’s culture. Remember CBS’s Kid Nation, a kind of contemporary Lord of the Flies where producers dropped off 40 kids aged eight through 15 in the ghost town of Bonanza City, Mexico? For 40 days the kids cooked and cleaned, ran businesses, and established a town council, all with minimal parental supervision.
Producers worked the theme so heavily it was more akin watching a cowboy summer camp: The kids dressed in Wild West attire and had to make a living using awkward, heavy wagons and other era-appropriate tools. (Some kids got sick after accidentally drinking bleach, and an 11-year-old burned her face with grease while cooking, leading to at least one charge of child abuse.)
For Utopia — at least the Dutch precedent — the inhabitants are living largely the same way. They wear present-day clothes, but they’re forced to live in a barn outside of Amsterdam with cows and chickens. They have one phone. Shouldn’t a show that offers commentary on what it’s like to build a contemporary utopian society start with the premise that a contemporary utopian society would probably establish itself much closer to resources like transit, food and culture? The Real World, where people must build their own community but are still allowed to interact and engage in “the real world” is almost a better examination of contemporary social behaviour.
I know, I know, these shows aren’t really attempting to tell us anything about the structure of civilisation at all. In fact, de Mol says it all in Utopia’s trailer: “The ultimate goal is to create great television.” [Utopia]