PTSD

An Australian academic Dr Godfrey White has written:”There is enormous potential for risk, and nobody is really following these people up or watching over their welfare,” He was talking about Reality TV. “An industry standard should be created and producers should be held liable should anything happen.”

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I was directed today to a very interesting article about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which listed a range of symptoms. With the exception of Alcohol abuse, I recognised every one of them.

PTSD was a subject that I thought I knew as 20 odd years’ ago, I found myself dealing with the aftermath of a very traumatic situation. My partner, Necati had been introduced to me and over the first few months that we were together I began to piece together the alarming story that had brought him to Athens. He had been held in captivity by the Greek navy in Hania on Crete and after a while, detained in a cage under the open sun, he was taken to the bathroom, raped and badly beaten.

Necati and I did not have a common language and, therefore, the details of the case took time to emerge. Once I learnt what had happened, however, I was determined to get justice and to try to help him. In the process, we were met with the most appalling wall of bureaucracy and I am afraid I have had little patience for this sort of rubbish ever since. Actually, I think we have surrendered so much more in the last 20 years to the bullies of bureaucracy and this has been made much worse by the recent lockdown. I have, in fact, for example, been without a bank account now for over a month. It is not for want of trying to access the service. In the end, it boils down to the simple fact that what on offer is not delivered, but that failure is masked by the most appalling runaround of endless telephone calls and emails that never seem to go anywhere. It reminds me alot of my time in Greece 20 years’ ago. In both Greece and later Russia, I found there were masters of the sort of mindless bureaucracy that simply stops progress.

I looked at the list of symptoms and I wondered if either he or I suffered from PTSD after we got back from Greece. Certainly, he received very little care when he got back to the UK which is frankly disturbing given the high profile we now accord mental health. Thank God for Princes William and Harry!

Here is the list:

Hypervigilance

intense physical reminders of the event

irratability

irrational and intense fear

(alcohol abuse)

hyperacusis

difficulty concentrating

lacrymosity

panic

mood swings/ depression

insomnia

anger

tense muscles

work and relationship problems

memory issues

loss of interest

sense of a limited future

emptiness

avoidance of people and places

isolation

frequent periods of withdrawal

flashbacks

nightmares

distress

feeling suicidal

self harm

suspicious of others/ blaming others

guilt/ shame

weight issues

exhaustion

unexplained

aches and pains

overreactions to minor situations

fear of being alone/ agoraphobia

cortisol issues, skin complaints. scarring, tinitus

I am not sure I personally suffered that much after we got back from Greece. I was very focused on taking the case forward and I was busy writing to our legal team and to politicians in Greece and the UK. We amassed a huge number of responses from a very interesting range of people. It is touching how often people who are very important and busy, at the heart of government, take the time to write a letter explaining that they cannot do much but wishing well: it means so much. We do not need a solution- we need support.

In the wake of Necati’s case, I think my patience wore thin particularly with bureaucrats. I have learnt to deal with this but recently, after “the Circle”, I have found it has got difficult again. I am intensely aware of the inadequacy of the system. I want to change it. Maybe that is unrealistic.

In the year before I met Necati, I found myself at gunpoint in my own home and it was a frightening and maturing event. I had never really seen a gun before. I remember my father had a couple of plush purdy’s but for all his efforts to persuade me to go shooting, I whimped out and put my fingers in my ears. there was a farmer down the road who used to take me off with a single-bore shotgun and I enjoyed being around with him. I remember beating the pheasants out for him and I think I may even have tried a few shots- at targets not birds. But it was not my thing and by the time I got to Ratcliffe and was faced with joining the CCF, I was determined never to fire a gun.

I remember very well that the physics’ teacher, called Robinson, made a great fuss and poked fun at me when I objected to firearms: he wanted me to use the term “rifle”. I remember saying in a great meeting with all my peers around me that “a gun is a gun ad I will not handle one.” So they scowled and put me in the Scouts, which I hated just as much. I do not think Mr Robinson was intentionally unkind. I think it was that he had never met a boy who did not want to play with a gun and was prepared to say so.

But from quite an early age, when it has come to the crunch, I will speak out.

After the incident in my home, when I stood in front of a small gun intended to kill a kurdish paramilitary called Arif, I found myself opening the door to another group of paramilitaries who said they had been sent by the Greek navy to “take us out.” Oddly, they were led by the same Arif, so I gave them tea and told them to park their guns in the corner. “Would you like milk?” I remember very clearly asking them. There was a further incident when people came to our house with guns and necati and I hid behind a cabinet and waited for them to go away.

All of that should by rights have generated some sort of PTSD, but I am not so sure it did- not in me anyway. Certainly, I had nightmares and woke Necati up regularly with strange nocturnal behaviour. It died down for a few years but I gather it has started up again more recently. Necati calls it “the entertainment”. Necati, in turn, would have great mood swings and take against individual people – it has had lasting and uncomfortable implications.

I like to think that, like the great broadway and hollywood star, Will Rogers, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” It’s not quite true. And I know very well that I can happily accept the fact that I dislike someone’s views (intensely) and, at the same time, actively look forward to meeting them. This would genuinely be my attitude to Nigel Farage so I was disappointed when, after “the Circle”, I was stopped from participating in a show for the BBC when it was hinted I would have lunch with Anne Widdicombe. Of course, I know there are people who dislike me- alot. And I am riddled with guilt and self-doubt about how that ever happened. Generally, though, I find once I meet someone, it is often impossible for me to hold a grudge whatever they may think of me. We may not quite become bosom buddies but I can generally elicit a smile or a twinkle in the eye and that humanity is enough for me. Who cares if they disagree with me! Life is too short to spend the time persuading everyone to accept my point of view. And if for ten minutes I accept someone else’s views, well, there are then ten minutes when I have asked myself what it is like – it’s my effort at empathy. And who knows, when I think about it, they might have been right all along. There’s thought for the humility tract!

I am very proud that after we took Greece to the European Court of Human Rights, and won- and that I still remain friends with people who were loosely involved in the ordeal. And I have done my best to keep in touch with my many Greek friends.

I hesitate to go back of course, just as today I equally hesitate to go back to Russia (because of their heinous new laws against gay people). I am optimistic, but not stupid. But Greece remains my spiritual home even if I never set foot again on its soil.

And that brings me to reality tv and PTSD. This is the bit that is buried deep in the article that only the persistent will ever bother reading! Because I have PTSD. Finally, after all these years and so many adventures, I have all the symptoms. It is remarkable. I have more symptoms than Necati had or has! I am a wreck!

I know that some days I feel immersed in exhaustion and I struggle to get things done. But I have years’ of training, firstly as a monk and then as an animator and I can generally get down to some project or other, often of my own devising. I have tried to fill the last few months with creativity, publishing my efforts on youtube and instagram but always trying to push the envelope technically.

I rarely sleep. I fret over a multitude of nonsense or I write (like this: it is now 5.15 am).

Yet, so far, I have managed to pull myself together for my regular tuesday podcasts and the occasional live instagram session. It is really nice to interact and it makes me feel there is still a purpose in what I do.

I rarely go out. I try to keep busy, because if I stop, there are memories and thoughts.

But the flashbacks seem to be spread over a long period and the turmoil of the last 12 months seems to have unearthed lots of nonsense in my head about everything, all the way back to my childhood and being bullied at school by my art teacher. Accordingly, I have turned that into a project and, on the advice of a very astute Australian academic, I have started writing and a proper book is finally emerging.

There are three people who have addressed some of the issues that I have identified in my research into the phenomenon of reality tv. They are all Australian. Australia is certainly the place where there has been advances in the study of Reality tv as a serious phenomenon. (Though I think they have not got it right either – or yet) I must confess here: I had never watched the genre before I was contacted by “the Circle” production – not even “Strictly!” But since coming out of the circle, I have made it my mission to watch as much as I can tolerate and to talk to people who have been in some of the principle shows.

The experience, for the most part has certainly scarred them. It has not been easy for them and it is not something I would ever willingly recommend. Of course, people ask me on instagram live what they should do when they apply, or whether they should apply and I cannot quite bring myself to say unreservedly, “don’t”, especially when they go on to tell me that I had inspired them. I try to emphasise the positives: certainly if you are determined, apply and go on the show- you will have a great time filming the show but make sure, I advise them, that you secure a good agent before you start filming (that is easier said than done); make sure you have independent professional support because that is what I lacked and I still lack that. Talking to others, I realise that the lack of professional support from people who understand the industry and who are independent of the production is the common denominator – a sense of loss and confusion that follows when you are no longer the focus of a tv show. In the case of the more intense shows, like “Survivor” and “Big Brother” where contestants have been under observation for a protracted period of time, there is a feeling that there is no more control. Our life was minutely managed and now that is suddenly taken away. We yearn for that control and respond absurdly with great pleasure to anyone who tells us what to do. Just as we did in “captivity”.

Again and again, I hear of people coming out of these shows who are manipulated into making very bad decisions. This is quite different from the madness that follows those contestants who were painted badly in the show- who go on to be abused in pubs (like Lottie Lion the other day, and like James/ Sammie who was sent death threats after “the Circle” finished), whose real life is made a nightmare because they embraced the dream of being on the telly, because they followed direction from the producers and because they put themselves out there- because people in the street think they “know them”. They do not. This is a manufactured image. It is not reality.

We know TV can be abusive. I was inspired by the lead Stephen Lambert gave when he started the studio that produced “The Circle.” The story is covered in a guardian article of 2008 which descibed how he resigned from RDF Media over what was then called Queengate, that is the rediting of a sequence to sex up a sequence where the queen was being photographed by Annie Liebovitz. While RDF was exonerated by the Wyatt enquiry, Lambert remained concerned that a scene had been edited out of order in a sensational trailer to give the impression that the Queen was walking off in a huff. When it came to Reality tv production, I felt I was, therefore, in much better hands than most. The people who were producing “the circle” had a moral compass.

But much Reality tv has been about deceiving the viewer and exploiting te talent. Because of contracts and secrecy, there is very little serious work done about what is a very popular form of entertainment, and there is very little effective governmental control. This is the Wild west of modern tv.

When people complain about the way they have been treated, we hear the refrain, “Oh you knew about the show before you applied to be on it!” So it is your fault. Yet, in my experience, the majority of contestants in a great range of programmes have been scouted and head-hunted. there may be lots of applicants to participate on a show, but few of them will make it to the camera. the producers know what they want. They know exactly what will make good tv.

They know exactly how to do their job. they know at least how to produce the tv show. I question whether over the last 20 years there has been a great improvement in the way reality tv participants have been cared for.

Much of the better work about care is being tried in Australia. We are lagging behind messing around with pompous, meaningless, sententious, vacuous and frankly ridiculous documents like the one currently proffered by Ofcom as well as half-hearted Government committees blandly discussing the merits and control of what remains a largely unregulated growth industry in Television. (the document is here: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0025/192580/further-consultation-protecting-participants-tv-radio.pdf)

Jamie Huysman started an organisation in 1992 called AfterTVCare. There is nothing like that here. Dr Michelle Callaghan has focused on the way people may reveal more than they want to on national tv and then have to live with the consequences. She talks about the exaggerations that can occur in editing, and the manipulation of the contestant’s image. Essentially, she draws attention to a key concept which, I think, needs more than just psychological support. It needs professional support- this is about a loss of control. That loss of control might begin on screen but it can also and often does continue off screen.

It is not just the people in the street who think they know you because you were seen on the telly. It is also about abusive contracts, manipulation and misinformation conducted by people who think they know what is best for you , or what they want you to have, or what they want you to stop having. I was appalled to hear, for instance, of the story of the first winner of “Survivor Borneo” and, indeed, to meet Richard Hatch. I think we got on tremendously but I was still horrified by the story he told me. Because of a muddle about whether production had paid tax on his $1million winnings, he was arrested and sent to prison where, because he refused to recognise that he had done anything wrong and because production failed to support him, he served 4 years. It made headlines. It kept the show in the papers but I think it was questionably ethical and it was certainly exploitative. Richard used very blunt anglo-saxon terms to describe the major producers of the show.

Prison or suicide? It should not be like that. Neither should people be so damaged by the experience of reality tv that they must face up to years of pyschiatric care and/or counselling to recover from the ordeal. Entertainment should not be so traumatic. So, I think the public would be appalled if they learnt that the only proposals made by Ofcom are self-regulation and more psychiatry.

It’s a niche interest and yet a major form of entertainment. And the stories about the problems of those who have been on reality tv commands headlines in the tabloids.

It is as if we are to endorse a form of gladiatorial spectacle where our entertainment is precisely at the expense of the entertainer’s health and well-being. This cannot be right. It is exploitative and it would make me as a viewer feel dirty and complicit.

Yet it has been ongoing for over 20 years, and I think over 40 suicides have been recorded. I can think of no other form of entertainment that is measured in such misery.

Of course there are forms of work that routinely offer psychiatric support. I am hoping shortly to visit the PTSD centre for the army and to talk to the magnificent people who run Help for Heroes, and their efforts to rehabilitate those who were injured in service. But the army also offers very astute professional support and training in skills and education.

The government is failing us in throwing the ofcom proposal at us and in closing the committee that was looking int recent scandals linked to the Jeremy Kyle show and to Love Island. If we do not do something, we are in danger of undermining public trust in this very vibrant form of television.

The Ofcom proposal was published in April. There is nothing in that document that was not already in force when I entered “the Circle”. “The Circle” anticipated Ofcom’s report and was already doing everything Ofcom would say it should be doing. So it begs the question- why am I suffering from PTSD?

Terrace House

I was shocked to read about the death of Hana Kimura. She now joins an increasingly long list of reality tv talent driven to depression and suicide.

terrace house

It is awful that this has happened.It is personal. It is tragic. It has happened- again.

There are many reasons why this seems to happen -so often. On the one hand, there is the trolling and online abuse which is ear-marked by very fine campaigners like Bobby Norris, but on the other, there is an institutional abuse that seems to have ringfenced the reality tv world since the early days of America’s “Survivor”. However mild its form, it never seems to go away.

For the record, I think I was fortunate to have been selected to participate in the British show The Circle. I never applied to be on the show- I was headhunted by a producer and I had not watched that show nor much reality tv at all before I agreed to enter the apartment as a contestant. Put bluntly, I could as easily have been head-hunted by a programme like Traffic House. I could as easily -now- have been a victim of social media trolling as Hana was. My heart, therefore, goes out to Hana and to her family.

It is time to wake up to a double reality-

Firstly, that if this is the sort of tv we want to see, and I would suggest it is a very interesting and creative approach to tv, then we, the viewers, need to show responsibility to those people who are providing our entertainment. We can never send hurtful messages. A hurtful text is never just a joke- it is always hurtful. We must think before we send. The adage about “sticks and stones” which I remember repeatedly as a child is complete rubbish. Words always hurt. We need to be kinder.

Secondly, we need to ensure that those who produce reality tv operate under a more transparent code of practice. This means proper and effective aftercare, but it also means a level of honesty throughout the production that might compromise the way these programmes are currently made- maybe that needs to be an adjustment we should be ready to make.

Survivor

I am doing a weekly podcast for an American group devoted to the “Survivor” franchise. As far as I know, I am not to be paid but as the programme is now in it 20th year and 40th season, there are literally years’ of episodes to go before I even get half-way through the broadcasts. That may demonstrate naivite on my part but it also, I hope, gives me licence to speak out fairly boldly.

What is odd is that, unlike “the Batchelor” and “the Batchelorette” which were infamous for suicide, the “Survivor” series seems to have got by on what is frankly a diet of appalling abuse without much of an adverse affect on its contestants. Certainly, their early contracts were absurd in their attempt to silence and suppress the talent after the show, certainly the level of nasty tasks makes almost any other reality tv show seem tame, and, at the moment in season 1, though I am told not so in future seasons, the commentary is fairly modest in its irony and in the way it presents a storyline. Later series, I am told, will see a more nuanced recap at the beinning of episodes and a narrative bias from Jeff Probst -allegedly- that would make Emily Maitless’ line of reporting seem very lame indeed.

If you go to the podcast here-

you will hear a debate with the wonderful Mario Lanzo (not the singer but the writer, Survivor historian and psychiatrist) about an alleged manipulation of a vote- it is only an allegation though it is backed up with books and I understand with a court case, so the allegation might be well-founded. We are very trusting in the way we accept what we see on tv. It is not reality at all.

Lucky

For my part, as I say, I was very lucky indeed. The story that I was shown to be part of was actually, for the most part, the story that happened. Of course, there were scenes that never made the edit and I am sorry that the audience never got to see my conversations about tractors, ordure and farming with Sy: I think this omission explains why he visited me after he was blocked. No other narrative works in fact. I was also looked after terrifically well on the circle. Reality TV is a spectrum and I was fortunate enough to have found myself at the positive end of that spectrum.

I think Hana Kimura has been very unlucky but the industry itself, the whole spectrum, must take stock. Every time there is a death in the industry, people like me call for change. But change is dismissed and a few more sticking plasters are clumsily applied to the way this very profitable industry progresses. It cannot be just that people “have difficulty adjusting to fame”, or responding to “trolling”. By 2016, there were 21 deaths recorded in the States among reality tv contestants. That count is significantly higher if it is computed globally. It shows a serious problem in the making, or actually in reality and it does not take account of the innumerable counselling sessions that have dealt with depression brought on directly as a result of participation in one of these shows- counselling in other words that has stopped that appalling suicide rate being even higher than it already is.

It is not, to me, at all surprising that there should be problems: this is an industry that needs guidance- that has two or three different and contradictory images as Hollywood had in its own hay-day(sic). So, I have to ask, with all honesty, how can we have a business model marketed as entertainment that is predicated on such a high level of misery? In some shows, contestants have been wilfully humiliated, or manipulated to be party to the humiliation of others, they have been victimised by sleep deprivation, plied with alcohol and they find they have been selectively edited or they bitterly regret what they said in moments of weakness. They have been promised all maner of future success. Moreover, whatever screening process may have been conducted, everyone knows that emotional instability makes for good tv.

It is not enough to shrug and say “this was a Faustian pact.”

As I said, I was lucky.

Sadly, Hana Kimura was not.

 

 

Lock Down

Today there is an article in the NEW STATESMAN –

Much of it is about my friend and fellow contestant, James Doran, who played Sammie/ Charlie.

https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/tv-radio/2020/03/circle-finalists-how-to-get-through-isolation-lockdown-dan-sammie-james-paddy

After living through a month of isolation on a Channel 4 game show, finalists are heading back into lock-down for the second time

– written by Sarah Manavis

Isolation, heavy social media use, and being stuck inside with only a few sanctioned activities a day – this is a brand new reality most of us are experiencing for the very first time. But for a small group of reality TV stars who spent a month in isolation on The Circle, Channel 4’s latest breakout success, this is a past life they’re reliving after thinking they’d left it behind forever.

The Circle is a game show in which people compete to become the most popular person on a fake social media platform called “The Circle” – often catfishing or putting on fake personalities to make themselves more likeable. Contestants live in complete isolation in flats all in the same building and can only communicate via this interface, playing games, having private chats, and “blocking” (ie evicting) the least popular people several times a week. Although contestants are able to go to the roof of the building they live in, as well as the gym, they do not speak to any other people beyond a producer or showrunner, and don’t have access to television, the internet, or their phones. The finalists who make it to the end of the show experience this period of isolation for nearly four weeks, and in the first season this included a week in hiding preceding the show’s start. The prize for the winner is £100,000.

Well, nothing is always that straightforward the prize turned out to be split and, as the “viewers’ champion”, I shared this with Paddy. As with all contests of this sort, the show plays with the expectations and assumptions of the participants. It hungers for surprise and shock.

I have just reviewed the Brazilian version of the circle and I found it wanting. (I am told it redeems itself in the last two episodes and much of my gripe actually comes from the intensely boring episodes 7 and 8, possibly because Dumaresq was less prominent… ellipsis!) I must add that I found the scenes with the twins quite captivating, maybe because this was “real interaction”. And I loved their introduction as they both arrived in the apartment and only when they sat down together did we fully take on board the fact that we were watching identical twins.

The contestants were often gorgeous to look at and certainly bouncy, but they lacked any desire to bond together – which was odd: I thought Latin America was all about bonding (maybe it doesn’t quite work when there is no physical proximity?). It was the sense of intense reciprocity that I felt was lacking and seemed to me to be the very thing that made the UK Circle and set it apart from other reality tv shows of its ilk. I am also tempted to say that I am told it was particularly evident in the second series in which I was a participant. Even when James, Paddy and Georgina went over to “the dark side”, they were still bound together in a community, what James called “the circle of trust”. This sense of community is something that I feel is already developing across the UK at the moment as we all self-isolate; I am eager to see it continue and I want to nurture it. I think it is a good thing.

Now Dan was not only in the first season; he was also on the pilot so he is someone who should know about the circle. Incidentally, the lovely Jan who was in Season 2 with me was also in the original pilot. one day, I trust we will see that show too- now, would be a good time to drop it into the schedules!

Dan Mokasu was a finalist on the first ever season of The Circle in 2018 and was also a contestant since the first day, meaning he spent an entire month cut off from the outside world. “Even when we were in hiding, we weren’t allowed to watch live TV, we obviously weren’t allowed to read newspapers, we weren’t allowed to do anything really,” Dan tells me. “And then of course once you actually got on the show, you were even more limited. You can’t do anything, essentially. It’s really like primitive stuff to keep yourself entertained.”

During the show, viewers can catch glimpses of contestants playing puzzles, reading books, or doing yoga between bouts of messaging. For Dan, a month of this wasn’t necessarily cabin fever-inducing, but he did say he felt cut off and often bored. “I definitely felt disconnected,” he tells me. “We had even less [to do] than we do now.”

In contrast to Dan, I found I had plenty to do in the Circle but I am used to being on my own. I had an introduction to this as a monk and later as a goatherder on a greek mountainside. I sing, I talk to myself, I create stories and I draw. In fact, I actively enjoy my time alone. But, that time alone, I find, is actually time preparing to rejoin the community, and not knowing when that will be is now both unusual and potentially destabilising. I cannot assume, therefore, that any of this will be easy. We will all need help getting through this period.

James Doran was a finalist on Season 2 of the show who, like Dan, was in it from the beginning. However, he tells me that he suffered mental health problems both in The Circle and after he got out, and even had to be signed off for stress and anxiety when he returned to work. He says the loneliness combined with catfishing for an entire month (playing a single mother named Sammie) made him incredibly paranoid and the only human contact he had was “the kind of conversations you’d have in a lift” a couple of times a week with show producers.

“I don’t want to put a light mood on it, because it’s a really serious situation,” he says of now being in coronavirus lockdown, “but I think it’s a walk in the park comparing it to The Circle. I’m around my mum, my brother, I can speak to my girlfriend whenever I want to, I can go outside for a walk – you can’t do that stuff in there. We couldn’t use any technology, we had no sense of time… we couldn’t plan our days.”

I think the absence of time is a major issue and is something that comes with isolation. For this reason I have just reset the grandfather clock and I make sure I keep to a daily routine- up at 6, bed at 12, though I am afraid I often linger as lastnight falling asleep while watching episode 4 of “Belgravia”. (Not a criticism on Julian Fellowes by the way)

Although he felt at ease with this far more lax form of isolation, James does say that many parts of this are far more intense than his experience on The Circle. “When you’re self-isolating in The Circle there’s an end goal,” he says. “We knew how long we were going to be in there, whereas with this situation we don’t know how long it’s going to go on for. No one’s going to win 100 grand when it’s over. There was an angle, there was a target, there was something to try to get, to keep determined. It wasn’t like ‘this filming might be extended for a few months and I might still be here then’ – it’s that uncertainty that a lot of people are stressing out about.”

James has been using his Instagram account to help people struggling with isolation, creating videos on how to stay sane during lockdown and setting up an account to show people what exercises he did when he was stuck inside during filming.

We need to share our experiences and ideally each keep a blog or journal. We are now living through historical times in a way that we have not done for 70 years. In years’ to come, children will ask us what we did and we want to have these personal accounts to hand. It will also help us to order/ regulate our routines. We cannot just sit around waiting.

“I don’t want people to read this and think I’m just talking about my experience on The Circle,” James adds. “I genuinely want them to know that I care about other people, I’m not like ‘oh I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt.’”

It is very worrying to hear of Dan and James’ struggle, doubly so because the circle is actually just a bit of light entertainment. We do not want, or should not expect our entertainment ever to come at the cost of its participants’ health and I worry that the systems are not fully in place to cater to the aftercare of reality tv contestants or performers and to properly protect them. The memory of Caroline Flack remains fresh, but there is a very long list of men and women who have suffered from being in programmes like “Big Brother” where aftercare seems to be minimal and, even after all this time, contestants are unprepared for what they have signed up to. Often when it finds out about a problem, the media trot out a trite comment that these people had struggled to come to terms with their new popularity, but equally, they may have also struggled against a manipulative and very greedy management system operating in the shadows. It is not something any of us should be proud of. We cannot be entertained by reality tv and not take responsibility for the people who provide that entertainment- otherwise we are regressing to a Georgian voyeurism in Bedlam.

Manipulation and bullying turn up in many workplaces and are not at all the stuff of the school playground alone. I think, indeed, that we have become a society with a nasty underbelly of aggression.

We only get it right when we know nobody is hurting afterwards.

Trust

The circle was particularly unusual in that it was about seclusion. I can think of no other tv show or social experiment like it. And it threw up some interesting experiences that frankly even observers or the “professionals” were not aware of or prepared for. One of these is the experience of trust.  Isolation works on trust. I promise this is the case, and it makes sense when you think about it. More than that, I feel, to our credit, we are now, as a Nation, trusting one another already a lot more. That is sadly, though, something the bully is also waiting to take advantage of, so we must be wary. We must trust, but we must be sure we trust the right people.

There is nothing worse than a breakdown of trust.

It comes as no great surprise to me, sadly, to see an Art Gallery raided and a priceless Van Gogh stolen, as has just been reported. Criminals are lying in wait to take advantage of us. We need to be careful- we need to be prepared but that does not mean abandoning this healthy and new investment in trust. We just have to mind that we do not abuse it.

Community

For the isolation that we are in now, therefore, there are two points to note. The first is that we will only get through it in community, however isolated we may be. The second is that we will need to work very hard to adjust again to life on the outside after a few months in isolation. And again, we need to work together and to learn more about one another as we isolate: we need to become better neighbours and friends and build up stronger communities that go beyond the family.

We need to guard against the nastier elements in our society that will otherwise take advantage of us, indeed that are already doing so- the banks who have been trying to lever businesses into putting up collateral when the government has already offered the loan, the insurance agencies who were mealy-mouthed when theatres took the decision to close but had not actually been told to specifically shut down. I am afraid that list may grow, and it may well be “the usual suspects”.

Acceptance

This is what the winner, Paddy said. He

thinks that being cut off in The Circle is better than the lockdown we’re experiencing now.  “You can’t go outside because it’s bad for other people – if I went mad or if I needed air [in The Circle], I could do that,” he says.“If you take that out of it, I don’t really mind being in isolation now – what I do mind is that that’s a game show and this is affecting our livelihoods.”

Then Paddy adds an absolute gem of advice:

He also said to embrace isolation. “I find that, trying to fight something, you go into a state of panic… especially right now, you kind of have to go with the flow and take every day as it comes.”

Fighting against the Circle is a waste of time. We will make it work by harnessing it and taking advantage of what it offers. We are not “stuck” at home- we are “safe” at home. We are not waiting, we are actively engaged in creative activities and doing something with out time in isolation.

All three finalists I spoke to had advice about how to stay engaged during isolation. “There are a million things that you could do,” Dan says. “Learn a language, reorganise your wardrobe, talk to your pets, phone a family member… Do your mum a favour and just clean up the house!” Paddy and James conducted an Instagram Live earlier in March, giving their own tips about how to combat cabin fever. Both suggested puzzles and reading, and giving yourself something to do each day to look forward to, as well as looking after your physical health. “Take care of your body and your mind will follow,” James says.

But above all else, the one thing they valued right now that they didn’t have in The Circle was the ability to speak to the people they love. “The conversations you’d have [in The Circle], it wasn’t like deep questions,” James tells me. “ And it’s not the people you want to be speaking to, is it?”

“It wasn’t the conversations you would have with someone you’re connected with, which is really what’s important,” he adds. “Keep in touch with those people now.”

It is odd that, since isolation began, I have had more conversations with fellow Circle players than at any time since we left the show. We formed a friendship there and we all realise we have an expertise that maybe we can and should pass on to others now.

The US Circle

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Just about to do the final Podcast for the US circle. What a pleasure watching these 12 episodes. The joy of watching Shubham telling us that social media is the bubonic  plague of modern times.  The guy who doesn’t know flirting or emojis. I felt a distinct connection with him and sent him an email immediately!!

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Alex Hobern from The Circle Series 1

Last week, I went to see Alex who won the first season of the Circle. We made a few videos each, the first part of mine I have just uploaded here.

Alex tested me on acronyms and I was fairly useless. It follows on from an exchange I had in the Circle with Woody. Alex’s video is here:

 

Here is my drawing of Alex:

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A very nice suggestion on youtube led to this cartoon-

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This is the small video we did together when we met a few weeks’ ago in Brighton. What a lovely guy is Woody and what an effortless joy to make a video like this with him. It was fairly spontaneous and we did not quiote know what we would do- so this is a “happening”! The cartoon above was in response to one of the comments that appears below the video here. Hope you enjoy!