There is a new reality show on German TV channel SAT1. It’s called “Newtopia”. There’s a lot about this show that I find interesting. It already begins with the name. At first, the show was supposed to be called “Utopia”, like the original TV format that was created by John de Mol in the Netherlands. The name refers to the 16th century novel by Thomas Morus that frames an ideal society. But the German Online Magazine for sustainable living “Utopia” sued SAT1 so the name was changed. Not the very best start for the “greatest TV experiment ever” as the call it.
The idea of the show is that 15 very different people (called “pioneers”) are locked in on a farm in the countryside for one year. For months I saw the ads on TV that stated there would be no rules and no comfort. The pioneers would be left alone, only with a few cows and chicken. I admit I was fascinated by the concept. As a “person of the media”, I really wanted to check if this would work out. Maybe it would be boring as hell – after all, one year is a long time for a daily show! – or just another piece of trash TV that lives on its kinky protagonists. But apart from that, I realized that “Newtopia” intentionally plays with philosophical thoughts on human character and society.
“Will there be perfect joy or absolute chaos?”, the ads asked. I thought at once about the theory of the human “state of nature” described within the “Leviathan” by Thomas Hobbes. He states that the main feature of man is selfishness – he wants to survive and to increase his own well-being by striving for more power. Without rules imposed on man by a higher power, Hobbes says, his nature will always lead to bitter conflicts. I admit it’s very unlikely that the pioneers will start slaying each other in a “war of every man against every man” in front of the cameras – but the fact that there are no rules in Newtopia might lead to interesting situations for us as TV audience. Will there be chaos? What will the pioneers do to prevent fights over, I don’t know, food or something? Will they create a hierarchy?
I have to disappoint you: “Newtopia” is neither a utopia nor a dystopia. It’s not even a real “experiment” (apart from the risk that SAT1 runs with such an extravagant show). It’s still just a TV show, meant to entertain people. We can’t even find it creepy anymore, not like “The Truman Show” for example, because we are already used to this kind of surveillance shows and know that these “pioneers” were casted and probably have instructions. The show doesn’t fulfill the expectations it raised. Statements about “no rules” and “no comfort” were advertisement only. When I first watched the show I was surprised that the 15 people on that farm actually have a seed capital of several thousand Euro that they used immediately to order a high-tech heater as well as chocolate, coffee and make-up(!) from the next supermarket. So they don’t create a new society – they attempt to copy the old society we all know. Only one university professor with dreadlocks seems to understand the concept: He stated that he doesn’t need a ceramic toilet or other luxury and demonstrated very early that he considers everything on that farm common property – by using the women’s lady shaver on himself. (Sigh.) Oh well. But as he’s the only anarchist on this farm, “Newtopia” is nothing else but another “Big Brother” show with the marketing image of a social experiment. I doubt that these people will really live there for a whole year. Probably most of them will leave as soon as they run out of chocolate.