Final Thoughts on Utopia
Disclaimer: all of these opinions are my own. Obviously, you are all welcome to your own opinions, but since I am the one writing this post, they won’t count. You may disagree with these opinions. That is your right, but it will not change the words you read in the paragraphs below.
Utopia started out as being a reality show unlike all the others. And that’s pretty much all we were told about it. A lot of people had expectations about what it should be. It turned out to be different. So here are some quick thoughts about what was good and bad about the show, and why I think it failed.
Feeds (the good):
The show started out on the feeds, roughly a week before the first TV show aired. Two of the four streams were free! That was groundbreaking. We were told that these feeds would be different, with less censorship. And… that lasted 2 days. We got nudity, and fights and cursing. You could tell production was still learning because they didn’t know what to show on the feeds when they wanted to hide what was really going on. They tried blurring the whole picture, then tried the zoomed out yard view, and weeks later settled on a cow cam (the utopia version of Big Brother’s Fish Cam)
It took a few weeks before production needed to cut the feeds, and with remarkable speed they copied Big Brothers sole innovation of 2014, and showed us a recap show on the feeds to entertain the masses while the meeting with production was going on.
Feeds (the bad):
One of my biggest gripes about Big Brother is that it lacks transparency. From a viewer perspective, Utopia started off differently but over time migrated to the same bad habits.
Newsflash: we know it’s a TV show. Stop trying to mute the feeds or cut away every time production needs to interact with the contestants. Stop prohibiting contestants from talking about production. The show’s production can ask them to minimize it, but don’t insult the viewers by pretending that the tv show staff doesn’t exist, and isn’t interacting with the contestants.
Also, one of the things I wanted from day one was a confessional cam. Not staged or prompted (i.e. the diary room cam, or a chick coop cam), just a place for a contestant to go, away from everyone else, and talk to us on the feeds, unedited about whatever they want to talk about. This builds a connection between the viewers and the contestants in a way that just watching their actions doesn’t. And Utopia finally added it, a few days before they got cancelled.
Anther big complaint: the lack of a flash back feature. OK, so Utopia production department didn’t have the technology to do what Big Brother does. I’m not happy with that, but they did have another way to solve the problem that they totally failed to use properly. Every day they would give us 5-7 one minute clips of things that happened. That was a mistake. Stop wasting time editing it down to a one minute highlight. Show us any interesting conversations for as long as they lasted, from one camera. Magically all the time they spent editing web highlights together could be saved and more total content could be archived for the people who want to see all the details.
One thing Utopia production NEVER mastered: getting the audio shown on an individual live feed to match up with the people on the screen. I’ll just write this one off to lack of man power, but it really really annoyed the viewers.
Finally, the muting and censorship. I get it that the FOX network executives from their lofty perches on the 50th floor somewhere put the kibosh on showing too much nudity. But those rules were applied inconsistently, and were significantly worse on nights and weekends. The same goes with muting conversations. All we the viewers want is to know the rules about what can and can’t be shown/heard and for those rules to be applied consistently and then guess what, we will shut up about them. Well, with the exception of where the feeds mute out every other word or half of every sentence of a conversation. It’s unwatchable. Find something else to show us if you are going to do that. Don’t waste our time!
Overall I liked the TV show, and watched it every week. I know other feedsters didn’t. Some said they didn’t watch because everything was shown on the feeds. (implying that we should be shown less on the feeds? NO THANK YOU!) I would have liked the show to be one three days a week, if only because it was a very nice and clean way to see anything we missed on the feeds. Yeah I know story lines were edited and some people were misrepresented on the tv show, but that’s life, with a limited resource (42 minutes of tv time) you fit in what you can.
The Website / Apps:
LOVED the iphone app. And the 360 camera on the iPhone app was amazing
Liked the iPad app. slightly harder to switch feeds then the iPhone app (was surprised they weren’t the same)
Accepted the Android app. Was even harder to switch feeds.
Tolerated the website (mostly so I could get screenshots) It was a responsive design web failure. Far too much room was wasted at the top and right hand side (a one inch empty margin that would not go away no matter how small the window got? Fire the designer!) All I want, as a viewer is 95% of the web window to be the feeds, and 5% to be the navigation, and NOTHING else. Unless you’re paying rent on my monitor, stop wasting space!
Interacting with viewers:
Loved that the show had an official twitter account, that occasionally snarked with us, but most of the time they just tried to play psychiatrist and asked us what we though about anything we would tweet about, and then never responded to the answer, so that was a fail. Annoyed that they appeared to ignore any criticism of the streams, not even having the common courtesy to say “it’s been noted, and will be passed along to the appropriate people, thank you.”
Loved that one of the executive producers tweeted with us. My sincere apologies to you for the sheer number of people that treated you as the complaint department for the whole show.
I’m not going to hate on anyone that was cast. Sorry. I’m sure back in real life they have friends and family, and have a place in that structure. They were all taken out of that and put into a situation where there was a non-existent social order to see what would happen. That’s the whole show in a nutshell. A whole lot of you didn’t get/accept that. But more on that below.
I will say I did like Rob & Mike, when they were clowning around, and being happy. I know some of the viewers got all butthurt when Rob or Mike talked trash about the viewers. As if we weren’t talking trash about them. Production did their part to fix this by giving us the direct nomination, but it was just a little too late.
A lot of people online complained about Aaron, but I didn’t see anyone else too anxious to take over the full time duties of taking over the kitchen. At the end of the day, all Nikki really wanted was to be Aaron’s boss. Not to do the work. The week she “took over” the kitchen, Cal and Josh did most of the cooking.
As for Aaron’s stealing, cry me a river. The guy took somewhere between $12-20 of the groups money and bought snacks with it. Some twitterers wanted to call the police and report him. Words fail to describe how stupid an idea this was.
Am I an Aaron fan? No. and I was happy to see him be replaced as soon as possible. But the hate displayed by some on twitter far exceeded anything bad that our Shady Chef did.
I still think Bella is better off being outside Utopia where she can be with people who accept her for who she is, and can get the meals she thinks she needs. She claims to now be without a home, perhaps one of her staunch online defenders will step up and help her out, the way Pastor Jon did with Dave. I doubt it, (twitter is full of talkers) but I’ll try to remain optimistic.
Why Utopia failed:
The utopia society failed because they tried to replicate a full blown democracy with only 15 people. I hate to be blunt, but I blame Mike for this. Every time they needed to figure out how to organize decision making, it eventually lead back to Mike, and he always said “well, I don’t want to tell you how to do it, but… here’s how we do it in the US government” and they they would copy it wholesale. That’s not Mike’s fault. But him being there and giving them the blueprints to an existing bloated system, and the rest of the utopians being too lazy to stand up and say “No way! We need something smaller.” is what ultimately caused the failure.
This lead to a government system that could not get out of it’s own way (sound familiar?) It lacked leadership, and a vision of where to go or what to do. Because the show was cast with 15 leader type personalities, no one wanted to step down, or really accept anyone else’s way of doing things, which just lead to head butting. And who ever was the vocal minority would stop projects because “it’s not fair to me, y’all!” It didn’t help that they all knew they could (and would!) leave so they had no “personal” investment in seeing the project thru. No investment = no need to help out with chores or projects they just couldn’t be bothered to do.
What should have happened, and would have worked was to set up a family or tribe leadership, with a set of goals, and follow thru on them. Then there would have been a lot more done in a lot less time.
The TV show failed because it was just too damn slow. None of us knew what to expect other then “Big Brother sucks! Hey look a new show! It’s not a contest! They are building something!” Umm, ok. Because the Utopians failed to actually show progress building anything, Utopia turned into a soap opera. And as a TV show, it wasn’t terribly interesting.
The lack of “confessionals” on the show hurt having the Utopians connect with the audience. This was corrected in the last episode, but again, too little, too late.
Showing constant fighting, or constant relationship building alienated different parts of the viewing audience. I think ultimately viewers want the fake conflict and drama associated with performing a task/game, and don’t want to just watch people bickering over real life issues. (Coincidentally, FOX has a whole channel for that too!)
If the show had started off with the 15 people organizing themselves into a family structure, and immediately started on better housing, and better cooking, it might have been better, or more boring. I don’t know. Reality check, they took 15 average-ish city dwellers and put them on a farm with no training. It didn’t work.
CAUTION: this is the part where I do a reality check on the viewers and some of their ideas. If you keep reading, you may very well be offended here, you’ve been warned.
The Viewtopians: I interacted with about a thousand people thru twitter. I had a lot of laughs, and once or twice got really angry at some stupidity I saw on twitter. For everyone who made me laugh, thank you! And for twitterers who argued with me, here’s my list of why you were wrong, in no particular order:
Aaron stealing: see above. I’m still stupefied at the people suggesting that the police should have been called. You f’ing idiots really expect law enforcement to waste their time and production’s time to see if somehow, some actual law was broken on Aaron ordering food in a manner that you didn’t approve of.
The cows: I have to stop myself from writing a book here. Hey A-holes! You don’t know more about cows then the vets that were looking after them. If they cows had been in actual danger, they would have been taken away. All your complaining got you was the feeds would switch somewhere else anytime anyone walked near the stables for a few weeks. And I don’t know if anyone did call ASPCA or PETA about the animals, but again if you did, you really really need to learn how to be a buttoutski.
In the real world, calves are taken away from their mothers at birth, and the two never see each other again. They are grown to sexual maturity, have 3-5 calves, (to keep producing milk) and are then sold to a butcher. There is nothing glamorous about the life of a cow.
Did Bri underfeed the cows? yes. To a dangerous level? No. How do we know this? –> Were the cows taken away? No. The vets came and told them to start feeding the cows better, and the problem was solved.
Bella: Bella was “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” personified. For some reason, middle-aged women and older men on twitter loved her. I’m guessing these same people would dislike her with a passion if they had to live with her for more than a few days. James the newtopian said as much after he was there for two days. Any time Bella didn’t get her way she would throw a fit, then have a pity party, and you viewers bought the “poor Bella” routine time and time again. She played you guys like a fiddle. It didn’t help that the show gave her an edit of being the hapless victim. They failed to show that in reality she was a professional victim, both causing the drama, then running away from it crying for somebody, ANYBODY to help her.
And you the viewers didn’t help. I thought it ironic the number of tweets I saw lambasting paying utopians for their early art, then some other people gave $3K for Bella’s watercolors. I’m not going to get into judging the art, that’s in the eye of the beholder. But it is pretty easy to assess a value of it by seeing what comparable pieces from other undiscovered artists go for in the same marketplace (i.e. eBay). You all were paying pity money (much higher them marketplace value) for the artwork. This inflated Bella’s ego, and if the Utopians had any sense, they would have found a way to use her properly (read: sugarmomma) The only reason they didn’t was because every time they met a Bella demand, she came back with one 10x bigger, and that’s ultimately unsustainable.
Utopia income: Understand, utopia was set up to be a community of artists, and anything else was (unfortunately, perhaps unintentionally) rigged to fail. They had 3 acres of land, of which they could plant a garden on about 1/2 an acre (that’s not enough to feed 15 people.) They were dropped in at the beginning of fall, and Bella, the super gardener, immediately wasted weeks planting poorly designed gardens full of spring time plants. (towards the end Cal started doing things right, but that still wasn’t going to pay off in food for months)
The cows were a huge problem, they cost $800-$1000/month in feed and hay. If the utopians had proper room to graze them for free, they would have been economically viable. Since they didn’t have the land, they were not. They should have been sold or eaten (yeah, I said it) and the Utopians should have just bought milk as needed. $800/month buys a lot of milk, more than all the utopians needed for drinking and making soap. Yeah, I had people trying to justify the cows by saying if they would only use the milk to make soap to sell the cows would pay for themselves. That’s a pretty lame justification. And it also doesn’t add up, but I’m done arguing logic with people fighting back with emotion.
Because Utopia was unfortunately located in California, they were stifled with business regulations that prevented them from all sorts of things they could have done to make money. Pretty sure James could not set up a hair salon, heck even Aaron probably would have had issues selling food as a concession (not that any visitors would be in a hurry to buy it) So they were basically stuck selling tickets to the zoo, and selling artwork of questionable quality. I’m amazed at the number of twitterers saying they should be doing something else, when in reality, there wasn’t much else they could do. None of them could leave and get a job. Visitors/Buyers couldn’t stop by on their own schedule. Even Josh said (paraphrased): “well if we wait long enough, production will just give us what we need.”
One final thought: To the hater hypocrites who blasted production for providing anything for Rob and Jess’s wedding then turned around and gushed about ‘how can we buy stuff for Amanda’s baby shower???’, I’ve prepared a small speech for you. Well, it’s not much of a speech, it’s really only two words. And one of them is “you!”
Have I missed some things? Probably. I’m a little tired and burnt out of Utopia as I write this. Tweet me at @tvtater and tell me how right or wrong I am!