Starting in Spring 2016, Channel 4’s ‘Return to Eden’ was a year long social experiment in which 23 people moved to Inverness-shire in the Scottish Highlands – their mission – to form a community and survive for one year.
The experiment was a somewhat artificial community-experiment – in that the people were selected by the show, on the basis of their having the different skills thought to be required for a community to survive for a year; and with the exception of electricity and modern technology (most significantly phones and computers) they were given a shed load of equipment necessary to meet their basic needs – although they did have to grow their own food.
Oh, and the community members all had cameras, along with a bunch of fixed position cameras to film the whole experience.
‘Return to Eden’ initially aired in summer 2016, documenting the first three months of the experiment. Originally, it seemed that Channel Four were going to provide updates on the community throughout the year, but after the initial summer raft of episodes, there was a near total media blackout until the show ‘returned’ as ‘Eden Lost‘ in summer 2017, 3 months after the year long experiment ended.
Eden Lost starts in the summer of 2016, following the participants from 3 months to the end of their stay (by the end, there are only 10 people left, 13 people dropped out, mostly women, before the conclusion of the experiment).
After the first three months – the camp has basically divided into three – a group of five males who have ‘bonded’, 2 ‘outsiders’ who are living in a cabin on their own, and everyone else.
Episode 1 of ‘Eden Lost’ focuses on the group of five males, seemingly led by a character (a plumber) called Titch who at one point proposes a ‘gendered division of labour’ which offends pretty much everyone else outside of the clique of five. This group of lads seems to be quite the ‘Laddish subculture’ – openly joking about ‘sharing women’ in front of, well, the women in the community, and teasing them for ‘getting emotional’ when they got upset about their laddish behaviour.
You can see them throughout the episode justifying their behaviour, employing various of Matza’s ‘techniques of neutralisation’, clearly never taking responsibility for or really ever seeming to care about how their juvenile misogyny was having a negative effect on group dynamics.
The formation of this group seems to have led to yet more women leaving, further entrenching their position of power in the wider community (five in a group of fifteen, which is roughly how many were left by this point is quite a significant number too!)
Episode two focuses on the two outsiders – who effectively get voted out (75% majority required) by the others. These two seem to have been used as a scapegoat, constructed as a venting point for certain people in the main community.
Episode three – ‘Valley Boys’ focuses on the developing split between the five ‘valley boys’ and the other six people left in the original group. These five increasingly isolated themselves from the wider community, wanting to focus more on ‘themselves’ rather than doing things for the community as a whole.
It also seems that the lads deteriorate further into their laddishness, with scenes of derogatory ‘banter’ directed against the gay guy in the group (justified as just ‘banter’ by the lads).
At one point, the lads start eating nothing but meat, pushing the slaughter rate of animals up from one a week to six a week, which offends Rob P, the vet who has respect for animals and can’t see to see so many ‘shot in the face to feed greedy wankers’ (or something along those lines – and he becomes another one who leaves, effectively forced out by the relentless laddish subculture.
NB – what’s particularly grim about they way they deal with their meat fest is that they leave bits of bone and carcass lying around the valley, which makes it ‘stink of death’.
The final episode stars off with Christmas Day – which seems to be going fine until Artist Katie, the girlfriend of the vet who left in the previous month, decides to leave the party stating she doesn’t want to spend the day with any of the people there because they’re all revolting (as far as she’s concerned)
There’s an issue with people getting contraband smuggled into Eden, and a debacle over someone having been using a mobile phone, although we never actually find out who was using it. which kind of makes a mockery of the whole experiment.
By this final episode, the two groups are living entirely separate lives, but they come together for a final fire-party on the beach.
What does Channel 4’s recent social experiment tell us about ‘community’ and social life more generally?
TBH I think it tells us very little…