IS there trouble in paradise? Specifically, I mean the 600-acre estate in Ardnamurchan where Channel 4’s Eden is being filmed. It’s been months – the whole of autumn and half of winter – and we haven’t heard a peep from the participants, who are living off their wits in isolation from the outside world.
Perhaps you couldn’t care less. But if you reckon this latest adventure in “reality TV” will be as relevant to your interests as Kim Kardashian’s latest fart, please bear with me.
It’s been months since we heard a peep from the participants, who are living off their wits in isolation from the outside world
Eden is no Big Brother, Love Island or Ex on the Beach. There is a beach, certainly, but only the hardiest of souls would try to have sex on it. And there may be exes by now, given the speed and intensity with which some of the participants formed romantic attachments, but voyeurs hoping to peep at under-canvas fumblings will be have been disappointed by the first four episodes.
That mini-season showing the arrival of spring was broadcast in the summer, so it would have been reasonable to expect the summer installments in the autumn. The producers certainly had plenty of dramatic content ready to use, if the preview montage was anything to go by. But then… nothing. A newspaper reported in September that at least eight of the 23 original participants had walked off the site, and that when two of them tried to return the remaining lot had refused to let them back in. Weeks later the show’s social media accounts were suspended, and the initial episodes are no longer available on catch-up. So far, so ominous.
What was fascinating – and depressing – about the first few months was how quickly eco-living idealism was replaced by scroungers vs skivers rhetoric
It didn’t take long for trouble to start brewing. What was fascinating – and depressing – about the first few months was how quickly eco-living idealism was replaced by scroungers vs skivers rhetoric that would make the staunchest of Tories blush. Clearly, the personal becomes the political pretty quickly when potato rations start to run low and everyone’s sleeping top-to-tail in the same tent.
For many viewers, the residents of Eden had it far too easy from the beginning. Rather than being dropped into the wilderness for 12 months with just bows and arrows, they were given food, seedlings, tools and basic building supplies to start them off. Indignant tweeters suggested they’d have their own Waitrose by the end of the year, and bemoaned the fact they’d been allowed to bring weatherproof clothing. But this was never supposed to be a Highland Hunger Games. The premise was simply “What if we could start again?”
Eden isn’t a Bear Grylls-style survival challenge, although the unforgiving conditions and lack of producer interference mean it’s no jolly holiday either. While viewers of an outdoorsy bent will be interested in the group’s approach to shelter-building, plumbing, hunting and farming, the real meat of the drama is the kind of society they choose for themselves.
Most of us, despite the best intentions, simply cannot just decide to be the change we want to see
It’s easy to say you’re working as if you live in the early days of a better nation, particularly if you believe that a better Scotland and a fresh start is now within tantalising reach, but realistically most of us are constrained by the demands and expectations of our employers, mortgage lenders and families. Most of us, despite the best intentions, simply cannot just decide to be the change we want to see. Collective action, not individual stubbornness, is what’s required if we want to live fairer, happier, greener and less wasteful lives.
In Eden things started off well. The gang built a giant teepee in which to hold meetings, and agreed on their priorities and working hours. Those with particular skills – tree-chopping, soil-turning, goat-herding – helped others develop their own. They had an experienced chef, several medics, a vet and a hunter, not to mention a carpenter, a plumber, a marine conservationist and, um, a yoga teacher.
There was also Tara, who billed herself as a life coach but turned her hand to giving massages before storming out, alleging bullying and branding her campmates a bunch of “pussies, dicks and assholes”. While of course it’s hard to judge a person’s contribution over several months by watching four hours of edited highlights, it seemed safe to say Tara didn’t really pull her weight. But for the would-be alpha males in the group, pulling one’s weight wasn’t enough – why, they asked, should they have to share their potatoes with weak-limbed, lightweight ladies who were rubbish at things like hammering and sawing and peeing standing up? Wouldn’t it be better if a few of the women just starved, and decreased the surplus population?
By the time spring was over, Eden’s answer to the Bullingdon Club had formalised their starve-the-women strategy
I’m not speculating about their motives here – this was the plan. “Community”, said gamekeeper-slash-IT consultant Glenn, “is just putting rules on you. Carrying the weak”. Glenn might have been happy to carry some of the weak – sassy shepherdess Caroline, for example – but not if they went off snogging other blokes. By the time spring was over, Eden’s answer to the Bullingdon Club had formalised their starve-the-women strategy and given it a subtle code-name, “Operation C***”.
So what happened next? It seems we’re going to have to wait a bit longer to find out. Channel 4 keep providing reassurances that the show will be back soon, but it seems clear this very expensive experiment hasn’t quite gone to plan. The producers may well be left asking themselves their own question: “What if we could start again?”
A version of this article first appeared in The National.
Read all of my blogs about the first season of Eden here.