For any fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, be it John Christopher, J.G Ballard, St John Mandel or Cormac MaCarthy the spectre of the fragility of civilisation is ever present. For everyone else, there’s Eden: Paradise Lost, Channel 4’s look into what happens when we (normal humans) are given the opportunity to start again. The only major difference between Eden, and any of the novels written by the authors mentioned above is that the panoptic gaze of the camera seems to stop any major physical violence from taking place. However the gaze does not stop the community members from bullying, manipulating, and weaponising food, in order to get what they want.
What opened with the community pulling together, and mucking in to get things off the ground quickly deteriorated. Many of the women left within the first few months, with the leaving members claiming they could ‘see that darkness descending’. Home-brew has been the drink of choice, as well as the catalyst for multiple fights, inappropriate comments, as well as people loosing consciousness.
Eden demonstrates what many academic papers, lecturers, and books will tell you about inner and outer group dynamics. Which summarised is, ‘pushed to the edge you need someone to blame’. Sometimes the target is women, sometimes it’s those who are gay, sometimes it’s those who don’t want to eat meat every single day for a month. Maybe within Eden it was drawn from abhorrent opinions held by the perpetrators of the bullying, but it felt more like it was dictated by the whims of the ‘in group’. A group removed from normal civilisation, living on the edge of the stress which a human can tolerate, and searching for anyone to use as a scapegoat.
This is highlighted by the fact that once one ‘problem’ is removed, by way of the group bullying people into submission and depression, until they leave the community, the group fractures again and a new scapegoat is found. We had The Gardener, who was picked on, isolated and blamed for various misdeeds and eventually left. At which point the group turned on Anton, the boatman, a relative loner who they demonised, antagonised, and eventually pushed out via a rigged vote. Once he left the focus shifted onto the Vet, who was uncomfortable about the needless slaughter of his animals in order to provide a high meat diet for the group. They forced him to continue the cull, over the course of a month we see him worn down. They take pleasure in dismissing his concerns, tormenting him, and violently chopping wood while pretending it’s him. Eventually he has what can only be a breakdown, and leaves. As the episode ends we see them begin to turn on Katie, the vets partner.
Moreover as the larger ‘in group’ fractures, and picks people off, the core ‘in group’ grows stronger. Those who had been on the periphery, expressing discomfort about some of the dynamics, are weeded out. Each community member they rid themselves of is another scalp to claim, and in the post-show interviews you can see that they feel each removal as a vindication of their behaviour. Even after the microcosm of Eden has ended, and they’re back to the real world, they barely betray for a second any indication that how they behaved may have been wrong. Clearly in the environment of Eden isolation is an extenuating circumstance.
By four episode something has gone very wrong. The community is dominated by the cadre of ‘Valley Boys’, who have gone feral. Something they seem to take a degree of pride in. At the beginning they are normal people, they appear to be conventional, if a little laddy. They have a spectrum of personality and opinions, but nothing which fundamentally signals you couldn’t live next door to them. The descent into a Lord of the Flies style free-for-all is slow but steady. They choose to isolate themselves, something which they had previously vilified, and ultimately removed, other community members for. They do this by moving out into a separate part of ‘Eden’, by refusing to participate in the community meals etc. When other members of the community visit they’re abrasive and rude, you get the impression these visits become less frequent, and it’s not surprising. They’re living amongst the carrion of the ever increasing animals they’re hunting, or demanding the vet slaughter. They get to the point where they’re eating a meat only diet, sitting in their hut surrounded by drying meat and animal skulls, drinking home-brew and smoking roll ups.
One particularly nasty scene shows them brutally mocking gay people, when Matt (who’s gay) appears at their villa, the tone of the mocking increases. We can see him looking increasingly uncomfortable as he realises what he’s walked into. The ‘valley boys’ continue until well after he’s left, seemingly unaware of the distress their ‘joke’ was causing.
The hunter Glen has tweeted that it was an edit stitch up, but ultimately you can’t stitch someone up if they didn’t act like a dick and give you the footage. He’s not really got a leg to stand on, when in the post-Eden interviews he’s asked about the accusations in the community that he was a misogynist and he says, something to the effect of ‘Well it’s just like real life, people have a chip on their shoulder and you’ve got to put up with PC brigade.’ This is when you realise that he potentially was just an arse, in and out of Eden. It’s hard to believe though that within the constraints and expectations of normal society he, or any of the ‘Valley Lads’, would have disintegrated to the level we witnessed on the show.
The real questions has to be whether the production team knew what they were doing or not. They claim they had no idea how the year would pan out, and to an extent that must be true. We may never know though the degree to which they deliberately put difficult, dominating, or delinquent personalities into this experiment. In the end what they’ve created is a modern version of the Stanford Prison Experiment. While the people of Eden had the opportunity to leave at any time, as many did, that doesn’t take away from the fact that many of them felt a need to remain in what was nearly continuously a hostile environment. A hostile environment which at times veered into the realms of a feudal society dominated by brawn and control of food. It certainly did not become the idyllic paradise which it seems it was initially pitched as.