The Secret Life of Students – exploitative or reflective?By Editor
Last night, Channel 4 aired the first in a new series of fly on the wall documentaries that seeks to document the private lives of a selection of students. With these university undergrads allowing the public into every aspect of their very being, including every text, tweet or Facebook message, there was an openness and honesty to those involved that has never really been televised before.
Obviously, as well as it allegedly being a social experiment, everyone knows that the primary concern of television is to entertain. As a result, in the build up to the initial installment many commentators questioned whether the documentary would be manipulative. But if the series’ opener is anything to go by, it appears that the critics may have spoken too soon.
The journey of teetotal Lauren was something that was somewhat touching. Starting from her first night sitting alone by the stairs whilst everyone drunkenly got to know each other, to her emotional breakdown on the university’s first pub crawl, there seemed to be an underlying message that today’s students are still as angsty as past generations.
Her despair and loneliness came to ahead when she decided to tweet the melancholic Winnie the Pooh character, Eeyore. As each post flashed up on screen, there was a level of pathos that one couldn’t help being moved by. Her despair culminated in becoming utterly agitated by a few of the more laddish boys in her halls implementing Hitler gestures into their drinking games. And as a self-proclaimed Anne Frank fan, this was the last straw.
There was some light in her story, though. After a slight wobble, we saw her find a place of likeminded people in the Labour Party’s student Society, where she even won first year leadership contest.
To balance out the under confident Lauren, we were also greeted by the self-assured Aiden. His mission was to get laid and party hard. And he did both - too much some would argue. For instance, his opening week of university included doing a necknomination (ingredients included: fish and menopause tablets) and procuring chlamydia. A solid few days.
It is fair to say that Aiden is pretty much the embodiment of the term ‘21st century moral panic’, but there were moments where you could see that he didn’t really know why he did the things he did. In the moments between him discussing his mounting Facebook likes and the random strangers high fiving him for drinking a fishy cocktail, he, too seemed lost. Though he’d never admit as his final words to the camera were that he doesn’t care if he’s liked; what matters is that they know him.
The initial stages of university are a daunting test for many people. But at the same time, there are those that can just get on with it, making friends easily. The Secret Life of Students has started strong because it relied on students telling the story via their actions and technology, rather than them being prodded into action by braying producers. As it stands, the experiment seems to be an empathetic look at the anxieties of young people in higher education. Whether it remains that way, we will just have to see.