Channel 4’s Hunted: Light-hearted entertainment or insidious propaganda?

I’m not a big fan of reality television.

I dislike the way it pretends to be an unfiltered representation of ‘real life’, when everyone watching knows perfectly well that it’s about as authentic as a soap opera. I get annoyed at formulaic set ups which try to pass themselves off as uniquely exciting, and generally find the participants of these shows irritating at best.

Yet, last year I found myself tuning in week after week to a television programme containing every single one of these elements.

Welcome to Hunted, in which a group of ordinary people go on the run and attempt to avoid capture by the ‘hunters’, supposedly a group of ex-police and intelligence analysts.

The fact that the format consists of people literally being tracked across the country, with the hunters taking sadistic pleasure in each new capture, betrayals from supposed allies for the reward money and breakneck chases across dark fields may be the reason I find it more than usually palatable.

And, watching a lone maverick taunt his pursuers every chance he gets is marginally more entertaining than watching a guy complain to his best friend that his girlfriend broke up with him after he cheated on her with her mother, while pointedly not being watched by the extras milling around in the background.

“While watching, one can’t help but become a teensy bit alarmed”

What I do find slightly unsettling, however, is the disclaimer that appears at the start of each episode: “For the purposes of this series, some powers of state have been replicated”.

Throughout the show, the hunters helpfully explain exactly how they are tracking the fugitives, be it making a call from their mobile phone (rookie mistake), looking up the license plate of their getaway car (standard), or accessing CCTV footage from the cash point of a roadside petrol station (actually pretty reassuring in a normal context).

Of course, the ‘hunters’ don’t actually have access to these things as they are not the police and intelligence services and despite their tough talk and shiny office equipment, the people they’re chasing are hardly hardened criminals.

Despite this, while watching, one can’t help but become a teensy bit alarmed at the extent to which we’ve become a ‘surveillance state’, with more than 422,000 cameras in London alone. 

“I have wondered a few times whether we are being subliminally influenced to be upright, law-abiding citizens.”

Hunted purports to showcase the determination and resourcefulness of the underdog individual pitted against the machinations of the state, which is slightly bizarre given the fact that the individuals being pursued are in effect pretending to be criminals on the run. Or alternatively, rebelling against an oppressive system, which hardly portrays the government in a good light.

It’s unclear exactly what message the show is trying to convey about all this surveillance; you would naturally assume it’s intent is to reassure us that it is a good thing, yet by placing the ordinary public in the position of the ‘hunted’, it may have the opposite effect of inspiring a kind of anxiety at the long shadow of the state.

I don’t think that the show’s core goal is to promote either one of these ideologies, the primary purpose being to entertain and draw in as many viewers as it can, but I have wondered a few times whether we are being subliminally influenced to be upright, law-abiding citizens.

And gently reminding us: if you run, we will catch you.


Image: Antranias/Pixabay

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