The Shire: a thin line between love and hate

shireThe number one trending topic in Australia last night was #TheShire. The conversation on Twitter and Facebook continues this morning. It’s on most home pages, radio and indeed the real world. And the sentiment is undoubtedly negative. People are outraged, repulsed and furious about a range of issues: the show, the depiction of Sutherland Shire, the provenance of the people featured (to say they “star” in it might be going too far), what constitutes “dramality” anyway.

Which I would say makes the first night of the show an unqualified success.

The Shire Facebook Vernessa and Sophie

According to an analysis of the conversation by We Are Social Australia, there were 33,000 tweets, made up of 18,530 Tweets and 14,556 Retweets (data from Radian 6).

That’s thought to be a television first.

A preliminary assessment of the content of the tweets found that 93% of the comments were negative. The breakdown is as follows:

  • 36.2% Worst Show Ever
  • 16.9% Embarrassing
  • 17.8% Stupid/Fake
  • 22.1% Misc. Negative
  • 7.0% Misc. Neutral. Semi-Positive
And the conversation on Facebook was similar, categorised as follows:
  • 60% Generic ‘worst show ever’
  • 10% Cast related – stupid, fake people, fake lips, fake boobs
  • 20% Embarrassing representation of Australia
The breakdown of Tweets by city (from Trendsmap):

20427 – 40% : Sydney
9965 – 19% : Melbourne
6000 – 12% : Brisbane
2029 – 4% : Adelaide
1965 – 4% : Perth
1239 – 2% : Canberra
263 – 1% : Newcastle

I watched about half of the show, until I could stand it no more. Frankly, I thought it was awful. But what was most awful was that despite the  mumbling incoherence of the cast, I had a sneaking desire to keep watching. It’s the same ghoulish impulse that makes us turn and peer into accident scenes, or sometimes experience a moment of guilty glee at hearing of the minor misfortunes of others.

Ten’s summary of the show positioned it as follows:
“Set against the backdrop of the Southern Sydney region that commands the loyalty of its residents like no other, TEN’s brand new ‘dramality show’ The Shire is the latest daring addition to its schedule … The Shire isn’t another contrived piece of TV faux-fact; it’s true unscripted Shire life-through-a-lens.”
It’s implicit in that statement that the show was designed to court controversy. And Ten’s social media outreach continues to cleverly fan the flames:

The Shire Network TenThe Shire

Taking an already controversial show onto the news clearly implies that Ten knows exactly what it’s doing. It is creating a community of outrage around this content, which will keep viewers coming back for more.

Unprecedented numbers of people are sharing content from the Shire’s Facebook page – at time of writing not only had 1800 people commented on a photo of Vernesa and Sophie, 536 had liked it, and most telling, it had been shared almost 150 times.

These are engagement levels most brands on Facebook would fill their faces with collagen to achieve.

It’s a spike into the vein feeding viewers concentrated Schadenfreude, and if there’s one thing that you can guarantee in social media, it’s that haters gonna hate. Memes are being created; comedians are adding it to their repertoires.

To view the show as a disaster because people loathed the characters is to ignore that fact that the show wasn’t created to offer Australia new role models, or as a tourism vehicle for Sutherland Shire.

It was created to get people talking, get them righteously indignant, to get them engaged: to get them to watch the show.

If you didn’t see it this week, the oft-cited current cultural trend “FOMO”, fear of missing out, will get you tuning in next week.

And I’ll be very surprised if hordes of people don’t tune in next week to find out what they missed.

Cathie McGinn
A sample of the conversation on Storify



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