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The movie, “The Truman Show” is about a reality television show that has been created to document the life of a man who, adopted at birth by a television network, is tricked into believing that his life, his reality, is normal and the environment that he lives is real. It is set in a town called Seahaven, which is essentially a simulation of the real world similar enough to the outside world that the viewing audience can relate to it. The town is a television studio inside an enormous dome in which the weather, the sun, the sky, and all the actions of the citizens are directed by a team of special effects people. The entire show is directed and produced by the creator of the show, Christof. Truman Burbank, the star of the show, is the only one who doesn’t know that he lives in a giant studio and is surrounded by an illusion of reality. The entire world watches Truman’s movements twenty four hours a day, seven days a week through the use of thousands of miniature hidden cameras.
The Truman Show closely parallels Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Initially, Truman is trapped in his own “cave”; a film set or fictional island known as Seahaven. Truman’s journey or ascension into the real world and into knowledge is similar to that of Plato’s cave dweller.
Truman, much like the prisoners in the cave, would know no difference then what they have been taught or shown to be the real world their whole lives. If Truman was taught in geography class that there was only Seahaven and the rest of the world was water, then he would accept that as the truth. However, because of some of the situations he encounters and sees, and with his curiosity and logic, Truman is able to work out something isn’t right about the world and manages to escape. Because it is a gradual realization, Truman doesn’t go mad as his make believe world unravels around him. As might be the case with Plato’s cave dwellers, as they are stepping into the light of the real world.
I think that a majority of people, as do I, would agree that there is something wrong with what was done to Truman. We would all tend to believe that it would be a sad existence for any person to be so fooled by his environment and be so oblivious to the truth for his whole life. However, Truman’s situation is a metaphor for the current media climate that we live in today. The world has become something of a dome in which reality seems to be whatever we see and hear in the media. In an interview with the Christof character regarding the continued success of the show he said, “We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that.”
The world has become an audience waiting for reality to be presented in an hour long television program, or a two hour movie. The fake landscape Truman lives in is our own media landscape in which news, politics, and advertising are increasingly made up of theatrical illusions. The Truman Show addressed our fear of how far reality television could go, but also our fears about the consequences of media conglomerates amassing control, our growing dependence on media for reality, and ultimately our fear of the audience losing control of how far they will go.
The Truman Show is also a critique of our fascination with reality TV. At one point, Christof says, “We’ve become bored watching actors give us phony emotions…While the world he inhabits is in some respects counterfeit, there’s nothing fake about Truman himself. It isn’t always Shakespeare, but it’s genuine. It’s a life.” Our fascination with authorized voyeurism in the form of reality television is articulated perfectly by Christof. The recent boom of reality TV programs is evidence of that, and it seems that the ethical boundaries are pushed with each new season.
The audience is never blamed for it’s addiction to the show, the evil one is the creator. They buy into the manipulation of Truman just as people today purchase the photos of Princess Diane before and after her death. As there is with the complaints about contemporary media, the audience is not ultimately held responsible for watching. They eventually cheer for Truman as he makes his escape from Seahaven, and for a moment, it seems that the audience may realize that they themselves had created the show, and that they might repent and turn off the TV. But as the show ends, the two security guards pick up the remote control and casually look for another program not even questioning the ethics of what had happened. They have realized the evil, supported the rebellion, but then succumb all over again. I can imagine that the suicide hotlines lighting up all over the world as Truman left his world.
We are willing to blame the media for doing to us, what we have chosen for ourselves. And I can only think to wonder, “How’s it going to end?”