Reality and The Truman Show

“It’s not fake. It’s just controlled.”

I know I’m a little late to the party, but I finally saw 1998’s The Truman Show. I’ve heard much about the show for ages, so I’m not sure why I haven’t seen it before now. (Unless it’s because it’s *THAT* movie that everyone has seen already, so no one wanted to watch it with me, and I tend to watch familiar films, television shows, or documentaries when I’m alone.)

The premise is that Truman slowly discovers that his entire life has been lived on a live, 24-hour television show. It’s like what we call reality tv without the editing. Truman has no control over his life, which causes a major existential crisis. The producer, Christof, and his team fabricate every single one of Truman’s experiences.

Which invites the question, just how much control do we have over our lives?

Anyone who grew up in America following World War II has had their entire lives influenced and shaped by corporations and what Jean Baudrillard calls “hyperreality,” a simulated environment so perfect that we willingly accept it in lieu of it’s real, non-simulated counterpart. Examples permeate our consumer culture, from themed restaurants to shopping malls. Disneyland is cited by Baudrillard and Umberto Eco has the paragon example.

We would like to believe that we have control over our lives, that our decisions make a difference. My cousin recently posted on Facebook that he young son, with no known exposure to Disney princesses, could describe princess attributes. Is this because the princess is an archetype that all children can identify? No, it’s because the image is saturated across modern culture. (I’ll add here that this cousin lives outside the United States.) Prior to 1989, Disney’s princess line-up consisted of FOUR princesses: Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora/Sleeping Beauty, and what’s-her-name from The Black Cauldron (thank you to Amy Davis for that reminder). Now, almost every Disney movie has a princess and it has branded them as their own franchise. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that this young boy can identify princess behaviors.

And there’s the decisions we make thinking we are doing something good for the world, like buying eco-friendly products (that are really produced by the big corporations). For example, until I had a major life-change that hindered my idealistic intentions, I cloth diapered my baby. Once upon a time, cloth diaper options were a square of fabric folded just so and safety pinned to baby. A single Bum Genius brand diaper can go for $20, and the thinking is that what’s $20 if you’re helping the environment? What’s wrong with that square of fabric?

Reality television is one such hyperrealistic world we consume. Each episode brings into our homes someone’s “life” in a very controlled environment. Each participant is informed–to differ from Truman’s experience–of the level of involvement the show will actually have in their experience, some events are actually heightened in the interest of “good tv.”

Why are we so interested in reality television? Even though we know the set-ups are fake, we willingly accept their version of “reality” almost as reminders that our lives aren’t nearly as pathetic as we think they are. This is why reality shows dominate television.

The really sad part is the comment about our world that we choose hyperreality over reality. Is it because current culture sucks that much or is it because we are being blinded by leisure at just how much it sucks. Or is the argument that the world is suffering in fact part of the simulated illusion?

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One thought on “Reality and The Truman Show

  1. i am not so sure we are so much really interested in realtiy tv so much as disinterested in our own reality–and thus, dulls and lessens the lonelness and isolation of our own stark pathetic existence. keep in mind not all drugs are substances. it’s the lack of substance in life that substitutes are sought to fill the void.

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