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Friday, February 12, 2010

The Truman Show: Part Two

Theorist Jean Baudrillard (1998) describes the “simulacrum” or the “representation [that] tries to absorb simulation by interpreting it as false representation.” It is a concept that describes the false realities that society presents itself with not only though various forms of media but the facades of our own personas and representations of ourselves as we take on various roles and images we project in our own lives. Baudrillard (1998) goes on to say that “these would be the successive phases of the image: 1 It is the reflection of a basic reality. 2 It masks and perverts a basic reality. 3 It masks the absence of a basic reality. 4 It bears no relation to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum.” It is the simulation of truth through various proxies that we encounter every day. Through these proxies we are presented with illusions of reality that neither speak truth nor give us reality, rather a hyper reality is created. In Peter Weir’s The Truman Show the character Truman is unaware that he is under constant surveillance by the world’s largest TV studio, a purely simulated experience that, as will be described in this response, is not too different from the world we live in.

Millions of viewers tune in to watch Truman’s life, who is not acting but simply living his life.
In this vein Zizek (2001) argues that in “the falsity of the "reality TV shows" (even if these shows are "for real,") people still act in them - they simply play themselves.” To Truman, he is acting out the routines of his life with ignorance to the fact that everyone around him is an actor. Similarly, little do we know that we are actors in the false realities of our own lives interacting with the falseness presented by the people or actors around us. The realities or false realities presented by reality TV, like a simulated environment of being marooned on Mark Burnett’s Survivor, or fictionalized reality shows like the Truman Show, or the increasing trend of actors playing themselves in TV shows like Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm are all not far off as they act out their lives different from the simulacrum we encounter in our own. The situations may be different, but the simulation of reality and illusion of what is real is very much the same. The simulacrum that Baudrillard (1998) describes is this false plane of illusion just described or “When the real is no longer what it used to be [and] nostalgia assumes its full meaning. There is a proliferation of myths of origin and signs of reality; of second-hand truth, objectivity and authenticity…This is how simulation appears in the phase that concerns us: a strategy of the real, neo-real and hyperreal, whose universal double is a strategy of deterrence.”

Herein does The Truman Show offer us a metaphor for our own situation. “The fake landscape Truman lives in is our own media landscape in which news, politics, advertising and public affairs are increasingly made up of theatrical illusions” (Transparency Now). Similar to Plato’s allegory of The Cave, we interact with shadows on the wall, nothing more (a reflection of reality, never reality itself). If Tr
uman were ever to make it out of the TV set (or the cave) he wouldn’t recognize reality and might even want to return to ignorance. Our own cave is similar to this scenario in that everything from the media landscape we can’t help but be engrossed in its “lifelike simulations and story lines, [similar to Truman’s] high-tech facsimile of a sun that benevolently beams down on Truman [or] the mock sincerity of the actor he mistakenly believes is his best friend.” Similar interactions occur in our own lives as we are surrounded by fake personalities, representations and different versions of ourselves (similar to Caden in Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York). These versions, like a teacher-student relationship are fabricated for the stage of a school setting, for example. The teacher is not nearly acting as they would prefer (posing a power relation dictating actions of authority) towards the student (who is taught to be submissive and disciplined and hard working). Neither of these “actors” is performing in their preferred motions; however the simulacrum of life’s “stages” creates these positions of hyper reality.

There are different ways we can react to the simulacrum we are presented with. Either we fully absorb it and accept its forms for whatever they are. This position can either be intentional or complete ignorance, neither of which are necessarily dishonorable but rather tools that the simulacrum uses and fuels upon to exacerbate hyper reality upon others. The lifelikeness and seamlessness of media fabrications and the fact that they are willing to go at great lengths, often bending the truth helps (Transparency Now). The second way we can react to the simulacrum is distance ourselves from it all or in other words “examine its meaning and try to understand the intentions of its authors. This second attitude is what makes criticism -- and freedom -- possible.” In this position we try to distance ourselves from hyper reality as much as possible. We try to leave the world we are presented in.
The media awareness website Transparency Now describes the moment of when Truman begins to contemplate the second approach described above, or leave the hyper reality he finds himself living in.

Truman's fear of leaving this invented world, once he realizes it is a fraud, is similarly like our own reluctance to break our symbiotic relationship with media. His growing suspicion that what he is seeing is staged for his benefit is our own suspicions as the media-fabricated illusions around us begin to break down. And the producer-director of this stage-set world, who blocks Truman's effort to escape, is the giant media companies, news organizations, and media-politicians that have a stake in keeping us surrounded by falsehood, and are prepared to lure us with rewards as they block efforts at reforming the system.


Jean Baudrillard (1998) compares the hyper reality of life and the fabrications resting across the simulacrum to Disneyland. Disneyland is not far off at all from Truman’s world in that
Disneyland is a perfect model of all the entangled orders of simulation…You park outside, queue up inside, and are totally abandoned at the exit. In this imaginary world the only phantasmagoria is in the inherent warmth and affection of the crowd, and in that aufficiently excessive number of gadgets used there to specifically maintain the multitudinous affect.” Truman is completely engrossed in a world of simulation; everything is staged from his relationships to the weather. When his behaviors begin to be unpredictable, it can be argued that he is still an actor only now he is reacting to the simulacrum or illusions of reality just as we can choose to react in different ways to the reality or hyper reality we are presented with. Like Truman’s world or our world, Baudrillard (1998) argues that “Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation. It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology), but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle.”

The Truman Show raises questions about the reality we are presented with and imprisoned under. It can be related to Baudrillard’s writings about an absorbing simulacrum, and as outlined above the various actors and stages that we are forced to pose as and encounter in our everyday relationships and interactions with a hyper reality or our own individual “Truman Show’s.”

See the first Truman show review for consensus and rating

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