The Truman Show as Utopia And Dystopia
What if the reality you are used to see is not the real one? How would you feel if you discovered that during your whole live you have been controlled and used as entertainment? The aim of this essay is to compare the film The Truman Show with the idea of utopian or dystopian society. Also, I want to analyse some of the main themes that we can find during the film.
Presenntation of the Film
The Truman Show was a satirical comedy from 1998 staring Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, an unwanted baby that from the time he was born to the present has had his entire life broadcast on a reality tv show called the Truman Show. The show is played non- stop, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Truman Show is a combination of soap opera and reality programming where everything, including the personal relationships of the main star are fake. Truman believes that everything in his life is real, including his family and friends, but they are all acting. Even though Truman has no idea that he is being watched by thousands of spectators daily, he becomes more and more aware that something is not right in his perfect town of Seahaven. So, he will start exploring and changing his routine in order to discover what happens.
Utopia Vs Dystopia Utopia
A utopia is the idea of a perfect society in which everyone is happy and works well, given that the government, laws and social conditions are perfect for the citizens. Utopia can also be defined as a place which has been designed in order to avoid problems or conflicts. The word “utopia” comes from Greek and means ‘no place’, it describes a non-existent society. Although the word ‘utopia’ was first created in Greek language by Sir Thomas More for his book Utopia, this genre has roots dating back to antiquity. In 370-360 BC, Plato wrote The Republic, which was one of the earliest conceptions of the idea of utopia. Later, other authors also wrote about this idea, until 1516, when Sir Thomas More published his work called Utopia, were he described a fictional island society with minimal crime, violence and poverty in the south Atlantic Ocean coast of South America. Also, philosophers such as John Stuart Mill, used More’s work in one of his Parliamentary Speeches in 1868 to denounce the government’s Irish land policy.
Contrary to utopia, dystopia is defined as the idea of a community or society that is undesirable or frightening. It is translated as ‘not-good place’. Dystopias are a way in which authors reflect contemporary socio-political realities and extrapolate worst-case scenarios, such as dehumanization, tyrannical governments, environmental disaster or other characteristics associated with a huge decline in society. The authors use dystopias to express their concerns about society and humanity and warnings for necessary social change. The first reference of the idea of dystopia in literature was in Jonathan Swift’s book, Gulliver’s Travels from 1726. Dystopian societies appear in many fictional works and artistic representations, particularly in stories set in the future. Some of the most famous of classic dystopian novels examples are: A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, Blade Runner or 1984.
The control society is the social system designed to replace the eighteenth-century democracies and their assembly. It is based on the technological possibilities opened with the developments of the second half of the 20th century and has its main support in the deliberate absence of legal measures that limit the abuse of these technologies. The first work which references to control societies is Gilles Deleuze’s work called Postscript on the Societies of Control, published May 1990. “Society of Control refers to the interpretation that social power no longer ‘disciplines’ as in the industrial era, but combines the a priori internalisation https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/idea of social expectations, with a posteriori control of certain limits.
Individuals can move freely within those limits, but not without” Gilles Deleuze, ‘Postscript on the Societies of Control’ (1990). Gilles Deleuze, in his essay builds on Foucault’s notion of the society of discipline to argue that society is undergoing a shift in structure and control. Where societies of discipline were characterized by discrete physical enclosures (such as schools, factories, prisons, office buildings, etc.), institutions and technologies introduced since World War II have dissolved the boundaries between these enclosures. As a result, social coercion and discipline have moved into the lives of individuals considered as ‘masses, samples, data, markets, or ‘banks’.’ The mechanisms of modern societies of control are described as continuous, following and tracking individuals throughout their existence via transaction records, mobile location tracking, and other personally identifiable information.
Analysis of the Film
Is the Truman Show a utopian or a dystopian society? On the one hand, the Truman Show can be seen as a utopia, as everything in Truman’s life is perfect, he has the same routine, and nothing bad happens. On the other hand, despite Truman lives in a perfect society, it is not the real world. He lives in an artificial world, where nothing is real, and even his personal relationships are faked by the actors. The surveillance in the film is used to broadcast the main characters’ life on live television and also to control Truman and what he does.
In dystopian societies, we can see that human relationships are usually destroyed (like in George Orwell, 1984), but in the case of Truman Show, it’s completely the opposite. In Truman’s film, relationships were encouraged in order to keep Truman happy, satisfied, and distracted. The actors were placed just in front of him, hoping that he establishes some relation with them, just like with the case of his wife. Also, Truman’s “mother” is sent to Seaheaven in order to guide him in the right direction. Truman interacts with all his neighbours when he walks on the street, and everyone he sees on the street makes sure to interact with him and establish some conversation. In the film we can see that Truman is not treated like a human, he is treated like an “object” to create more and more audience for his tv show. His whole life is a lie, he is broadcasted in television since he was born without being asked whether the wants to be a tv star or not.
The town in which Truman lives, Seaheaven, has limited entryways. Truman was implanted in a utopian society without being asked, and his childhood trauma makes him frightened of the idea of ever leaving this small community. The suburban “picket fence” appearance of the show’s set reminds of the “American Dream” of the 1950s. The “American Dream” concept in Truman’s world is used as an attempt to keep him happy and ignorant. All in all, we cannot affirm that The Truman Show is whether a utopian or dystopian society. On the one hand, we could consider it a utopia as it is a peaceful town with a safe environment. It is equal for its citizens and provides access to education, healthcare, employment, etc. But, as Truman doesn’t know the reality outside his town, Seaheaven, it’s a fake reality, and consequently, a fake utopia.
On the other hand, the Truman Show can be seen as a dystopia, taking into account that Truman is being watched 24 hours a day and people control his actions. If he wants to do something which can be dangerous for the future of the tv show, then the producers introduce actors or weather conditions to avoid these situations. Moreover, at the beginning of the film, Truman is afraid of the outside world because of his trauma. But this fear disappears as the film proceeds. Also, this society can be seen as an illusion of a perfect utopian world, as it is a fake reality.
Themes the Allegory of Cave
After Truman finds the boundaries of his reality, he has a talk with Christof. What the creator tells the man is something that wonderfully summarizes another idea explored throughout ‘The Truman Show’: the allegory of the cave. The Allegory of the Cave or Plato’s Cave, theories a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all their lives, facing a blank wall. This people only saw some shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them. The shadows are the prisoners’ reality. One day, the prisoners managed to break their bonds and they discovered that reality was not what they thought it was. They discovered the sun, which Plato uses as an analogy for the fire that man could not see behind when they were in the cave. ‘The Truman Show’ is ultimately the exact same experiment, just on a much larger scale. Seahaeven is the cave and the actors represent the shadows. Truman lives his whole life on a movie set, unaware that there is a world outside of the movie. The movie is all he knows, and he thinks this is reality.
When Truman finds one of the entry doors, he speaks to Christof (the creator of the show) and he tells him that ‘There is no more truth out there than there is for the world I created for you. The same lies, the same deceit. But in my world, you have nothing to fear.’ Christof gives Truman two choices: staying in the world and stay ignorant or choosing to face reality. The first option is the simplest choice; this way, he would never have to face the reality he never knew existed. The second option, however, present Truman with the opportunity to finally see the truth, for the first time in his life. Truman, of course, chooses the second one. He chooses to leave the cave. Truman, like everyone else in the world, wants to live and experience what’s real. No one really prefers the cave, even though it’s the simpler option. Everyone wants reality. ‘…here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning around their heads.’ Plato, The Allegory of the Cave.
‘The Truman Show’ also comments on the control that media puts on individuals and the society, this can be related to the idea of control society which has been mentioned previously. Truman’s life is monitored and controlled in order to keep Truman on the island. They decided to create on him some fears by killing off his father from the show by drowning him in the ocean. This gives Truman a lifetime fear of water and an inability to leave Seaheaven. Even Truman’s beliefs and fears are controlled; this shows that many of our ideals, fears, dedications, even our entire drive can sometimes be controlled by the media. The things we see and experience can control our lives and change them.
Another fact that I believe it’s important to highlight is the fact that Truman has no privacy, his entire life is being monitored and recorded without him knowing it. Another important fact that we must highlight are the advertisements. ‘The Truman Show’ runs 24/7 with no commercial break so, the only way to make profit is through product placement, creating ‘unnoticeable’ ads (the cocoa powder, the shredder, the lawn mower, etc). This would be another example of the constant control of what we buy through media.
Truman demonstrates that, although someone tries to hide away the reality, if you have spirit, it cannot be imprisoned. Truman fought for his freedom, because human nature is to be free. The director of the show created what would be the utopic world for him but, this utopic world is not Truman’s dream, who wants to run away from this cave. So, for this reason, I believe that what is utopic for someone, could not be utopic for another one. Everyone dreams about a different or own utopia. In my opinion, what the director of the film really wanted to show us is our own reality. He wanted to show how technologies and media control our lives. We all watch meaningless entertainment, but it ultimately leaves absolutely no impact or feelings on us. All of us want to leave the cave, we want to find some reality, but we are not even aware that we are in the cave. We are constantly being watched, listened, controlled, and manipulated. Berta Montaña Seminar B Culture
- Utopia VS Dystopia. Retrieved January 8, 2019, from http://enseignement.reginaassumpta.qc.ca/paliotti_ricard/The%20Giver/Utopi a_vs_dystopia.htm
- The Truman Show (1998). Retrieved January 30, 2019, from https://www.filmaffinity.com/en/film504889.html
- Utopia and Dystopia | Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved February 20, 2019, from https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts- and-maps/utopia-and-dystopia
- Cambridge Dictionary. UTOPIA | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary. Retrieved February 27, 2019, from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/utopia
- Cambridge Dictionary. DYSTOPIA | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary. Retrieved February 28, 2019, from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/dystopia
- DELEUZE // Foucault and the Society of Control – THE FUNAMBULIST MAGAZINE. (2015, July 8). Retrieved March 1, 2019, from https://thefunambulist.net/history/deleuze-foucault-and-the-society-of-control
- What is a society of control? by Gilles Deleuze – The Crag | Creation of Reality Group. (2015, September 18). Retrieved March 1, 2019, de https://www.blogs.hss.ed.ac.uk/crag/2015/09/18/what-is-a-society-of-control- by-gilles-deleuze/
- Utopia Definition – What is Utopia and What Symbolize? Retrieved March 1, 2019, de http://www.utopiaanddystopia.com/utopia/utopia-definition/
- The Truman Show: Societal Surveillance in the Comfort of Your Own Home. (2010, June 4). Retrieved March 9, 2019, from https://judasboogie.wordpress.com/2010/06/04/the-truman-show-societal- surveillance-in-the-comfort-of-your-own-home/
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Introduction What if the reality you are used to see is not the real one? How would you feel if you discovered that during your whole live you have been […]