The lives we live today reflect the broadcasted reality depicted in Peter Weir’s satirical, sci-fi comedy.
We all live in a simulation. Nothing is real. We’re being watched by a man named Dave who controls our every movement. Just kidding––well that remains to be seen. Although we may not be living in a true simulation curated by a master showrunner, it remains true that today’s society is living in the broadcast of our social realities akin to 1998’s The Truman Show.
The Truman Show was released 20 years ago this week, captivating audiences and critics alike with a hilariously dramatic, pseudo-realistic story about a man whose life is broadcasted every day on national television. This film is fantastic––definitely worth the rewatch on Netflix––and gracefully holds up 20 years later due to Jim Carrey’s nuanced performance, director Peter Weir’s seamless integration of comedy and drama, and the many interpretations of the film’s meaning.
For years, critics and scholars have analyzed the many different themes within The Truman Show, finding messages about politics, existentialism, and even religion. While there are infinite interpretations of this film, The Truman Show also stands as a reverse allegory for today’s social media climate. This thoughtful and complex film reminds us that we are all broadcasting our lives for the world to see, we are being watched by everyone, and those who are watching us may also be controlling us.
It’s no secret that we’re obsessed with presenting our lives to the world. We all love social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube because we can showcase our lives in myriad ways through text, photos or videos. Social media is dominated by life updates, photos of cats, photos of food, daily vlogs, and travel photos. We love showing people what our lives are like.
As much as we love sharing our lives, we equally love seeing the lives of others presented to us. Anyone else love Casey Neistat or Keeping Up With the Kardashians? The stories that we tell through social media reflect the stories told in Truman’s life. We show our followers our favorite hot cocoa brands, what we do at work, who we’re dating and who we’re not dating. The point is, we’re choosing to broadcast our lives to the world, living the life of Truman, living the lives that the producers of Truman’s show wanted him to live. Why? For social interaction? For fame? For money? To boost our egos? These all stand as the same impetus that the TV show producers had when creating “The Truman Show.” Perhaps we are not that complicated, perhaps we really do just love social interaction and showing our lives to the world is simply part of that. The first line in the film from Laura Linney’s Hannah Gill sums it up best:
“For me, there is no difference between a private life and a public life. My life is my life,” Gill said.
The narrator of “The Truman Show” remarks that 1.7 billion people tuned in to watch Truman’s birth and that 220 countries saw his first steps. Everyone in that universe watched and loved “The Truman Show.” There was even a Truman bar dedicated to sitting around, drinking, and enjoying his life. Those who watched the show were fans, followers, corporations, and showrunners. They were all interested in how Truman lived because they had a stake in his life.
We have to understand that the same people who watched “The Truman Show” are the same people who are watching our lives that we publicly broadcast. Our followers, those who don’t follow us, fans, potential employers, the NSA, and corporations. These people are all watching the lives that we so proudly display. Isn’t that a good thing though? Publicity, high follower counts, high view counts. It’s all great, right? Our followers may be excited to see and hear more about our lives, but they’re not the only people that are listening.
Google is watching your internet footprint, YouTube is keeping track of what you’re watching, potential employers are making note of how you act, and the government is making sure you’re not a terrorist. As we broadcast our lives to the world, we should take note that there are a lot of people watching us and our lives, just like there were a lot of people watching Truman’s life.
For all the people watching “The Truman Show,” there were just as many people controlling Truman. The corporations controlled what Truman ate, drank, and even what lawnmower he used. The showrunners controlled every aspect of his life. They controlled who his parents were, who he would marry, and what he would do with his life. The fans, well the fans were the very reason that the show existed for 30 years. For those whose lives are broadcasted on the internet, we may not be explicitly controlled like Truman was, but we are definitely controlled in certain ways and are influenced in many other ways.
Google influences what we buy. They send curated ads based off of our search history, the videos that we watch, and the content of our emails. They may not exactly control what we buy, but they definitely have an influence on our next purchase. Potential employers can control whether or not we get hired by seeing if the lives that we broadcast reflect their values, or if our politically charged tweets match their political identity. Many people watched “The Truman Show” and many people controlled his life. For us, this is only going to grow. As technology further integrates into our phones, cars, and homes, there are only going to be more influences and more control over our lives.
The Truman Show––released 20 years ago––acts as an allegory for how society is actively living. It’s a fantastic film, but who knew that we would end up mirroring the life of Truman? Society has evolved into The Truman Show, except with more viewers and with more outside influences on our lives. It does not seem like any of us are trying to escape. Is that something to be worried about? Maybe. Is it something to think about? Definitely.
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