Watching The Truman Show before reading Jean Baudrillard’s “Simulacra and Simulations – I. The Precession of Simulacra” probably does not count as an impressively smart move. Nevertheless, ideas from David Evan’s Appropriation and morsels about the uncanny, the Other, and copying fit into the construct of Truman, and Baudrillard’s work simply adds another layer of theory to the mixture of ideas that could be called a personal mashup of applied theory.
Guy Debord’s words from “The Use of Stolen Films” in Appropriation can be remixed to apply to Truman: “stolen fiction films, external to my film but brought into it, are used, regardless of whatever their original meaning many have been, to represent the rectification of the ‘artistic inversion of life’” (66). Instead of a film, Christof has stolen the entire life of Truman in order to create a fiction; through that fiction, Cristof gains artistic and commercial success. The meaning, in fact the entirety, of Truman’s life has been redirected to the purpose of entertainment.
In the next Appropriation essay, “On Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y,” Johan Grimonprez discusses the concept of “explor[ing] the phenomena of identification and pleasure, to get viewers to adopt a critical distance while at the same time involving them and incorporating their own voyeurism” in art (67); again, Truman obliges the reader – viewer by providing an example of the theory. Throughout the movie, there are scenes of the television viewers of Truman’s life: the old ladies on the couch, one of whom holds a Truman pillow; Lauren-Sylvia, who has fallen in love with Truman when she was on the set; the bar crowd and workers, who are engrossed in Truman’s life; and the two security officers, who quickly move on to another program when Truman escapes and the show ends. Close scrutiny shows elements of each of Grimonprez’s elements: the old ladies identify with Truman in that they wish him to find love, but they also experience pleasure in watching his travails. Lauren-Sylvia has certainly been forced to adopt a distance, she is critical of the entire scheme of using Truman as entertainment, and she cannot help but watch voyeuristically as he attempts his escape. The bar crowd and waitresses seem to only display the pleasure of being entrenched in the story unfolding before them, and the two men at the end of the film see The Truman Show as nothing more than a entertaining diversion.
In searching out the uncanny in Truman, it is easy to focus first on the suited twins who assure Truman that they are considering the insurance he sells. They are simply strange. Pushing Truman daily up against the chicken sign, their only apparent purpose is to ensure that another product is noted by viewers. But as mirror images of one another, they are eerily uncanny. They invoke thoughts of the Other in their closely attached physical movements and reactions. On a first viewing, one can almost think they are Siamese twins. They are certainly freakish. They also fit the idea of copying since they are so alike. But copies appear in another, more devious manner throughout Truman.
Truman’s mother is, in fact, not his mother. Nor is she a true mother figure for him. What she seems to be is a copy of a mother, doing some things a mother would do, but putting no emotion behind her actions. His teacher, too, is a copy. She does not have a real classroom: all the children except Truman are actors. She is not really teaching, and when Truman declares that he wants to be an explorer, she cannot even act as a copy, she reacts in probably her only unscripted line telling him that all the world has already been explored. However, the two most devious copies are Truman’s wife and best friend. Both of these characters work hard to keep Truman from discovering that his reality isn’t real, and in so doing, both also deceive themselves as they pretend to like the man they are paid to befriend. Truman finally realizes that his wife does not even like him, and though it is not pictured, one imagines the same is true for the best friend character. Once Truman fully understands that these people are only props and that his life is lived in a loop, he can finally overcome his fear of water, and attempt his escape from his present reality, which is not really real.
The “really real” and “present reality” depicted within Truman invoke thoughts of Jean Baudrillard’s “Simulacra.” He writes that “[t]he real is produced from miniaturized cells, matrices, and memory banks, models of control” (1). Cristof’s Seahaven is exactly that: a miniaturized world where Truman is incarcerated from birth so the world can watch his progress which is touted as an unscripted life. This set works as Baudrillard describes the “hyperreal:” the “map” drawn by Cristof is so precise that every minute, every blade of grass, every grain of sand is “so detailed” the “territory” known by Truman is “simulated” to perfection until it begins to unravel when Truman rejects the scripted life he is fed after the constellation light falls from the man-made sky (1).
Though other aspects of Baudrillard’s essay might well be applied to Truman, this blog has rattled on long enough. Suffice it to say that the ideas are still knocking around in my head, but it’s time to consider this week’s reading if it is to be completed in time for class. The Truman Show is an interesting, entertaining, and even fun movie to watch, and it is now on my favorites’ list. But while it met those criteria, it is also thought provoking, sad, frightening, and even uplifting and hopeful. One could easily write a long paper applying many and varied theories to the movie from a number of disciplines. It is decidedly a movie that might appeal to academics across a range of interests.