A few days ago, I watched The Truman Show for the first time. For the uninitiated, it’s about a man called Truman who grows up inside a large television set as part of a reality show starring himself- and he’s the only one who doesn’t know. The film follows him as he discovers the truth and attempts to break out of the only world he’s ever known. Funny, peculiar, and uncomfortably realistic.
Realistic? We’re not living inside a giant movie set that’s broadcast to the rest of the world, after all. But watching as Truman starts to realise that something about his life is not quite right, the audience is moved to wonder why he, a fully grown man, had not realised this sooner.
In the end though, the character of Christof- the creator of the show- gives us the answer:
“We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented. It’s as simple as that.”
There are SO many elements of this film I could talk about forever, but today let’s focus on this quote. Perhaps Truman was truly so naive and sheltered that he never sought out the bigger picture. But the film also shows us that he’s been indoctrinated all his life to believe that travelling is dangerous and unnecessary, and the showrunners created a traumatic event in his childhood to instill a fear of water to further prevent him from leaving. So can we really blame him for never suspecting a thing when he’s been trained not to notice his entire life? How knowledgeable can one be if your access to knowledge is limited?
In the modern world, when we think of oppression, our minds usually turn to places like North Korea. But in fact, totalitarian states and brutal dictators aren’t the only forms of oppression. A much more subtle oppression has been deployed in the western world that we’ve seemingly just become aware of.
With the rise of new technology, our methods of communication have rapidly changed. The media, in particular, have had to scramble to the digital world where everything is instant. The result, however, is a growth in clickbait headlines to generate more traffic. As actor Denzel Washington stated in a recent interview: “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed, if you do read it, you’re misinformed. What is the effect of too much information? One of the effects is the need to be first, not even to be true anymore… Just say it, sell it.” [source] With the intense competition in the news industry, it’s unsurprising that morals are often sacrificed. But the result of that means we are constantly bombarded with fake news and rumours that go unchecked, and all we do is open our mouths and eat up every bit of detail. Truman’s experience isn’t all so fictitious, after all.
In the beginning of the movie, Truman’s first clue is a star falling from the sky: it’s actually a light from the ceiling of the set he unwittingly lives in. The “star” is named “Sirius (Canis Major)”, after the brightest star in the sky. It’s fitting, then, that after the brightest light goes out, he begins to piece together the true nature of the world he lives in. I think we all have a moment when our star falls, and we begin to realise that there is much more to this world than the information we’re already given. The only difference is whether or not you choose to ignore it.
I don’t really know when my star fell from the sky. I suppose it was an event that took several years; a gradual dawning that things I took to be the true, were, at the very least, skewered with doubt. And once you wake up from that, it’s difficult to pretend you don’t know.
And yet, people do.
How many people have turned their backs on the refugee crisis that’s still ongoing? How many people have willingly refused to believe that black people are systematically targeted by police in America? How many people have made excuses for the disgusting, worrying things that Trump has said on record? How many people have vehemently denied that racism and xenophobia had a part to play in the Brexit vote? How many people have decided that they can’t be bothered to care about gender equality? In short: how many people have turned away from issues they think don’t directly affect them?
Truman could easily have stayed in his world: it’s a quaint town with blue skies and cheery residents. He would never need to worry about money, or career stability, or any of the common problems in the real world. It’s safe. In fact, as he attempts to break out of his world, Christof tells him quite truthfully:
“There’s no more truth out there than there is in the world I created for you. The same lies, the same deceit. But in my world, you have nothing to fear.”
I find it striking that Truman’s exit is marked not by a light at the end of a tunnel, nor by breaking down a wall, but a simple rectangular door that opens to complete darkness. He has no idea of what the real world is actually like. He can’t trust that Christof is telling him the truth. It’s a step into the unknown and literally turning his back on the false world he’s been fed with his entire life.
Choosing to discover the truth is an unnerving step to take. It can be stepping into the shadows away from the spotlight that illuminates what wants to be shown the most. It can be disappointing, and even upsetting to acknowledge what’s really “out there”. But that’s the whole point isn’t it? We are not just consumers of media, we’re perpetrators too. And I believe we all have a responsibility to look beyond what’s immediately placed in front of us. The most important attribute we can gift ourselves is the ability to think independently- even if that means taking a step into the darkness.
We can’t just blindly accept the world with which we are presented. It’s as simple as that.