The Truman Show is one of my favourite films.
It tells the story of a man whose life since his birth has been played out to millions of people around the world unbeknownst to him. He is the unwitting star of the most popular TV show in the world, his every moment detailed and choreographed for an audience.
At first, Truman is unaware of this, but as the film progresses he becomes suspicious and eventually figures out that the life he has been leading is a lie.
Now, I’m not suggesting for a minute that is the case today. As far as I’m aware, no TV executives have decided to produce a reality TV show around a single person’s day to day life — although I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened in the future.
However, with the rise of social media and smartphones, our world has become more like the one presented in the Truman Show than we realise.
Instagram offers us the ability to flaunt our lifestyle to millions around the globe, while we gladly follow the exploits of favourite celebrities from our fingerprints.
Technological advancements were supposed to set us free, but it appears they have made us ever more narcissistic and conscious of our own self-image.
Is the future for the human race one of vacuous self-interest, or will we have our moment of realisation just like Truman did?
The premise of the Truman Show is that he is the only “True man” in the show. All of the other people that encompass the world he inhabits are actors. From his mother to his best friend, and even his wife, they are all playing a part.
Truman is the only person on the show who is not in on the fact that life in Seahaven revolves around him. It’s not just in Seahaven where life revolves around Truman. The outside world is shown to be enamoured with the minutiae of Truman’s life.
People are shown watching the show in the bath, in pubs and of course, in their living rooms. Despite running for over 30 years, it appears the show has lost none of its lustre with the public.
Perhaps the most telling part of the film is the ending.
Once Truman comes to the realisation that his whole life is a lie, he decides to leave. At this point, he is unaware that he lives inside of a huge dome, where the town of Seahaven is based.
He flees his house, takes a boat and tries to sail away unaware that he can only go so far before he reaches the limit of the dome.
Once there, we see him speak to the creator of the show, who implores him to stay. But Truman, who has demonstrated a propensity for exploration throughout the film, decides enough is enough and leaves through a backdoor.
There are two things that are poignant about this scene. One is that Truman leaves the show that revolves around him, through a backdoor at the outer reaches of the world he inhabits.
There is no glorious exit, no fancy fireworks, he just utters his famous catchphrase and strolls out the door with no fuss.
The second is that once he has left, the show seizes to exist. With its main star, the “True man” gone, the show has no purpose.
The film shows people in the moments after this scene looking confused. Within a few seconds, they decide to change the channel and see what else is on.
The show they have been obsessed with for years has just reached a dramatic conclusion, yet it is not enough. They still want more.
They pass it over and search for something else that they consume.
If this moment is not the ultimate indictment of our modern world, I don’t know what is.
Although we have nothing on the scale of the Truman Show, reality TV is prevalent in the modern world. Shows such as Big Brother, Survivor, and Keeping Up With The Kardashians have become widely popular.
There seems to be an innate desire on the part of humans to observe others from afar. The plethora of ‘reality’ shows suggests that this is the case. It’s a strange concept to understand.
We go about our lives from day to day, and a lot of us seem to enjoy watching people do the same through their TV screens, while they sit around.
If this sounds a little crazy, that’s because it is.
In essence, you have people sitting around in their homes watching people sitting around. When you distil Reality TV down to its core, it’s baffling to understand how it’s so popular.
Yet, with the advent of social media, things have gone a step further. This is something the producers of the Truman Show could only dream of.
With Facebook and Instagram, you have the ability to follow your favourite celebrities and see what they are up to all the time.
We can see what they eat, what they wear, where they go out. There is no end to how much we can consume.
Of course, this is a distortion of the word reality. There is nothing real about reality TV, except the people, and even then that is a stretch in some cases.
The shows are engineered for effect to ensure the audiences keep tuning in, while what the same celebrities present on their social media is merely a snapshot of their lives.
Rarely do we seem them at their worst. Normally, what we do see is an engineered picture or video designed to give the impression that their lives are perfect and flawless.
In reality, the only thing that is true about reality TV and what we see on Instagram is that only a fraction of it is real at all.
The truth is, it’s hard to remove yourself from the trappings of reality TV and social media. We have become accustomed to sharing details of our lives while consuming those of others at the same time.
Places like Facebook and Instagram have become an echo chamber. Whatever we interact with we are presented with again. Likes and followers have come to define our self-worth in a lot of aspects.
Whereas Truman did not know he was the star or particularly want to be one, it seems that nowadays everyone wants to be one. However, we should stop for a moment and consider the realities here, just like Truman did.
It may be nice to have thousands of followers, and hundreds of likes on your photos, but will it make up for any deficiencies in our lives?
More followers and more likes will not make your problems go away. They will still be there, and no amount of likes will make you a better person. While it is fun to post on social media, interact with others, and see what our favourite stars are up to, we need to realise that it is not real life.
As enticing as it may be, the real world is more exciting, fulfilling, and ultimately where life is lived.
Truman realised that living in a world where he was the star was not worth it. Perhaps it is time we realised this too.