The Truman Show

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Resource Pack for: The Truman Show (1998 Paramount Pictures) Directed by Peter Weir and Written by Andrew Niccol

Created by Katie Peters

Context

How much do we accept the reality in front of us? What role does Reality T.V. now play in our society?

The brainchild of Andrew Niccol (writer), a New Zealand born screenwriter, producer, and director, The Truman Show was brought to life by the Australian director Peter Weir, and was released in 1998.

The film follows the life of Truman who is unwittingly living in a completely constructed world – he is the only one not in on it (cf. The Joe Schmo Show). Supposedly adopted by the internal show’s director, Christof, at birth, Truman has lived his whole life in the controlled environment of Seahaven – essentially a giant town in a bubble (which Niccol once reported in an interview that a lady suggested this meant that the film was actually an anti-abortion film – who knew?!). Every interaction Truman ever had was scripted. Not only was Truman living a life that was not his own, the internal show’s audience tune in every week just to see the show – to watch Truman’s life unfold. We are confronted, as an audience, by the very voyeuristic nature of society today.

Classified as a science-fiction comedy-drama (a real mish-mash of genres), this film could be considered prophetic. Released in a time before Google and Facebook, when cell phones looked more like bricks (and were just used to call and text people), the concept of reality t.v. that is presented is one that now floods our television screens. If The Truman Show was meant as a cautionary tale, without knowing it, we ignored its warnings and went so much further.

While reality t.v. has been around approximately since the mid 1940s, with shows like Candid Camera (which was on air from 1948 – 2004), its rise was not until the early 2000s. However, with the number of reality t.v shows in 2015 reported on Vox.com to hit 750, one can only imagine how many are on our screens five years later. Our students have grown up in a world of Keeping up with the Kardashians, Jersey Shore, The Bachelor, Masterchef, Teen Mom, Big Brother and Love Island (just to name a few) – and some students are quite taken aback when they are confronted with the idea that these are not all ‘real’, like the genre ‘reality’ t.v. suggests. Getting students to considered the extent to which certain shows are ‘constructed’ reality through to ‘real’ reality can open up rich discussions on the subject.

The Truman Show really raises ethical questions around how far is too far, what our role is as viewers in driving the reality t.v. industry, and the role (or impact) that reality t.v. plays in our society.

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