Considering The Truman Show In The Age Of The Kardashians


Staring into the camera, in the way MTV confessionals conditioned us to receive truth, the godlike Christof opens The Truman Show.

“We’ve become bored with watching actors give us phony emotions. We’re tired of pyrotechnics and special effects. While the world he inhabits is in some respects counterfeit, there is nothing fake about Truman himself. No scripts, no cue cards. It isn’t always Shakespeare, but it’s genuine. It’s a life.”

Sound familiar? Christof’s monologue could also be used to describe the dozens of “reality” programs that, while edited and produced, are largely unscripted. (Think: Bravo’s hysterical women of worth, GTL, Survivor and its offspring). But even these in-your-face exhibitions have lost their edge. Okay… the tribe has spoken, Ronnie and Sam are horrible. We get it.

These shows are unwatchable today because the contestants/ potential husbands/ Road Rules alumni are painfully familiar with reality TV conventions — robbing us of any real kind of shock. (Producers see this only as a minor inconvenience and work around it by hyping drunk brawls, hyperventilating over table-flipping, and featuring the Salahis — all brief, anticlimactic “did I really just wait for that?” moments.) I imagine that the program called the The Truman Show would be a lot less interesting once Truman knew he was being filmed.

So yeah. There’s the obvious OMG the movie predicted our reality show craze observation.

Consider also the special kind of YouTube known as the reaction video. It’s us watching people watching people. In his frighteningly perceptive essay on the subject, Sam Anderson discusses the sheer delight of seeing a man laugh uncontrollably (and drool!) when “Scarlet Takes A Tumble,” of the repulsed horror that is a grandmother’s face during “2 Girls 1 Cup.” YouTubers love these videos because they are precisely what reality shows used to be — unfiltered, honest, human.

In fact, The Truman Show is filled with cut-away shots of fictional-real people watching Truman in The Truman Show. You could say that the movie itself is a kind of reaction video.

So what does this have to do with Kardashian shenanigans? I’m talking, of course, about what old people call “social media.” All the check-ins, retweets, de-tags, (Pokemon) badges, the flattering illumination of Instagram, pins, ambient location beacons, wall posts, the great myth sold by Silicon Valley: that sexting is better than sex, the digitizing of narcissism, app overload.

In the film, Truman wanted to escape the shackles of his caged celebrity. We want to flee our mediocrity and become something like Truman. We strangely recognize how Truman’s notoriety is a suffocating straightjacket, but we embrace celebrity, unearned spotlight, and we, each of us, cherish our tiny universe of prominence.

We are both aspiring Truman Show stars and incredibly afraid of what that might entail. We crave both serendipity and control. We wish to unleash what Gaga calls “the fame monster” and then, somehow, tame him.

This creates a cultural paradox. People hunger for the random, chance happenings that modern life prevents (a meet cute, a whimsical unplanned romance), but we attempt to spark this kind of accidental misadventure with exceedingly intricate technology (an arsenal of gadgets,  (Essentially the same paradox is explored in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.)

Of us American youngins, David Foster Wallace once said that we have a very peculiar kind of loneliness: the fear of going through life without loving anything else more than yourself. Truman abandoned his reality show to avoid exactly this kind of estrangement. I think we should do the same. 

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