Saturday, November 13, 2004

Truman Show

Philip K. Dick's novels inspired Truman Show, so first I'll tell about Dick, who is one of my favourite authors.

Two core features of Dick's work area (1) twisted world and (2) emphasis on human interaction and subjective preception of the world.

In almost all of Dick's novels, the nature of the word has been twisted in some way. In addition to traditional science fiction worlds, Dick uses socially constructed twists.

In "Flow my tears, policeman said", a man wakes up in the morning in a hostel room he doesn't remember, and finds out that no one he knew recognizes him - his history has been wiped away from the memories of the others.

In another novel, a group of people ends up in a world, which has been modeled according to one person's worldview. Since the person is deeply religious, the world features a stern god which gives quick punishments for sins. This also reveals the reason why Dick enjoyed twisted worlds - they offer a chance to examine twisted worldviews, as the characters have to adapt their worldview to match to the objective reality.

Dick's novels are usually told from some main character's point of view. Dick describes, how that person percieves and interprets the world. When one person's view is not enough, the stories are told from multiple subjective perspectives.

One of Dick's strong abilities is dialog. After reading some psychology, I've come to appreciate Dick's dialog, which includes a full cycle of interpretation. If A says something to B, then B doesn't just "get the point" instantly. B interprets it based on his own values, goals and attitudes, and crafts the answer accordingly. If A and B have too different worldviews, they misunderstand and the conversation breaks down - a phenomena, which is quite common in the real world, but is rare in fiction.

Dick did write a novel, where a person lives in a set-up world (but not in a TV series). His idea was to construct a scenario, where a healthy and balanced human may rationally conclude that everyone is conspiring against him. Dick didn't manuscript Truman Show, but his influence is visible in many places.

Many people claim, that Truman show is a parody of soap operas, TV in general and especially reality TV. I claim that Truman show is mainly a speculation on how a "Truman show" would be organized, and all "TV-critical" themes can be explained away without anti-TV references.

Main anti-TV themes in the movie are (1) manipulation of Truman, (2) the ehtical dilemma of deception and (3) blatant commerciality

Truman is manipulated to stay in his world by many means. His "significant others" turn down any suggestion of traveling by using excuses, which any one of us may use to turn down a normal but undesirable suggestion. In addition, they emphasize how valuable the security of Seahave is, and that things are not really different or better or more interesting elsewhere. Accidents and propaganda posters emphasize the risks. These are the 'passive' ways of persuasion, which aim to take away Truman's desire to travel.

In addition, there are 'active' ways. If Truman attempts to discuss traveling too insistently, the significant others change the subject and show moral indignation. Travel reservations are delayed and canceled. The second last resort is special effects - machine breakdowns and accidents - and the last resort is violence.

This all is absolutely necesary to maintain Truman in the show. It has nothing to do with the conformist tendencies of capitalism - in our world, travel agencies actually sell adventure and change. The merit of the film is pinpointing examples of subtle ways of manipulation during normal human interaction.

The ethical dilemma is not really about ethics, but argumentation. Firsly we must notice that the ethicality of "Truman show" is an easy target, and a simple police investigation is enough to destroy the show.

The pictures of the woman in his room calling the director make it clear that there is a "Free Truman" -group, which is organized enough to print posters. This is clearly a threat to the existence of the show - all they need to do is to convince some influental person that Truman is subjected to a criminal wrongdoing. Therefore, the director has to confront the accusations head on to keep the show going.

Also, both parties have private interests - the director is dedicated and financially dependent on the show, and the woman has a biological interest to get his lover.

The director knew that these issues would become hot, and ensured the ethicality of the show beforehand by choosing a baby, which was unwanted. (The parents were so irresposible that they announced publicly that their baby was unwanted instead of bearing responsibility of their mistakes and giving the child the best they can offer. How bright future can you expect from that point?)

The continuity of the show depends on argumentation, and the world is a sick place.

The commerciality is also necessary, since the budget of Trumanistan equals that a small nation. There is only one scene where the commerciality is so blatant that it cannot be explained away as a necessity - the scene where the wife starts marketing a hot chocolate drink, and Truman reacts aggressively to his ignorant monologue. This is clearly a scene, where the movie drives a political point - the wife knew that Truman was angry, she could have predicted that something bad happens, and in another scene the marketing message is "post-edited" to the screen between the camera and the televeision receiver.

Truman show is a good movie exactly because so many details have been consistently derived from the question "What would Truman show look like?", instead of breaking the story to drive an anti-TV political agenda. It successfully follows Dick's style and examples when it uses a twisted world to gain insight into human interaction and worldview.

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