Truman Burbank’s life is, and always has been, controlled by one man: Christof, the creator and executive producer of “The Truman Show”. He commands an army of cast members who inhabit the artificial town of “Seahaven”. His power over Truman’s life is so expansive it includes who enters and who leaves Truman’s life, the weather, and even when the sun will rise. Despite all of this control, the success or failure of the “The Truman Show” rests entirely on its subject; Truman himself. The show lives or dies based on whether Truman believes in the world as presented as presented to him, just as The State survives solely on the belief of its subjects; us.
From the moment Truman was born he was the subject of a television show. Having been “the first person ever adopted by a corporation” they raised him, all the while broadcasting his life unedited, live, and 24 hours a day 7 days a week. How can Christof and his crew justify manipulating Truman’s fears, keeping him within the “largest studio ever constructed”, and generally making a spectacle of Truman’s life? The answer is simple. They think they are protecting him. Christof vilifies the life Truman would have otherwise led outside of their “protection”. When answering a protester asking if he ever feels guilty Christof responds; “I have given Truman the chance to lead a normal life.
The world, the place you live in, is the sick place. Seahaven is the way the world should be”. An even more subtle indication of this mindset are the t-shirts the guards stationed on either side of the control room door wear. “Love him, protect him” they read. This “protection” includes reinforcing Truman’s fear of Airplanes and water in order to keep him on Seahaven Island, physically detaining him when he tries to drive away, and eventually, when Truman tries to sail away, nearly drowning him in order to get him to turn back.
We too are subjects, though not of a TV show like Truman is. We are subjects of The State. The crew of “The Truman Show” spend the entire film trying to get a suspicious Truman to believe in the artificial world that has been built for him. In the same way, much of The State’s efforts are aimed at getting us to believe in the power of government to make meaningful, positive changes for large swaths of the population. Consider the “free” (and compulsory) education administered over the course of thousands of days to millions of children. (I’ve covered previously the conditioning effects of public education here.)
When The State is not actively extolling its own virtues it distracts us by calling our attention (and millions of dollars spent by think-tanks and lobbyists) to the area that will provide little to no meaningful change; Federal Politics. In regards to policy it makes little difference who is elected this November, just as policy today would not be drastically different if Mitt Romney had been elected four years ago. You are more likely to change your life by buying a lottery ticket than visiting a ballot box to vote for your favorite presidential candidate.
Throughout “The Truman Show”, Truman notices inconsistencies with his world; a halogen light labeled “Sirius (9 Canus Major)” falls from the sky, the back of an elevator opens into a green room with snacks and chairs, and his dead father reappears after years of absence. Likewise contradictions in The State are showing themselves more obviously; circus-like presidential campaigns, wars against ideas like “terror”, and the fact that despite the government’s claims that it is protecting us, the increasing awareness that the it is the one doing the aggressing.
Christof knows how much power Truman really holds. “He could leave at any time. If his was more than just a vague ambition, if he were absolutely determined to discover the reality of his world, there would be nothing we could do to stop him. What distresses you […] is that Truman prefers his cell.” When Truman finally overcomes his fear of water and sets out to sea, he knows that he has outgrown Seahaven to the point where staying is no longer an option. We must similarly outgrow the need for government in our lives, and when we do we must make our little exists wherever and whenever we can. At the end of “The Truman Show”, Truman, against the direct pleading of Christof, steps through a small, dark door, into a new, unknown world. Be brave enough to follow suit. Outgrow your need for The State and start living the life you would live if it wasn’t there at all.