a megalomaniac designed breeding space

 

 

If you understood your fantasies, would you still want them? Consolidating one’s internal map in the universe merely severs the link with the worlds in continuous creation, even the ones constructed during the microsecond it takes to register a spark in your brain. To be left freely floating unaware of the relativity with the world around your world is what some might describe as desirable. Humble. The spirit of utopia comes within reach, so long as one remembers: what is unknown is left to chance.

 

If one can’t remember – and in the end who does – the great humbleness of the population bottles into this: those who believe me shall follow me. Literally; with no known order in the universe to speak of, follow can only mean copy. Invested in the one great simulacrum of perception, the greater the mass who follow the greater the chance and time you have followed too. The chain needs cohesion, and it is given by the single trunk; a single belief.

 

It is, as equitable as it gets, since you couldn’t ask for more. And yet some ask for less. Anti-utopian renegades, perhaps? Daring to label and insult categories of lifestyles, disrupt conceptions which have long been debated and considered old hat. Or perhaps not. For is utopia by definition futuristic? Is nostalgia alone a convincing cause for neotraditionalism? As much as these question appear irreconcilable, The Truman Show does not sidestep these issues, it layers archetypal citizens on top of a New Urbanist setting and watches where the divide between perfection and illusion cuts in.

 

The placement of utopia in this film is dynamic; it constantly feeds on the film’s revelations and viewer’s angle and although its statement on society is obvious from the sheer premise of the film the allusion to what underpins a townsfolk’s’ motivations successfully draws from several observations. Here utopia operates on three levels. The neotraditionalist location of Seahaven is an immediate throwback to the ‘simple’ times of 50’s America and absence of “fear” as Christof clearly believes. We have the lives portrayed in the show; attainable middleclass occupations with secure financial futures, heterosexual relationships and childhood friends. Finally, there is the notion that the ‘real’ utopia will emerge from the ‘fake’, since the story itself is a fairytale.

 

Seaside, the location in which The Truman Show was shot, was designed to be “redemptive and increase sustainability, livability, and community” [1] through research into neotraditional town planning. Its object was to avoid sprawl and be friendly to public transportation, with services located five minutes from any home. In view of the sociability of such a design, resisting class zoning through its mixed housing policy and ensuring contact with neighbours by automobile-discouraging laneways, [2] it is difficult to state whether the film is presenting it as a condition to be avoided. The most immediate suspicion is that the town appears unrealistic, too clean; however does this not highlight the involvement of background and subjectivity involved in evaluating urban spaces? Does history suggest that every familiar image of utopia is doomed to decay? In the vein of Disneyland neotraditionalism invokes the simulacrum of past memories, only bigger and better, to suggest to its would-be inhabitants that this time we know how to make it last. In effect, The Truman Show creates the only valid ‘single-blind’ test for this hypothesis in robbing its star of presumption. Just as true is Truman’s statement that they “never had a camera” in his head – the film or ‘show’ makes no attempt at watching life in Seahaven through the eyes of the innocent. It is impossible – the show’s audience is overly romanticised with the town, they want it to go on forever, the film’s audience too cynical, we consider it a prison in comparison with the space above and beyond. Until all worlds are explored what can one describe as ideal or ‘utopic’, and does what they describe yearn for something which yet does not exist? It may be easier to take the highbrow critique of New Urbanism while it serves to oppress the education of Truman in the film, but more importantly it should draw the distinction between utopia as a ‘comfort zone’ and as an ideal space to promote creativity; to take a nostalgic look back and only see the former is wishful that history might repeat, for better or worse.

 

The characters painted on to the township are read in two ways, their relationship to Truman and their relationship to the show. The difference is summed in no better form than Pluto the Dalmatian’s transformation from part of the neighbourhood streetscape to blood thirsty tracker during Truman’s escape. [3] The characters in the film respond to Truman but in ways preconceived by their larger representations; the dog is Disney-inspired (literally) corporate culture with a friendly face and stinging bite, Meryl and her utensil promotions pleads the case for the housewife’s reconciliation of time and family and Marlon is a similar figurehead for the ability of pacifying friendship to spring up no matter where no matter who. All of these point to the city’s reliance on capitalised trust, crucial to the maintenance of Truman’s utopia, justified as a symbiotic triangle of conserved love; corporation (dramatisation) nurturing commodity (Truman) nurturing the consumer (the viewer) and back again. Even Lauren Garland representing the virus of alien lust and Truman’s father the Oedipal avenger can be assimilated into higher television ratings, their very existences accounted by the company’s payroll and law-binding creative contracts. Utopia is never assumed to be without its enemies but the fight is still on capital terms. If the film is trying to present human determination as some sort of catalyst to utopia’s undoing it fails, but that’s okay that’s what happens in real life. As it turns out the weakest link is the commodity unable to suppress an innate consciousness. Truman, who has the best chance out of all of us to remain faithful to a utopic space, still cannot contain his impulse to explore. It is the actors who come across as the most desperate to retain the utopic romanticism of Seahaven, fittingly due to an inability to suppress their crying ego, and we see utopia inadequately “trained” to handle a probabilistic universe.

 

The real symbolic stand off is between The Creator and his Son. Every episode in Truman’s monitored life, from birth to the raging ocean weather, is Christof’s lesson to the Prodigal Son. Truman does not hear until he walks across the water to present his case on his own terms. The truth is Truman had the chance to become his own Creator, just by believing in Christof and following. Separate worlds, but identical premises. The city as a perception of the individual has a chance to reach utopia only by this virtue. Truman, as we all, had other ideas. Here endeth the fairy tale and beginneth the subconscious day dream, as the audience slips out of the cinema and imagines a better life for all. But how has the simulation not reinforced its mould. The real fakery emerges, not an imagined utopia in an imagined television show but a share in Truman’s relief that some part of the soul can remain untouched by prying eyes. What the others don’t see is what they don’t want to see. If you cared in the first place about your existence within their perception then just remember that it is the last impression that will dance around in their mind until they cease believing and to that day you are slave to the individual’s private utopia.

 

The only way the audience watching The Truman Show could identify with one of its characters would be if Truman had decided to stay inside his lit cell. That cell is a testimony to the potential of human existence, implicitly celebrating every status of being. The city is a concept envisioned by you. There is nothing we don’t deserve and we like knowing it. Society is meaningless but a multiplication of infinite attention belonging to each individual we all are valued at the show’s production budget. We have sex with everyone we meet and that is utopia. Human belief in utopia is not something to be avoided, it is within us all the time. It is the self-aware commodity of utopia that will avoid the human.


bibliography

 

 

Felperin, L., “How’s it going to end?”, Sight and Sound, 1998 Oct

Fridsma, S., “Truman’s Struggle and Psalm 139”, www.hollywoodjesus.com, February 2001

Ross, A., The Celebration Chronicles, New York, Ballantine, 1999

 



[1] Fridsma, S., “Truman’s Struggle and Psalm 139”, www.hollywoodjesus.com, February 2001

[2] Ross, A., The Celebration Chronicles, New York, Ballantine, 1999, p73

[3] Felperin, L., “How’s it going to end?”, Sight and Sound, 1998 Oct, p38-9


 


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Script by Alex