The Truman Show & The Death of God

Is it easier to live a Truth no other person holds, or to live a Lie every other has access to? This is the question The Truman Show hopes to answer.

A second question might be: why is Truman willing to give up a life of happiness at the cost of finding the ‘truth’ of Reality and Self?

The Truman Show is a film for/of the future. Twenty years later we ask: How has it held up? Either it is a work of unique prophecy or a sign of our times that we’ve been too involved with invoking, re-showing, re-living the past, we ended with ignoring, and no longer hoping for, the prospect of futurity itself. In other words, it is not so much Truman has been so able to accurately portray the future in which we live today, instead, it had conjured a deep enough desire such that its future, our present, wants nothing more than to live its future, our past. This is a nostalgia for (re)living the hope, expectation, and desire for futurity itself which now so dominantly and ubiquitously pervades contemporary culture today. As a result, what we’ve come to long for is not the progression of future itself, but of the feeling and excitement of futurity whilst remaining in the now. We don’t want to leave this wonderful timeline and as such, time only exists in a self-appointed loop. We are seemingly at the end of History whereby we can only play with its past. it wouldn’t be remiss to say we are living backward

What Truman also prophecizes is the obsession with blurring Reality and Truth with Fiction and Lies. This theme, in varying degrees, haunts most, if not every, production of TV, Film, Music, Contemporary Art, Literary production. This is a symptom, for palpably obvious reasons (as Fredric Jameson, Mark Fisher, and others show), of the conflatory entanglement of Capitalism and Culture — when cultural products prove successful is the prime reason for its imminent re-appropriation with the sole intent of acquiring capital. Money talks, Art shows.

Every cultural artefact thereby becomes enmeshed into a single and unified genre of dystopian science fiction even more so when artefacts become nothing but a deep reflection of our own economy without irony. Its as if Capital produce films just to let us know: ‘This is what we are going to do’. 


If the Authentic Life can be said to exist, it exists only as an idea of privacy — what I am free to do with my own body, my own space, is just an expression of who I really am. Yet in a society so pervaded with filming equipment — phones, computers, CCTV, cameras — with Truman’s life live-streamed 24/7, it’s questionable whether privacy really exists. Every moment of our lives is moderated through mediums of connectivity. But in some twist, can it not be said that Truman lives the only authentic life possible? Because if Authenticity is a mode of being situated outside or away from the flow of artificiality — and if Truman is this flow of artificiality embodied — there no longer exists for him such a boundary between authenticity and artificiality, reality and fraudery. Of course one might suggest he is only living a life of illusion — but to who? Certainly not himself. This means Authenticity is no longer defined by standards set for oneself, it is instead set and bound for you. We decide — the people, the society — the remit of what is or isn’t inauthentic and whether you do or do not live up to the expectations.

This is ultimately the illusion Truman himself falls into. For he had led himself to believe (or had been led to believe as the only alternative) that life outside the fake-city and through the black door lies an opportunity to be a body for which is your own and nobody else’s controlled at the expense of entertainment. And in some sense this is true, the only authentic life he is able to lead is one of suffering. How he chooses to react, deal with, respond to suffering can only be determined by him — he is free to suffer.

It might be facile to suggest authenticity itself is an illusion, but along with free will, it is a necessary illusion one can not live without. The true horror of Truman, it could be said, is every moment after the film ended. Because not only does Truman now have to completely overturn his beliefs and ideas, re-attune himself to the environment, sense things not sensed before, he also has to inevitably confront the consequence of the second wave of illusion – namely reality and the world of appearances itself (Not only this, but wouldn’t he merely exist as a celebrity? The life of a ‘normal guy’ is never an option).

God may be all seeing, all powerful, all knowing… but he ain’t perfect. The clumsiness of God (The Creator) in his set design, actor placement, eventually sparked wariness, insight, curiosity into Truman and seeded the fruits of Knowledge; and by doing so, abolished Truman’s innocence. In the fake-city, he was the only person to live a life that was not under threat of constant pressure to perform for the camera, for God. Presumably, the actors also had to live a total lie without the luxury of illusion.

Its as if the true believer is really only but a complete fabrication by God himself, even if he (the believer) is unaware of his existence. God makes it so that you don’t have to believe.

Believing is fictitious. 


Postscript: 

In 2017, Jim Carrey, after a hiatus from the media, came back to the spotlight only to be ridiculed, gaped at, and reduced to some weird residuum (if Hollywood isn’t weird enough) because he had been openly sharing and displaying his thoughts on his disorientation with Identity. A quick look through some of the more notable films of Jim Carrey and it becomes apparent that an unambiguous play with Identity is something they share — The Mask, Batman Forever, Liar Liar, The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, Grinch, Bruce Almighty, Jim and Andy. 

Jim Carrey is just another tragic symptom of the yet to be explored relation between comedy, depression, and identity.

 

toy story 4 — Love, Loss, Freedom, and Duty

Since it’s early uprising, Disney/Pixar has provided no shortage of producing propaganda, displaying dominant trends of ideology, and contributed to cultivating an immense aesthetic that can be seen through every doorway of consumer society — the signature style of the smooth and curvy, ergonomic, sparse, accommodable, timeless kitsch (and nor has it provided shortage of opportunity for critique, such as this). Yet since Disney is slowly consuming the rest of Hollywood like a parasitic Host feeding off of inadequate debris, it becomes apparent that such inevitable battles of Ideologies revolve around, and are spawned from, distinct organisms.

Toy Story 4 is Disney/Pixar’s latest installment and for me, it is a film I couldn’t not watch. I am forever indebted to watching whatever Toy Story, Monsters Inc, Star Wars, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles film Hollywood throws at me and they know it too. There are more than plenty of other films I can all too happily ignore. But, like putting stakes in the big entertainment business, I have invested too much time, energy, memory, experience, emotion watching them; and to suddenly not feels like one of personal failure. I am trapped in my own homespun personal guilt for which if I do not act upon, my past, my memories, my childhood, my history will be destroyed. This is the machinic entanglement of guilt, emotional dependence, well-being managerialism Hollywood is so perfect at capturing. It provides itself as a sick Oedipal situation to which it can only be myself, Father to my own Childhood Fantasy, that stands in the way between me and my ultimate desire for satisfaction and nourishment, the nostalgic Hollywood engine. I am committed in these instances to a temporal continuity.

TS4 shows us what its predecessors couldn’t: that death – literally and metaphorically –  is not the final solution. When confronted with abandonment, witness to being outgrown for the need or want of interaction and play, stricken with feelings of Loss, and for which no other carer is adequate, what else is there to do for the Toys if not to either let oneself be killed, fight for one’s own right as worthwhile and necessary, or commit suicide. It is obviously the attempt to infiltrate ones way back into the home and heart of Andy that preoccupies the third and fourth film. And it is Woody in particular — that hysterical, short-sighted, obsessive, naive optimist — who continuously prompts and pushes the direction of the collective forward into the clean grip of Andy’s hand; because it is Woody, ultimately, who is Andys Toy, and he will do anything he can, even if to drag and string along his comrades, to get himself back to providing the fulfillment of Andy. There’s no doubt Woody is the leader for which all actions subsequently revolve around his own wellbeing, even if Woody puts himself out of way for the greater good of keeping the O’ Mighty One happy. Andy is God.

TS4 is unambiguously a film about the fear of loss and freedom and the consequences thereof of taking it. The Toys were never free to begin with, we know that, except that they embody the neoliberal subjectivity whereby freedom comes not from being set loose from the constraints of some organized Body, but of being able to work itself. To be Free, ultimately, is to be free to Work — they are puppets, after all, and life as a puppet without being played is no life at all. Because it is Work which both defines who we are whilst allowing us to express who we think we are (only if done through the confines of working life). Yet TS4 flips this on its head. As the final conclusion of the film shows, to be Free is to be a Lost Toy, cut loose from the manipulating fingertips of children pulling their strings and playing them like puppets. Yet it is only a particular freedom that becomes available only after the Toys have adequately fulfilled their duty. The Duty of sustaining unconditional happiness to their Master, even if not through the interaction of their own. And it is for Woody, sided with Bo, who is no longer looked for, no longer needed, not only by his Master-Child but his fellow comrades as well.

In tandem with Woody’s self-effacing libidinal waning over Bo Peep and his failure to leave work, his duty, and run off with her, is Buzz who re-finds himself as the agent he’s always destined to be: a leader. There comes a point of belated self-reflectivity Buzz who begins to ponder the ‘inner voice’ of his engineered body. Curious about his voicebox, his inner voice, Buzz follows blindingly the pre-determined catchphrase-directions in hopes of discovering how or what it is he has to do. In some sense, this is true freedom no other Toy has yet been granted. After disastrous attempts in following his own word, the self-imposed word of the Master-Other for which he must obey and dutifully provide for, he thinks for himself. More importantly, he thinks alongside his pre-determined voice. This is a self-consciousness no other minor toy has yet to possess, for they are still condemned to follow blindly either their voicebox or the doxa of dutiful obedience.  And this is the true quality of a leader for which cannot be reduced either to being Lost or held hostage under the authoritative commands of the Other, but Free to act, to think, to revolutionize within the system.

The final scene and dialogue of TS4 show Woody and Bo Peep left alone, lost, in a carnival as the rest of the toys are in the back-window driving away. ‘Now Woody is a lost toy’. Replied with faux-profundity, ‘oh, he’s not lost’. This, we are meant to believe, is that in place of the loss of Andy and Bonnie, physically and emotionally, he has re-found love in Bo Peep. But what does this say about freedom? Woody is no longer obligated to make Andy, Bonnie, or Whoever happy but Bo. Yet Freedom for Lost Toys comes at the cost of enduring a life of escape, fight and flight survivalism against the dirty mitts of children who will come to eventually tear them apart.

Love is the only thing that can set you free. Perhaps Freedom is only the struggle itself to be free — an antagonism between your desire and theirs.

 

 

Thinking Horrifically – A Vicintiy of Horror

I think a lot about the horror and suffering of the world, from the minute and seemingly trivial up to the all-encompassing and overwhelming — Ironically, it is these two extreme ends on a horrific spectrum that we lost sight of. Too small and we disregard or deem unworthy of being named, such as losing money, falling over, being disorganized etc, and/or too big it seems to resist such a naming, such as ecological disaster, political corruption and even ones own future self.

The inability of seeing beyond the confines of a median horror out towards the periphery of inner-self and outer-life, what we name as the experience of horror is that which is – quite literally – in our very local vicinity. For instance, depending on the severity of injury, we regard and thus associate horror based on the length of impact such an injury has on our future – how it effects our ‘local’ foreseeable future self. Or, of being aware that we are in close proximity to an outside horror, such as stabbings in your neighborhood. Its because of this short-sightedness that it becomes much easier to care for these local horrors than it is too acknowledge the wars going on in other countries, the emotional anguish of strangers, or the deep depths of our own unconscious or future self (e.g. smoking), and finally the ultimate horror that will effect us all yet seemingly none is ecological disaster – a too grand of an object to contemplate and thus tackle oneself let alone think about. It is a horror so sever that it breaches its own boundaries as to escape the very confines of what can be considered terrifying.

This post is not about the horrors of the world as such, as it it a personal rumination on horror and how effectual thinking horrifically – that is, in terms of locality (a nearness to us) – can be useful to the way we think and act in this world.

                                                                   —————

As it ought to be known, I don’t like watching horror films – or more precisely, I find myself too easily susceptible to strong feelings of sadness that I reduce all interactions to a minimum. Nor any material that readily presents itself as content uneasy for light viewing, such as the bite-sized clips naughtily posted on obscure facebook pages of tortured animals, fights between people on derelict streets, the terror that overcomes individual people of all ages – unnecessary cries of toddlers, children that are lost, adults losing someone, old people forgetting themselves. Or even watching the news or listening to talks told reminiscently. Of course, one should be aware of the suffering of others as to allow empathy to flow, responsibility to take place and care to take action, but it is not that by not watching these videos I attempt at avoiding responsibility and effectively caring for, and building relations with, others. Or relieve myself of guilty feelings by pretending pain doesn’t exist.

But it is paradoxically the nature of ‘enjoying’ the experience of emerging oneself in horror (films) that nonetheless separates us from a real horror to contemplate and explore and tackle or live alongside. It is this that one invariably loses sight of the horror that occurs on base level, at the very local vicinity of day to day, moment to moment micro-actions that have and leads to much larger longer lasting consequences. All Horror is necessarily mediated through imagery, with each level of mediation taking us further and further away, presenting to us a caricature, ideal, type, etc., from the acute reality of horror one needs to not only take seriously, but acknowledge such contemplation of micro-horrors are worth taking seriously.

Horror is reassuring.

It seems oxymoronic to suggest Horror is reassuring. That it soothes us and prevents our being fearful and scared, consoling and comforting us by presenting to us that which we might most be fearful of, mediated through imagery/films/books. But it is this mediation between us and them, our reality and that reality, that allows us to displace or defer the sense of fear we feel by transcribing it onto a different reality altogether. Wherein, I’m not so much as scared by my reality as I am of/for yours. Intuitively, this suggests an added ability to empathize for a reality that is not our own, except, as I have previously remarked, this mediation or displacement between realities is what disables us from every actually coming to experience the true horrors of an others experience. Reassurance to me means a reminder of what goes on and what could go on. It sets itself up as a marker of terror, providing us the tools of how to feel and when to feel it like a big brother – a quality with which does exist in art.

Again, Horror is always necessarily mediated through some artistic medium with the goal of allowing us to acknowledge such horrors in the first place. But my problem is that mediation is only the beginning, what it misses or what we miss from it is the awareness to an all too true unseen reality of horror that are dismissed, ignored or unworthy based on the grandiloquence of Horror that mediates in the first place. Not unseen as undocumented, but as not worthy of contemplation because it doesn’t conform to any horrific ideals. If Ecological disaster strays from our imagination as not being horrific, so too does the other end of the spectrum with the minute and seemingly trivial. The exaggeration of Horror paradoxically only cares for the means in-between the two ends of sizable horrors – from the tiny to large. This is to say that another task for Horror is to really bring it back down to reality, not focus solely on the very local and instantaneous horror that can happen but on the slow undulating unsexy horror that exists from mental health to climate change.

Like the somewhat insincere attempt to console your friend in hopes of getting them to stop crying, avoiding any attempt to help aid the cause of the crying, conversely then, horror is the insincere friend who wants for you to only cry about the subjects for which horror deems worthy of contemplation – the very local, effectual, visceral and instantaneous and filmic horrors –  and not the real underlying and overlying problems.

When speaking about believing, Zizek says it is not that we don’t believe – when for instance we say “I Love You” –  but that we believe too much. It is not that we don’t believe in the effects of saying I Love You that by not saying it we save ourselves any quarrel or burden, but that we in fact believe in it too much and its effect. We believe “absolutely” in the power of saying I Love You that any deferral or reluctance for saying it doesn’t risk the inevitable consequences of doing so. And this in some ways, about belief, is what we do when we watch a horror film. One could happily say to themselves that what they are watching is not real, that the character of the killer clown or groups of zombies isn’t real, that we don’t believe in it. But, apart from believing literally in killer clowns and zombies themselves, we do in fact believe in a kind of ‘monster’, and as such, because we believe so absolutely, we reside ourselves to the comfort of watching these imagined monsters mediated via the screens of horror films as to not allow ourselves to fall trap to the real horror of our everyday reality. That horror films literally provide a caricature and face of a monster so deeply disturbing we would rather go outright an watch it, full frontal, – as if we were the ones in control of our own sense of being scared – than be witness and victim to the true horror of the faceless unknown that is not meditated but totally real and in out periphery. We believe in monsters so much as to only confront them on our own terms. We create superstitions as to make them real, relieving us of the doubt that we don’t know of what were most afraid of (Yet how can we be scared of that which we don’t know we’re scared of?). One could say that, calling mummy or daddy to check underneath your bed at night, or in the wardrobe, is a way of creating for yourself an image of an monster that which you don’t actually believe, but nonetheless are still frightened of as the feeling of being scared itself has to be pointed towards something, yet this something is always in a local vicinity to one self as that which is outside our own reality can be quite easily dismissed. The parent then is the mediation between the child and the monster, for when the parent says nothing’s there, you continue to sleep, except that its not being there is really not a sign of its non-existence as it is more a process of being scared through something (the parent), of confronting through someone, as to alleviate any feeling of personal horror. As such, a mediation could thereby be seen as a horror for a spectacle that is quite literally dispelled and dissipated, dispersing and diluting the power of horror over its audience. Paradoxically, the child wants to prove its own disbelief. By getting its parent to check what the child already doesn’t believe is to confirm for the child that which doesn’t already exist. A parent confirms what you already believe, or not believe in. The imagination of the monster is as real for the child (and us) as the monster itself.

“Scratching an itch that doesn’t exist – thereby bringing it into existence” — Timothy Morton

This is what I mean when I say horror is reassuring. Media provides us with the scapegoat of reality, as we all know, as to not confront it head on. Of course one could say that horror films are a horrific reality in and of themselves, but I’m not talking about the realness of horror as I am the impracticality of mediation when it comes to understanding what is also really horrific – our everyday micro-actions and those action within – and contributing to – a far larger macro-horror (world). Taking cue from art, we need to quite literally give a face to the faceless monster, bring about its existence in out imagination as to dispel with it. In order to overcome the fear of Horror, what one needs is to think Horrifically.