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.