Media Literacy and The Truman Show (1998)

The Truman Show • 1998 – Peter Weir [Director]

Starring Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Ed Harris, and Natascha McElhone

Written by: Raquell Muniz, Katie McGarrity, and Macklin Brigham

Date: September 5th, 2016 

TTSAre we “trapped in a fake world?”

Media is everywhere. We post everyday on FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and many more forms of social media- what we are doing that day, what we are eating that day, funny pictures of our friends, of us. Are you single? FaceBook will tell us. Are you in a relationship? FaceBook knows.  Almost every aspect of our life is out in the world for all to see. Even our budding professional careers are displayed on sites like LinkedIn, which lists all of our accomplishments, endorsements from others, and the extent of our education. Try to think of an aspect of your life that isn’t somehow posted on the Internet. I can’t. How, then, is that different from Truman’s world? Everyone knows of his marriage to Meryl, but they also know that he is in love with Lauren. Everyone knows his morning routine (“Good morning, and in case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night!”), what he eats, what magazine he buys each day from the newsstand, and so on. While our world is obviously not scripted for us by a TV production company, all of our lives are more visible to our friends, and even to complete strangers, than ever. However, for all of the time and effort that we spend on social media, our media literacy (hyperlink), I would say, is low. The most common theme among Baran’s 7 elements of media literacy (hyperlink) is awareness- awareness of the process of mass communications, of the impact of social media on us and on others, of responsible production skills, and most importantly, an awareness of the ethical and moral obligations of media practitioners. Do we really think about the process of communicating what we had for dinner last night? Do we always think of how a certain picture posted on FaceBook may affect our ability to get a job later on in life? Do we think about the ethical nature of the creators and CEOs of FaceBook? I would say that not many of us do. We know how to display our lives on social media, but your average person between the ages of roughly 18-29 will not ponder the moral questions brought up by their online activities. Our entire lives are on social media, and in that way, we are all “trapped in a fake world.”

Within the ‘trapped world’ that Truman lived in can be in close relation to the world we live in today. More specifically how everything can be tied back to product placement and hyper commercialism. When you think about it, everything and everyone around us aids to the concept of ‘product placement’. Take what Christof, the ‘creator; of The Truman Show said: “Yes, everything you see on the show is for sale – from the actors’ wardrobe, food products, to the very homes they live in-”and apply it to the world we live in now. If one sees another person wearingPP2 or owning an item that appeals to their liking, they might go home and purchase it for themselves. Thus, living and become active members of this endless cycle where we have become both the product placement for some items and consumers for others. As the movie unfolds, the hyper commercialism taken place in The Truman Show becomes more and more obvious. One of the most noticeable scenes -and where Truman finally begins to catch on that his reality might be altered- is when Meryl is talking Truman into making him a Mococa Drink. She proceeds to say: “Cocoa beans from the upper slopes of Mount Nicaragua” while strategically placing the product in perfect camera view for the entire audience to see. In our lives, it may not happen so noticeably, however, seeing a peer with the most updated iphone or a fellow classmate with the nicest shoes is all under product placement. The worst part? We don’t realize what the media and society have ‘hired’ us to do for them. Every time we purchase something, we are falling into the same trap that the audiences from the movie had when watching The Truman Show. 


Another concept we focused on was the final scene and what is significance played not only in the film, but also to its viewers. For most of The Truman Show’s second half, Truman is aware that something is very, very wrong in the otherwise pristine town of Seahaven.  Stage lights are falling from the sky, men on the radio are tracking his every move — and for some reason, no one wants him to leave.  Of course, Truman is not one hundred-percent certain that he is living in an altered or false reality; every one of the events mentioned above that lead him to believe that his life is not his own are quickly brushed off as something else: the rogue stage light is a broken light that fell off an airplane, the men overheard on the radio are from a foreign frequency resulting from a power surge at the radio station, and Truman can’t drive away from Seahaven because of a spill at the local nuclear power plant.

It’s not until he crashes through the end of the dome under which he has unwittingly lived his whole life (no doubt a symbolic display of “breaking the fourth wall,” when a character in a performance acknowledges that there is an audience watching his or her every move) that he knows for sure that yeah, he’s not living in the real world.  For a moment, he is overwhelmed with emotion, but then he swallows his relief (and sadness too, probably), stands up from the deck of his boat, and walks on top of the shallow water of the fake ocean to the dome’s exit.  Sounds familiar, right?  The gist of this occurrence in The Truman Show is an allusion to Matthew 14-22:33 in the New Testament of the Bible where Jesus walked on the surface of a lake to meet with his disciples. Why would director Peter Weir decide to add this sequence?  What does it mean?

Our interpretation of this scene is that by penetrating the wall, Truman finally becomes aware of his status as a being: in this world created for him, he is a Christ figure, and Christof is his God (this idea of Christof’s God-like power is reinforced by the shot of the sunlight shining through the clearing clouds, a common portrayal of God).  Ironically, Truman’s mediocre life (mediocre from the perspective of us, the audience) is what elevated him to Christ-like fame in: seconds before he leaves through the exit, he asks his Creator, “Was nothing real?”, to which Christof responded, “You were real. That’s what made you so good to watch.”

the truman show - creatorimages

But where does media literacy factor into all of this?  Well, media literacy is the ability to effectively and efficiently comprehend and use any form of mediated communication (Baran 2014, p. 27).  Through exiting the world he has lived in for thirty years, this media bubble filled with thousands of hidden cameras and catalogued products ready to be bought, Truman demonstrates media literacy — how else could he have left had he not had some inkling of suspicion that his life was being controlled by a higher power, and that that higher power was basically extorting him for ad revenue?  Through examining The Truman Show in terms of media literacy, the film’s message takes on a new meaning: you are only truly living life when you become aware of the media that control you and when you take action to liberate yourself from their influence.

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