Author: SIMMONS, DAVID C. <email@example.com>
Subject: Watching the Reproduction of Ideology in The Truman Show
When Peter Weir’s film The Truman Show was released in 1998, several critics remarked on how Truman’s constructed world was like our own. One wrote: “[The film] . . . allows us direct access to the eerie virtual reality of Truman’s world, which is portrayed as a hyper-clear dream of our own homogenized, theme-parked lives, with everything from catchphrases to love dictated by the prerogatives of corporate central” (Gleiberman 44). I, too, believe that the film reveals the apparatus of capitalism along with its accompanying “invisible” ideology. By juxtaposing several of the notions put forth by Louis Althusser in his essay, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” I intend to demonstrate not only how The Truman Show reveals
Althusser’s concept of the reproduction of ideology in a capitalistic system but also invisibly reproduces that same ideology for the spectator.
A CONSTRUCTED REALITY
The Truman Show is a television show where Truman Burbank is being watched by the world 24 hours a day without his knowledge. It takes place in a completely enclosed set at least
221 stories high (Niccol, “Photo” 18). As Andrew Niccol, the film’s screenwriter, explains, the dome which encloses the set is so large that it “is only one of two man-made structures visible from space–the other being the more diminutive Great Wall of China” (“Photo” 24). This is where Truman has lived since birth: the constructed, small town of Seahaven. Here thousands of concealed mini-cameras record every aspect of Truman’s life (Weir xv) and beam it to a world-wide audience of billions of viewers (Niccol, “Photo” 1). All of the people in Truman’s life are merely actors or crew members working for the show. This constructed world of Truman’s appears “normal” to him. As Director Peter Weir writes in his “behind-the-scenes description” of the show: “Truman lived on, unaware that his life was unlike any other. After all, why should he doubt his world? It was all he’d ever known and as real to him as ours is to us” (xvii).
The invisibility of the constructed world in which Truman lives is reminiscent of the notion of the pervasive nature of invisible capitalist ideology as put forth by Louis Althusser in his essay, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” Althusser defines ideology as “the system of
ideas and representations which dominate the mind of a man or a social group” (158). Althusser posits the idea that “ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence” (162). This is clearly shown in The Truman Show. Everything that Truman believes as being the “real” conditions of his existence is revealed as just an imaginary relationship. Thus, Weir’s previous comment is revealed as a lie: Truman’s world is just as constructed by ideology as “ours is to us” (Weir xvii).
The show is funded by product placement, so that it can broadcast continually without commercial interruption (Niccol, “Photo” 2). Everything seen on the show has a sponsor,
and can be purchased through a large mail-order catalogue (Weir xv). Throughout the show, the camera will occasionally zoom in on the name of a product (Niccol Script 2). At other times, one of the actors may give a subtle endorsement, such as the time when Meryl, Truman’s wife, says, “Hi honey. Look at this. It’s a ‘Chef’s-Mate’. Dicer, slicer, and peeler in one. Never needs sharpening. Dishwasher safe” (Niccol, Script 15).
Because the profits are so lucrative, the show’s creator and director, Christof, wants to keep Truman from discovering the constructed world in which he lives. At one point, the actor who plays Truman’s father (who was killed off in an early episode to teach Truman the dangers of trying to leave) sneaks back on to the set disguised as a Homeless Man extra (Niccol, “Photo” 3). Guilt-ridden over the psychological trauma his staged drowning had on his screen son, he approaches Truman.
Christof quickly orchestrates a plan to keep Truman unaware of the unseen forces shaping his life. He signals two other extras, an Elegant Woman Shopper and a Business Executive, to
grab the Homeless Man and whisk him out of sight (Niccol, Script 25). The choice of the symbols, here, is appropriate: just as in our constructed world, the bourgeois characters seem to
triumph over the lower-class ones. The homeless are efficiently kept out of sight.
THE STATE APPARATUS
Christof, like the controllers of capitalism, also employs some “natural”-looking apparatuses for the purpose of keeping Truman in his place. These apparatuses could be compared with Althusser’s notion of the State. As Althusser explains: “The State . . . has no meaning except as a function of State power. The whole of the political class struggle revolves around the State. . . The State is a ‘machine’ of repression, which enables the ruling classes . . . to ensure their domination over the working class” (140, 137).
In The Truman Show, the State is the invisible world of the television show directed by Christof from his control booth. Christof oversees all of Truman’s actions. He controls
the actors, the script, the lighting, the scenarios, and even the weather in this constructed reality. Whenever there is a chance for Truman to learn the truth about his “reality,” Christof steps in to keep this from being realized.
According to Althusser, in Capitalism, the State is ensured by “the police, the courts, the prisons; but also the army which . . . intervenes directly as a supplementary repressive force in the last instance, when the police and its specialized auxiliary corps are ‘outrun by events’; and above this ensemble, the head of State, the government and the administration” (137).
Christof controls the show’s apparatus of security. He can command any member from his throng of crew members to assist if Truman tries to step beyond his bounds. An example of this
control is seen near the end of the film when Truman, with a very reluctant Meryl, decides to try to drive away from the town of Seahaven. He passes a sign which reads “YOU ARE NOW LEAVING SEAHAVEN – Are you sure that’s a good idea?” (Niccol, Script 91), set up to keep Truman in his place. Ignoring it, Truman drives on, past another sign which reads “FOREST FIRE WARNING – Extreme Danger” and then a 20 foot-high wall of flames which shoots across the road in front of them (91). Accelerating through it, the car continues on until a third sign is
seen: “SEAHAVEN ISLAND NUCLEAR POWER STATION.” It is here that Truman is stopped by a police officer and a police barricade.
Ignoring them, Truman jumps out of the car and dashes into the nearby forest. He is apprehended by a team of actors masquerading as “Hazardous Waste Workers” and police officers who just keep him from seeing the construction of a new set over the next hill (93). Here, as perhaps in our own world, the State-controlled “army” has used force to ensure that their apparatus is not revealed to Truman.
IDEOLOGICAL STATE APPARATUSES
Althusser designates the previous apparatuses (police, courts, government, etc.) as Repressive State Apparatuses (found in the public domain) that “function by violence” (143).
Althusser contrasts these groups with Ideological State Apparatuses (found in the private domain) that “function by ideology” (145). As Marx writes, “every child knows that a social formation which did not reproduce the conditions of production at the same time as it produced would not last a year” (209). Althusser builds on this by stating: “The ultimate condition of production is therefore the reproduction of the conditions of production” (127). In other words, to keep itself in power, bourgeois ideology must reproduce itself. This is accomplished (in Althusserian terms) by Ideological State Apparatuses or ISAs.
The ideology these structures employ is the “ideology of ‘the ruling class’” (146). They work to provide “a reproduction of its submission to the rules of the established order, i.e. a reproduction of submission to the ruling ideology for the workers, and a reproduction of the ability to manipulate the ruling ideology correctly for the agents of exploitation and repression, so that they, too, will provide for the domination of the ruling class ‘in words’(132-33).
In Capitalist power regimes, ideological productions “are so integrated into our everyday ‘consciousness’ that it is extremely hard, not to say impossible, to raise oneself to the point of view of reproduction” (128). Thus, in order to keep the proletariat from realizing that he or she is
being indoctrinated with the ideology of the ruling class, the structures which reproduce the ideology (the ISAs) must function under a cloak of invisibility.
Christof defends the invisibility that inherently goes along with the reproduction of ideology on the show. When he is asked, “Why do you feel that Truman’s never come close to discovering the true nature of his world?” he responds: “We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented” (Niccol, Script 79). As opposed to being different than our notion of “reality,” Christof has made bare the trope that we are in the same predicament, ideologically speaking, as Truman.
THE EDUCATIONAL ISA
There are several structures that function similarly to Althusser’s Ideological State Apparatuses on The Truman Show, in that they keep Truman from realizing the state of his material conditions. The first such apparatus is the school. Althusser believes the school is the dominant ISA (152). It is here, he believes, that labor power is reproduced for a capitalist regime. The school performs two functions. First, it is where children learn skills which are “directly useful in the different jobs in production” (132). Second, it is also where “children . . . learn the ‘rules’ of good behavior, i.e., the attitude that should be observed by every agent in the division of labour, according to the job he is destined for: rules of morality, civic and professional
conscience, which actually means rules of respect for the socio-technical division of labour and ultimately the rules of the order established by class domination” (132). The school, Althusser writes, “drums into [students] . . . a certain amount of ‘know how’ wrapped in the ruling ideology
(French, arithmetic, natural history, the sciences, literature) or simply the ruling ideology in its pure state (ethics, civil instruction, philosophy)” (155).
The school functions similarly in The Truman Show by keeping Truman inside the set through the use of ideology. The shooting script explains a scene where a seven-year-old Truman and his friend Marlon are discussing their future roles of employment in the classroom with a teacher.
School Mistress: What do you want to do when you grow up, Marlon?
Marlon: I want to be an entrepreneur like my dad.
School Mistress: (impressed) Tell the class what an ‘entrepreneur’ does, Marlon.
Marlon: He makes a lot of money, Ma’am.
School Mistress: A good one does, Marlon. (looking in her purse, hamming it up). Perhaps I’ll be coming to you for a loan one of these days.
The class titters. Marlon sits down and winks to Truman.)
School Mistress: What about you, Truman?
(Truman rises to his feet, gathering his nerve.)
Truman: I want to be an explorer [with reverence]–like Magellan.
(The School Mistress smiles benevolently.)
School Mistress: (Slightly condescending) I’m afraid no one’s going to pay you to do that, Truman. You might have to find something a little more practical. (Glancing to a pull-down wall map behind her head) Besides, you’re too late. There’s really nothing left to explore.
(The class roars with laughter as the crestfallen Truman takes his seat) (Niccol, Shooting 5-6).
The School Mistress attempts to instill in Truman the desire to stay where he is, so that he won’t discover that his entire life is taking place on a studio set. The school has functioned in
the film, just as it does in the capitalist world, as a purveyor of ideology to keep the worker from discovering his or her own entrapment. As Althusser writes, in the school, “the relations of exploited to exploiters and exploiters to exploited, are largely reproduced. The mechanisms
which produce this vital result for the capitalist regime are naturally covered up and concealed by a universally reigning ideology of the School, universally reigning because it is one
of the essential forms of the ruling bourgeois ideology: an ideology which represents the School as a neutral environment purged of ideology” (156).
In the film, as in Althusser’s vision, the school is invisibly employed to keep Truman in his place. The apparatus as a construction is revealed at a later point in the film when a grown Truman enters the doors of the school and discovers that the sound of children’s voices is actually coming from a large, continually playing reel-to-reel recorder on the teacher’s desk
(Niccol, Script 39).
THE FAMILY ISA
Another structure that reproduces ideology is the Family ISA. Althusser explains that “Before its birth, the child is . . . always-already a subject, appointed as a subject in and by the specific familial ideological configuration in which it is ‘expected’ once it has been conceived” (176). The child is ready for the ideology that will hail him or her. Truman was prepared to be the subject of this ideological reality even before he was born. Omnicam, the corporation producing the show, adopted Truman, an unwanted pregnancy, and began broadcasting the show from within his mother’s womb (Weir xiii). Ratings continued to climb after Truman was born, hitting highs at such events as Truman’s first tooth, his first faltering steps, his first words, and his first day of school (xvi). He was prepared before he was born to become “the world’s baby” (xiii).
Althusser calls those with whom the subject interacts daily as “actors in this mise en scène of interpellation” (177). This is true in The Truman Show as everyone Truman meets are merely actors performing a role. They perform the task of Althusser’s Family ISA by keeping Truman in his oppressed place. In an early episode, a four-year-old Truman runs away from his father at the beach and almost discovers the limit of the constructed set. His father eventually “rescues” him, saying: “I told you to stay close. Don’t ever leave my sight again. You’ve got to know your limitations. You could’ve fallen” (Niccol, Script 6).
The actress who plays Truman’s mother also helps in the process of keeping Truman from leaving. As Niccol explains: “She faked nineteen major illnesses during the course of the show in an attempt to keep Truman in Seahaven, garnering several major awards in the process. She was almost definitely responsible for Truman entering the life insurance agency (Niccol, “Photo” 3).
In a later episode, a grown Truman declares his intention of leaving Seahaven. This time the role of the Family ISA that keeps the subject in a repressed, submissive state is performed by the actor who plays Marlon, Truman’s friend.
Truman: I’m thinking of getting out.
Marlon: (Mild interest only) Yeah? Outta what?
Truman: Outta my job, outta Seahaven, off this island, out!
Marlon: Outta your job? What the hell’s wrong with your job? You gotta great job. You gotta desk job. I’d kill for a desk job. . . . Try stocking vending machines for a living. My biggest decision of the day is whether the Almond Joys look better next to the Snickers or the Baby Ruths.
Truman: (adamant) Haven’t you ever gotten itchy feet?
Marlon: (skeptical, picking up his beer) Where is there to go?
Marlon: Fiji! Where the hell is Fiji exactly? Near Florida? You can’t drive there, can you? . . .
Truman: I’m going, don’t you worry about that.
Marlon: I never knew anybody who wanted to leave Seahaven. . . . Truman, you know, I did think about moving away one time.
Truman: Yeah? What happened?
Marlon: I figured, what’s the point? I knew I’d just be taking my problems with me. Once the kids came along, it made me look at Seahaven with new eyes. (Gazing out at the lights of Seahaven) I realized, what the hell could be better than this? (Putting a hand on Truman’s shoulder) I’m telling you. What you really need is someone to carry on the “Burbank” name.
Truman: You think so?
Marlon: Trust me. (Niccol, Script 16-19)
Marlon, in true Althusserian fashion, reminds free-thinking Truman of his “proper” place.
The same thing happens when Truman presents the idea to the actress who plays his wife, Meryl.
Truman: I’ve been thinking . . . I figure we could scrape together eight thousand. . . . We could bum around the world for a year on that.
Meryl: And then what, Truman? We’d be back where we were five years ago. You’re talking like a teenager.
Truman: Maybe I feel like a teenager.
Meryl: We’re mortgaged to the eyeballs, Truman. There’s the car payments. Are we just going to walk away from our financial obligations?
Truman: It’d be an adventure.
Meryl: I thought we were going to try for a baby. Isn’t that enough of an adventure?
Truman: That can wait. I want to get away. See some of the world. Explore.
(Meryl makes a derisive laugh.)
Meryl: You want to be an explorer? You don’t even have a passport, Truman. I bet you don’t even know how to get one. This’ll pass. Everybody thinks like this now and then. Come to bed (22-23).
All of these actors, assuming their roles in the Family ISA, seek to keep Truman from rising up.
THE RELIGIOUS ISA
A third structure involved in the process of the reproduction of ideology is the Religious ISA. To Althusser, Religious ISAs had such power in a “pre-capitalist historical period” (151) that it controlled: “not only religious functions, but also eductational ones, and a large proportion of the
functions of communications and ‘culture’” (151).
The role of the Religious ISA domination is represented in The Truman Show in the form of Christof. Christof calls himself “The Creator” (Weir xviii). The names are symbolic here:
Christof’s name is tied to the name of the Christian deity, while Truman is actually the only “True Man” in the film (Weir xiii). Christof is the one in charge of the show, although the
network/media conglomerate CEO is named Moses (xii).
From his office behind the constructed moon on the 221st floor of the set, Christof watches Truman’s every move. When Truman begins to get ideas of leaving, it’s Christof who plans
ways of stopping it. As Niccol writes: Instilling in Truman a fear of the water was Christof’s most effective technique for keeping his leading man on the set. Twenty-two years after the ‘Drowning at Sea’ episode, Truman was still unable to board the ferry to Harbor Island. A good thing, too, since Harbor Island was merely a painted backdrop. (“Photo” 8)
At one point in the film, Marlon tries to steer the conversation away from Truman’s statement that “Things . . . don’t fit. Maybe I’m being set up for something.” Marlon deflects by saying: “Look at that sunset, Truman. It’s perfect. . . . That’s the ‘Big Guy.’ Quite a paintbrush he’s got” (Niccol, Script 47). The “Big Guy” with a paintbrush, is of course, Christof. Marlon uses an Althusserian form of distraction by centering Truman’s attention on a constructed
THE COMMUNICATIONS ISA
Another powerful structure for disseminating the ideology of the ruling class is the Communications ISA. Althusser believes that the Communications ISA functions “by cramming every ‘citizen’ with daily doses of nationalism, chauvinism, liberalism, moralism, etc. by means of the press, the radio and television” (154). In the show, as in our own world, the media continues to influence how Truman sees the world. For example, as Truman turns on his radio, the announcer says, “Another glorious morning in Seahaven, folks” (Niccol Script 3). At another point, when Truman is anxious about leaving his constructed world, he turns on the television to
Tonight’s golden oldie is the enduring, much loved classic, ‘Show Me The Way To Go Home.’ A hymn of praise to small town life where we learn that you don’t have to leave
home to discover what the world is all about and that no one is poor who has friends. (49)
Later, when Truman enters a travel agency, he sees a poster on the wall of lightning striking an airplane with the caption, “It could happen to you!” (Niccol, “Photo” 13). As Niccol explains,
this is [a]nother one of the psychological tricks used to keep Truman in Seahaven. The local travel agency encouraged Truman to do anything but travel. All of the holiday
destinations look suspiciously like Seahaven itself and posters pointed out the dangers of the world beyond this sheltered community: ‘TRAVELERS BEWARE– Street Gangs, Disease, Wild
Animals.’ (“Photo” 13).
Christof controls which images would be communicated to Truman. As Weir writes:
”Truman’s education was planned carefully by Christof, and he exposed him to the best in art, literature, and music, but ironically, very little television. Truman believed he was living in a very remote part of Florida, where only one local television station was available, and it played mostly
reruns of classic movies and television series such as ‘I Love Lucy.’ News, was, of course, heavily censored and extolled the virtues of small town life compared with a dangerous,
overcrowded, and troubled world.” (xvi)
At one point, Truman is listening to the radio in his car when the announcer’s voice slows down, revealing itself as merely a tape that has worn out (Niccol, Script 38). The Communications
ISA has been shown as the mere distributor of bourgeois ideology that it is in our own world.
TEACHING AGAINST THE IDEOLOGY
At one point in his essay, Althusser writes: “I ask the pardon of those teachers who, in
dreadful conditions, attempt to turn the few weapons they can find in the history and learning they ‘teach’ against the ideology, the system and the practices in which they are trapped. They are a kind of hero. But they are rare and how many (the majority) do not even begin to suspect the ‘work’ the system (which is bigger than they are and crushes them) forces them to do, or worse, put all their heart and ingenuity into performing it with the most advanced awareness.” (157)
In The Truman Show, there are several who try to reveal the confining, “invisible” ideology to Truman. One is Lauren. When Truman expresses interest in this “extra,” she reveals her true
name, Sylvia, and runs away to the beach with him. Here she explains: “Everybody’s pretending, Truman. . . . You think this is real? It’s all for you. A show. The eyes are everywhere. They’re watching you – right now” (Niccol, Script 35). Unfortunately, this is when the State’s Repressive Apparatus of Power is utilized. A man claiming to be Lauren’s father grabs her into a car, explaining that she has episodes of schizophrenia and that the family is moving immediately to Fiji. Lauren cries out: “Don’t listen to him, Truman. I’m telling you the truth!” (36).
Later, Lauren calls into a talk show program with Christof.
Interviewer: Hollywood, California, you’re on ‘Tru Talk’.
Female Caller 2: How can you say he lives a life like any other?
Christof: As the Bard says, ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.’ The only difference between Truman and ourselves is that his life is more
thoroughly documented. He is confronted with the same obstacles and influences that confront us all. He plays his allotted roles as we all do–
Female Caller 2: –He’s not a performer. He’s a prisoner.
Christof: And can you tell me, caller, that you’re not a player on the stage of life – playing out your allotted role? He can leave at any time. If his was more than just a vague ambition, if he were absolutely determined to discover the truth, there’s no way we could prevent him. I
think that what distresses you, caller, is that ultimately Truman prefers the comfort of his ‘cell’ as you call it.
Female Caller 2: –No, you’re wrong! He’ll prove you wrong! He can still do it!
(The Interviewer hangs up on the caller.) (80)
Another person who tries to reveal Truman’s world to him is the man who hid in a Christmas present that a then-7-year-old Truman opened on Christmas morning. Truman’s “Dad” grappled the intruder to the floor and dragged him off-set (Niccol, Script 73). Another incident was the parachute jump from a lighting gantry in the twenty-eighth season by William Griffin, better known as ‘Billie Blackbird.’ Unfortunately for Billie, Truman turned his head at the critical moment and missed seeing the sign Billie was wearing–“TRUMAN–YOU’RE ON TV.” The skydiver was quickly bundled out of sight. Billie later sued, claiming studio security guards tried to strangle him with his own rip cord, but a judge threw out the case stating, ‘If you try to jeopardize a major television show, there are consequences.’ (Niccol, “Photo” 15). There are even groups established to aid in the liberation of Truman such as “Truth in Media” and the “Free Truman Organization.” As Weir writes: “These two groups (later to combine as the TLF, the Truman Liberation Front) got as much press as possible to decry the exploitation of an innocent, etc. But there was no law against it, and Truman seemed very happy. Above all, a great deal of money was being made so nothing was done and the show became part of our lives.“ (xiv) In all of these instances, people try to reveal the invisible and repressive apparatus which keeps Truman from self-actualization, but they remain unsuccessful.
ESCAPING FROM THE CONFINES OF IDEOLOGY?
Truman can only escape from the ideology by himself. Althusser puts forth that: “by means of the absolutely ideological ‘conceptual’ device thus set up (a subject endowed with a consciousness in which he freely forms or freely recognizes ideas which he believes), the (material) attitude of the subject concerned naturally follows. The individual in question behaves in such and such a way, adopts such and such a practical attitude, and, what is more, participates in certain regular practices which are those of the ideological apparatus on which ‘depend’ the ideas which he has in all consciousness freely chosen as a subject. . . . [E]very ‘subject’ endowed with a ‘consciousness’ and believing the ‘ideas’ that his ‘consciousness’ inspires in him and freely accepts, must ‘act according to his ideas’, must therefore inscribe his
own ideas as a free subject in the actions of his material practice.” (167-68) In other words, people act according to the ideology they believe. (Althusser gives as examples that one who believes in God will go to church, pray, confess, repent, and so on; one who believes in Justice will submit unconditionally to the rules of the Law, etc. .)
The Truman Show depicts Truman as a law-abiding, good-hearted citizen who is content, at first, with the world around him. When he comes to discover that it is all merely a construct, his controlling ideology has changed and so (says Althusser) must his corresponding actions. Truman decides to do everything in his power to escape the “reality” which holds him confined.
Tricking the crew, he sneaks away from the house and sails away on a boat on a constructed lake. Yet, even here, the mast of the sailboat contains a hidden camera which records Truman’s every move without his knowledge (Niccol, Script 98). The cameras function like ideology: they are everywhere; it is impossible to break away from them. Truman disregards “an official looking sign” which reads “DANGEROUS WATERS. DO NOT ENTER” (101). In response, Christof creates a storm with heavy wind and rain. Moses cries
out: “For God’s sake, Chris. The whole world is watching. We can’t let him die in front of a live audience.” Christof responds: “He was born in front of a live audience” (101). Moses and Christof have a war of words, almost like a reversal of the seemingly oppositional deities seen in the justice-based Old Testament and the mercy-driven New Testament.
The boat sails into a narrow corridor of smooth water before crashing into a huge wall on which is painted a backdrop of the sky. The script reads: “Clinging to the boat with one
hand, he tentatively reaches out toward the painted cyclorama. He touches the sky” (103). Here, the repressive ideology is revealed as what it is: a mere construction.
His invisibility destroyed, Christof speaks on the loudspeaker almost like the voice of God: “I’m the creator.”
Truman: The creator of what?
Christof: A show–that gives hope and joy and inspiration to millions. . . . You can leave if you want. I won’t try to stop you. But you won’t survive out there. You don’t know what to do, where to go.
Truman: I have a map.
Christof: Truman, I’ve watched you your whole life. I saw you take your first step, your first word, your first kiss. I know you better than you know yourself. You’re not going out that door–
Truman: You never had a camera in my head.
Christof: Truman, there’s no more truth out there than in the world I created for you–the same lies and deceit. But in my world you have nothing to fear.
Truman pauses for a moment, considering his options. After a long pause, he steps through a door in the wall and is gone. Christof, the anthropomorphic representation of bourgeois ideology with all of its self-effacing lies and appropriation of the proletariat, tries to keep Truman in his constructed place. But Truman is able, at last, to escape the confinements of Christof and the invisible ideology he represents.
This escape of Truman’s, interestingly, lines up with Althusser’s motive when he writes: “Now it is this knowledge that we have to reach [a recognition of the ideological formations of ourselves as subject] . . . while speaking in ideology, and from within ideology we have to outline a discourse which tries to break with ideology, in order to dare to be the beginning of a scientific (i.e. subjectless) discourse on ideology.” (173) The Truman Show would have us believe that the film ends as a subjectless discourse. Truman has broken free from his invisible, constructed ideological “reality.” The cameras are now without a True Man to film. But, is the film really just
reproducing the ideology that we are all free subjects?
As we have examined, the film has gone to great lengths to show the absurdity of Truman’s world, making it appear as different from our own: we see such things as the travel agency with the poster of lightning hitting the airplane, the 20-foot high flames which try to keep Truman from leaving town, the school with the tape recording of the children’s voices. In this manner, the spectator disavows his or her own fear that our “reality” is similar to Truman’s (constructed by hidden ideology.) By having Truman break free from his ideological constraints, the film reassures the spectator that now Truman is “free like us” without alerting us that such an escape from our own ideological entrapment would be impossible. In this way, the film itself becomes an Althusserian “exercise of reproduction.” It reproduces the same ideology that entrapped
Truman, and just as invisibly, reassures the subject that “all is well and normal.” If this film really is, as Jim Carrey has said, “insane with metaphors” (qtd. in Svetky 27) then perhaps it is no coincidence that the film ends with with the spectator still trapped inside the constructed set of The Truman Show (a film that invisibly reproduces capitalism’s ideology) from which there is no easy escape.
Althusser, Louis. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. Trans. Ben Brewster. NY: Monthly Review Press, 1971.
Caro, Mark. “The Making of ‘Truman’: New Voyeurism.” The Chicago Tribune. 31 May 1998. America Online. Online. 6 June 1998.
Giles, Jeff, Yahlin Chang and Ray Sawhill. “Ever Feel Like You’re Being Watched?” Newsweek. 1 June, 1998. America Online. Online. 6 June 1998.
Gleiberman, Owen. “Rube Tube.” Entertainment Weekly. No. 435, 5 June 1998.
Marx, Karl. “Letter to Kugelmann, 11 July 1868.” Selected Correspondence. NP: Moscow, 1955.
Niccol, Andrew. “The Photo Album.” The Truman Show: The Shooting Script. NY: Newmarket Press, 1998.
The Truman Show: The Shooting Script. NY: Newmarket Press, 1998.
Porton, Richard. “The Truman Show.” Cineaste. Vol. 23, No. 4.
Svetky, Benjamin. “The Truman Pro.” Entertainment Weekly. No. 435, 5 June 1998.
Weir, Peter. “Introduction.” The Truman Show: The Shooting Script. NY: Newmarket Press, 1998.