Tuesday 3 January 2012

Lesson Plan based on “The Truman Show”

This film is the (fictitious) story of a thirty-year-old man whose entire life has been broadcast to a global audience as a TV show. As Truman catches on to the made-for-television nature of his entire world, the film addresses issues surrounding the production of “reality TV” and advertising, responsibility and ethics, and the construction and perception of reality itself.


Getting students to think critically about:
·         effects of society on the individual.
·         our concept of reality.
·         what forces shape our mentality and how.
·         life transcendentalism.
·         responsibility for our own lives and others’.
·         determination and freedom.

Instructional Procedure(s):

1.      Warm-up activity (before viewing film)
Ask students to write a short essay or poem about their reality or what is real to them.

2.     Unpack the symbolism of various Truman Show characters.
Analyze characters (names, placement) and other symbolic devices used by the filmmakers.

Below there are some possible interpretations for symbolism in the film, but there are more possibilities that can also be valid as long as the students can provide a logical explanation for them.

Adam and Jesus: Truman as "True Man" in Paradise. Entire story can be seen as a parallel to the Garden of Eden story. He can also stand for Jesus, who knows of a higher world and is crucified on the boat, but in this case redeeming himself.
Alternate Reality: the "door" which leads to another reality toward end of movie.
Baptism or death to the old life and re-birth to a new one: since he must go through the water to reach "real" life. Note that the water is always there, calling to him in the film, but his fear holds him back. In his final surrender to the water, he finds life.
Courage: Truman confronts his fear of water (chaos/death) to escape his scripted "paradise."
Crucifixion: Truman on boat, knocked out in shape of cross.
Decision: Truman's departure symbolizes his decision to leave his "perfect" but controlled world for the real world.
Difficulty Recognizing Evil: At the conclusion of the movie, Christof (Truman Show creator) tries to convince Truman Burbank to stay in the imaginary world Christof has created. The setting (a voice from the sky) and the words being said sound a lot like God at first. Upon further reflection, however, it's clear that the show's creator is trying to coax Truman to remain in slavery and is only interested in himself, not in Truman.
Evil/Social manipulation: Christof exerting God-like control. (Christ off – absence of Christ)  
Exodus/Moses: Truman crossing the sea to freedom.
Fear: Truman standing at edge of water afraid to cross because of implanted memory of father's death. Also fog represents our fear of the unknown.
Garden of Eden/Paradise:Truman leaves the illusory "paradise" at end of movie.
Illusion/Reality: Truman only thinks he lives in Seahaven, the "real world"
Indecision, uncertainty and lack of self-confidence is symbolized by the unfinished bridge.
Journey: journey to Reality symbolized as a staircase.
Love: love he feels isn't in the script, compels Truman to leave his "paradise"
Resurrection – Overcoming inner fears to get to know the truth: The friend went to the basement to find Truman (The empty tomb). He was not there! He was on a boat on the water. Notice the drowning scene when he is lying on the boat with arms spread out and left for dead. However, he survives the storm. Notice his gasp for air, his new life, resurrection? When he reaches the end of the set and notices the sky is only a painted canvas, Truman ascends the stairs. He then goes forth into the unknown darkness of the world to live in the world!
Walking on ledge of reality: Truman walking on water.  

1.      Themes for discussion:

The production of reality TV shows as a route to opening up the larger question of what makes something “real.

The Truman Show raises the question of identifying reality (or realities) as a space in which people take action, make decisions, and more complicatedly, make believe.

There’s a wonderful moment when the production team, who have just engineered a tearful reunion between Truman and his father, are moved by the artificial scene they just created! Truman is simply a living work of art: manipulated, used, commercialized, spied on by 5,000 cameras even when he’s asleep.

·         What does the term “reality” signify to viewers? To makers? (in Truman’s world) To Truman Burbank?

Towards the end of the movie, Truman will ask Christof about his life in that world: “Was nothing real?” and Christof will reply: “You were.”

So when Christof says Truman is “real” all he means is that Truman isn’t scripted…but all of his real, unscripted responses are all to phony situations. His reality is very relative, very limited. He’s a real person, but in a totally plastic world.

·         Are we truly real?
·         What is real in our world?

Christof says to Lauren: “The world, the place you live in, is a sick place. Seahaven is the way the world should be.” But in fact the world is already more like Seahaven than we might like to believe. Seahaven represents the tendencies of our world taken to an extreme. As so often, when we laugh, it’s because we recognize the truth: we’re laughing at ourselves.

How is Seahaven like our world? Because for us too it’s difficult to distinguish between the real and the phony. Are we real? Can we trust our mentality?

Truman thinks he is free, thinking for himself, making his own decisions. But, at least up until the start of the movie, he is wrong. Everything-his fear of water, his friendships, his choice of a job, his marriage-have all been calculated and manipulated by someone else. We too like to think we are free and can make our own decisions. But where did that come from? Generally speaking, media, professors, friends, books: they imposed on us our so-called freedom (without explaining why they thought that was true), they told us we could think for ourselves (with an authority that, strangely, we didn’t stop to question).

Do we see reality as it is or as we are? What and who conform our mentality?

Advertising and Product Placement.

·         Why might product placement be effective for selling, enticing, and creating a product image (seeing fictional people use real products)?
·         Is this incorporation of image and fiction into lived experience also connected to how we perceive TV, perceive reality, perceive ourselves?
·         Can we identify some of the appeals and strategies used by advertisers in general (stereotypes, nostalgia, glamour)?
·         How is product placement used in professional sports? (For example Michael Jordan and Nike, Venus Williams and Reebok)

Responsibility and Ethics

The Truman Show gives a complex look at who participates in media decision-making. The audience who fuels popularity, the advertisers who provide financial support, and the producers who orchestrate the lives being watched are all implicated as are the actors (or in Truman’s case, the unwitting star) themselves.

·         What is wrong with Seahaven?
·         Who holds power over “The Truman Show”? How did they get that power? Who is responsible for the actions being filmed?
·         What is wrong with our world?
·         In the end, who exercises the power to change or construct a different reality?
NB: These “who” questions can and should have multiple right answers stressing that culpability is spread widely and exists on multiple levels not just in The Truman Show but in everyday reality.)

We know something is wrong with our world which is more than any particular symptom. In Seahaven, not only do Christof and the program producers are to blame for what is happening to Truman but also the viewers of the Truman Show. In the same way, not only the media and the powers who manipulate the world are to blame for what is wrong, we are also responsible for the world and for our own fate.

We can sense the whole is bigger than the sum of the parts. There is a systemic problem, our attitude of wanting to be independent of God. That’s what ultimately causes our sense of unreality. Truman figures things out in his basement. His secrets are kept in the basement: family photos, toys, map of world, compass, Lauren’s jacket. In pop psychology, down often represents the subconscious. It may be significant that the basement is the only messy place we ever see in Seahaven. It’s in the basement that he tries to reconstruct a photograph of Lauren with pieces torn from fashion magazines. In a sense this photograph is symbolic of what’s happening in his relationship with Seahaven. Little by little the pieces of his old world are falling apart; little by little, he’s putting together the pieces of a new world. Truman is facing a classic paradigm shift: he’s about to exchange one picture of reality which no longer works, for a bigger one which makes better sense of the data.

Maybe in a sense we all have basements, a place where we collect the clues and try to piece them together. God is trying to get through to us. In a world of appearance and unreality, or deception, manipulation and distrust, God is saying, there is more. Christof admits: “If [Truman] was absolutely determined to discover the truth, there’s no way we could prevent him… He could leave at any time.”

The environment: the media, the education system, etc… create a world for us, but it is up to us to set ourselves free. We have that power. Knowing what is real is a decision we have to make. We may decide to know the truth or lead a comfortable life in a bubble.

Is it worth it? Was it worth the risk for Truman? The answer for many people is “yes” because it means learning to be a real human person.

The button Lauren is wearing in that scene in the library asks, “How’s it Going to End?” At that point, it’s the crucial question for Truman. But it’s also the question for us: How’s it going to end?  To stay trapped with only the reality that society allows us to experience or to break out into a bigger reality?

2.     Essay, journaling or deeper class discussion questions:

·         What do we mean when we say “reality”? Emphasize/consider that people have both lived experiences and mediated or media experiences which contribute to our sense of reality or the real.
·         Responsibility or control is also at issue in considering reality. Is something more or less real if it is controlled? Who gets to control? How are our lives controlled?  
·         Who takes responsibility for (constructing) reality? Who in the film does? How is Christof’s way of doing this different than Truman’s? Who else is involved (viewers, actors, technicians)? What parallelisms can be found between the way the media control Truman’s life and the forces that control our lives?


Essay on THE TRUMAN SHOW to  better understand the movie.

The Truman Show is a powerful movie about the effects of society on an individual. This film stars Jim Carey and is set in modern times. The premise of the movie is a massive sociological and psychological experiment involving a man named Truman Burbank. His character is born and raised on an enormous set in which the story takes place. His every action since birth has been recorded. Everything that Truman does has been conditioned to him throughout his life. This is much like societies today, only Truman's was strictly controlled. All of his culture and norms where taught to him based on the ideal society. His social location is even decided for him. He is a white male insurance salesman. The interesting twist is that his life is broadcast on television to countries all over the world.

This movie has numerous sociological concepts that are played out throughout the movie. The Truman Show explores how we tend to accept the reality in which we are in, how we are all products of our own society, and other sociological perspectives.
“We accept the reality with which we are presented.”
Christof, creator of ‘The Truman Show’
This movie shows just how much a society can affect the behaviors of those individuals inside of it. Throughout the movie Truman is being conditioned to be afraid of certain things. For instance, the way in which his dad supposedly was in a gigantic storm in which he drowned. Since the set in on an island this is setup so that Truman will never be able to leave the island, because of his inherent fear of water. Also, when Truman enters the travel agency the walls are filled with posters of airplanes crashes and other warnings about the dangers of travel. Once again Christof is using a form of deterrence, which simply means he is trying to create fear to control Truman's thoughts of ever leaving the set.

Christof also uses conformity as a way to try and direct Truman's life in the path that he desires for the show. Conformity simply put is that people tend to follow the actions of a group. This is very evident in the scene on the bus when Truman is trying to escape the island. After the bus breaks down in an unusual way, everyone on the bus just gets up and leaves as if nothing is wrong. Christof, the controller of Truman's world thinks that Truman will consider the situation normal because people tend to conform to what everyone else does. Truman though is smarter than that and realizes something is amiss. He realizes that something or someone is watching him and trying to control him.

This is where the Control Theory can be related to The Truman Show. The theory states that inner and outer controls work to keep deviant behaviors in check. Christof used inner controls such as his ideas of right and wrong and his fears to mold Truman into the person he is in the movie. Mostly though outer controls where used. His family and friends were there to try and influence his behaviors, thoughts and even actions.
Soon though Truman rejects these controls and deviates from the society presented to him. He starts to feel a sense of anomie, which is a term coined by Emile Durkheim meaning a feeling of detachment or normlessness from one's society. He begins to feel less socially integrated or one with his society. Truman could no longer find comfort in his friends, family or co-workers. He begins to rebel against the very society that was built for him. Instead of conforming with the ways or everyday life for a middle classed businessman, he begins to act unpredictable and irrational. Even though in a normal society this would be considered deviant, in Truman's world the actors were taught to not pay too much attention to Truman so he doesn't suspect anything. He was conditioned that this sort of behavior was deviant and that people tend to react in some fashion to control or stop the deviance. When Truman realizes that his abnormal behavior is not even being acknowledged he knows that something is very wrong. This was a problem for the director and that is how Truman eventually figures out that he is in a sense a guinea pig.
The movie deals with the issue of realism on TV and the computer as well. The Truman Show showed the intimate side of human beings. The movie can be looked at from a functionalist perspective as well. The Truman Show itself served a function in its society. Television can and does play a powerful part on influencing the behaviors of individuals. The Truman Show was a tool used to show people how to act.
The ending of the movie was very interesting. Truman decides to actually disregard his society, including his norms, customs, language and beliefs to go into an unknown world. Of course, in the movie this is regarded as some great triumph, but in real life it is difficult to completely refuse the reality that we are presented with for our entire life.

A Detailed Plot Summary of The Truman Show
By Laurel Clark

Truman Burbank is a mega-star, the main character in the longest running television show ever produced. “The Truman Show” is a nonstop live broadcast that generates revenues through product placement advertising, the semi-seamless appearance of products within the show itself. In fact, the show has become its own product, marketing Truman Bars, video collections of greatest hits, pillows, and, as the movie viewers later learn, everything on the show. It is all for sale in catalogues worldwide and yet Truman Burbank has not made a dime. Even more provocatively, he has no idea he is being filmed. His emotions are real, but his world is not.

Truman Burbank is NICE. He is kind and generous to a fault—and the creators of his life/show feel sure that this is because his world on Seahaven Island is how the world should be. This is a dark judgment on America offered from within the film and an even darker one on the excesses of “reality TV” from the perspective of one watching the film.

The social commentary does not stop there, however; by the end of this movie, many questions are raised about the ethics and consequences of reality programming—both for its stars and for its audiences.

Over 5,000 hidden cameras have been placed throughout Truman's daily routine in the town of Seahaven, a charming seaside town on an island that is actually enclosed within a giant dome. All day and all night he is filmed and broadcasted live on a channel dedicated to his life, a fact that for the most part results in the film audience feeling as though they are watching “The Truman Show” itself, rather than a film about a TV show.

When scenes of “Truman Show” viewers appear the film audience feels both empathy and disgust for the adoring fans/voyeurs who watch enthralled from bars, bathtubs and living rooms. Everyone from parking garage attendants to single moms is fascinated by Truman's life. Many of them have watched Truman since before he was born, and some even while he sleeps. Christof, the show's omnipotent creator, believes that it comforts them.

The film opens on television broadcast day 10,909. Our affable hero Truman is almost thirty years old and starting to feel like life is little stale. He tells his best friend Marlon that he wants out, wants a change from his job, a trip off the island. Marlon immediately tells him that he should be thankful for the great life he has. Meanwhile, Marlon also plugs "his favorite" beer repeatedly. All his headshots are from the side, so that the beer logo is always clearly visible to the TV (and film) audience even as he and Truman hit golf balls off of a bridge to nowhere.

Truman is friendly to his neighbors (who stand out as nearly the only African Americans in the entire film): each morning he greets them, "Good Morning! And in case I don't see you, good afternoon, good evening and goodnight." He is kind to (though secretly irritated with) his wife and mother. At work as an insurance salesman he appears dedicated and trustworthy, although behind his desk he is "secretly" trying to create a picture of his lost love, Lauren, from models in magazine ads. While the Truman he presents to others is content, the audience (both on-screen and off!) sees him when he believes that he is alone. The inside view (into his psyche?) is part of the show's draw, and it becomes clear that he is unhappy and becoming more and more suspicious of those around him.

In a flashback sequence, we learn that Lauren tried to tell him that he was being filmed, but was quickly rounded up and removed before Truman grasped the full meaning of her explanation. Her "father" appeared and explained that she was schizophrenic and that their family was moving to Fiji. This incident explains Truman's "mid-life crisis" desire to travel there. The other woman in Truman’s life, his wife Meryl, is a peculiar vehicle for product placement and seems to be a combination of fifties domesticity and girl next door although the film is clearly set in the present. In fact, everything associated with Meryl is like this. The college flashback is not set in the 1980s or 1990s, when we might assume the Burbanks were in college together. Instead, it appears that Truman and Meryl are dancing at an early 1960s sock hop. Meryl’s nursing uniform is a throwback to earlier nurses with cute caps and pretty collars and her clothing at home is typically June Cleaver-esque unless she is wearing lingerie. Truman's "memories" as presented in such flashbacks are, of course, as manufactured as his present. And yet the private Truman keeps a box of mementos—pictures of his Dad, Lauren's sweater, and a map of Fiji—which seem to keep him grounded in an unexpected way.

As he continuously ruminates about Lauren and her message, several slips in production occur that add to Truman's growing paranoia. A set lighting device falls from the sky dramatically landing feet away almost hitting Truman on the head. This is immediately followed by a radio news broadcast warning that a plane has been dropping its parts on Seahaven Island—suspicious because Truman recognized the object as a light of some kind. Then Truman’s dead “father” reappears as a homeless vagrant (an odd sight in Seahaven) and is violently captured and removed just as Truman recognizes him. “Dad” supposedly fell overboard during a storm and drowned when Truman was young.

His father's death created Truman's insurmountable fear of water, which also serves as a convenient way to keep Truman from ever trying to leave Seahaven. Truman also feels guilty for cajoling his Dad to stay out at sea despite the impending storm. As he sits on the beach remembering his Dad, a rainstorm starts and mysteriously only rains where Truman is standing. It follows him from spot to spot before finally breaking open and raining all over the Island. The next day the radio station in Truman's car becomes scrambled and he hears the TV producers’ radio communications about his own movements. He begins to realize that he is being followed and that the town is centered on him, a theory he tests by stopping traffic. Next he enters a building that is not part of his usual routine, and behind the elevator doors he gets a very provocative peek backstage. He starts to misbehave in small ways, testing the town to see if they react appropriately to a crazy man, which they do not. Truman talks with Marlon about the strange things happening to him. Marlon alludes to God, while mentioning how wonderful their hometown is. Then Truman tells Marlon that he is going away for a while. That conversation is nearly immediately followed by a session of reminiscing with Mom and Meryl about how great his/their life in Seahaven has been. An increasingly suspicious Truman notices a fake-looking Mount Rushmore as well as Meryl crossing her fingers in their wedding picture. Even his favorite old movie, "Show Me the Way to Go Home," suspiciously appears on TV with its sugary messages about home and friends. The next day he follows Meryl to work to see if she is really a nurse; at the hospital he is blocked at every turn from viewing the operating room.

Convinced that something is seriously wrong, Truman Burbank begins to investigate his conspiracy theory further and he becomes increasingly angry and sarcastic, especially with his wife and his best friend. He begins to notice the shameless and weird product placements that Meryl manages to fit into their conversations. Unable to escape by boat because of his fear of water, he visits the travel agency. Truman manages to ignore the posters warning of the dangers of terrorists, diseases, wild animals, street gangs, and plane crashes, but the travel agent informs him she cannot book him a flight until the next month.

Determined to get out of town that day, Truman next gets on a bus for Chicago but once he is aboard the driver breaks the transmission on purpose. As passengers parade off we see a soldier and 2 nuns among the slice of America on the bus. Sitting in his car in the driveway of his house, Truman notices that the people who pass his house are on a continuous loop that never changes. Finally he tries to drive his car away, threatening to take Meryl with him to Atlantic City or New Orleans. His path blocked by instant traffic jams at every turn, he gets a little crazed. He eludes these traps and gets on the road, only to stop at a bridge (over water). He shuts his eyes, puts his foot on the gas and makes Meryl drive them across, bravely conquering his fears. Next they run into fake forest fires and even a staged leak at Seahaven Nuclear Power station. At the road block a cop Truman has never met knows his name, the last bit of evidence he needs to be utterly convinced that something is very wrong. He makes a run for it, but is "rescued" by men in white suits.

Back at home, Truman starts to get really angry (and somewhat violent) with terrified Meryl, who breaks character and yells: "Do Something!!" Marlon shows up and Meryl cries, "Oh Thank God! How can anyone expect me to carry on under these conditions? Its unprofessional!"

“The Truman Show” is beginning to fall apart. In an attempt to undo the damage, Christof writes the dead father back into the script, which is beginning to feel like a soap opera. In an oh-so touching scene, Marlon brings back Truman's Dad as Christof feeds him every line through an earpiece. The carefully produced reunion with his “father” is high drama with the perfect TV shot of Truman crying. The film then cuts to Japanese fans and misty-eyed little old ladies watching intently. The celebration in the production room is interrupted by the film’s cut to Lauren, Truman's lost love, who calls in to harass Christof during a congratulatory TV interview.

This interview with Christof two-thirds of the way through the movie provides the film audience with the last few pieces of the puzzle. We learn that Truman was the very first baby ever adopted by a corporation, a twist of fate due only to the fact the he was the first one born of the possible six unwanted babies lined up for his "part". The enigmatic creator of the Truman Show, Christof, believes that his creation is not false in any way, but is simply a "controlled reality" which he gazes upon from the "moon" in the dome. We also learn that several attempts have been made to blow the show's cover by infiltrators (this includes Lauren and the “How will it end?” button that she wore).

Truman begins "performing" when he suspects that he is looking into a camera, pulling a not atypical funny spoof in the bathroom mirror but this time ending it with: "That one's for free." Though acting as if all is back to normal, Truman is plotting.

Finally, Truman fools the production crew by setting up an elaborate scene, in which he appears to fall asleep out of camera view. He disappears and, in desperation to locate him, Christoph cues the sunrise hours before it is due. When the production team discovers him, Truman is sailing away. Ironically, they can't use the ferry to go after him because there is not actually anyone who knows how to drive it, only actors. Christof orders a slowly more violent storm at sea, a suspenseful sequence that makes for great TV and nearly kills Truman. But Christof realizes that he cannot murder Truman on live television. Truman triumphantly reaches the wall of the dome and—in a dramatic standoff with Christof about reality and living—walks out of his "life" saying: "And in case I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight!" In the end, Truman was performing not just for TV audiences but for his neighbors and friends, too (a revelation about social expectations and living with which performance theorists would heartily agree).

Truman disappears from “The Truman Show” on broadcast day 10913—five television days or an hour and forty-two minutes of viewing time from The Truman Show’s (the film’s) start.

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