Magazine article The Spectator

Faking It

Magazine article The Spectator

Faking It

Article excerpt

'Cue the sun,' instructs Ed Harris and, presto, dawn breaks in the small town of Seahaven. There's no real sunlight in Seahaven, because the white houses and pristine sidewalks, the stores and office buildings, the bridges and the harbour, all are under a giant biodome: if you sail too far out to sea, you bump into the wall, beyond which Harris is directing operations.

Almost everyone in Seahaven knows this, because almost everyone in Seahaven is an actor, acting the part of the bank manager, the mailman, the next-door neighbour. The only citizen of Seahaven who thinks it's for real is a genial fellow called Truman, who goes off to work each morning in his wide checkered suit, returns every evening, has sex with his lovely wife Meryl and goes to sleep, unaware that ever since he emerged from the womb every moment of his life has been televised to millions of viewers around the world. And why would he suspect? Aside from Meryl's occasionally clunky attempts at product placement in their kitchen, his life is as normal as anybody else's.

Directed by Peter Weir, The Truman Show is the merest stretch of current headlines. Recently, a mother gave birth live on the Internet. And by now you've surely read dozens of press items about that woman with a website who has a camera continuously whirring in her bedroom through which you may observe her waking up, yawning, stretching, rising, scratching her armpit, taking off her pyjamas, rummaging around on the floor for her brassiere, etc. This is, we're told, a huge hit - but only on the Internet, among whose audience those who lead sad lives of total social isolation are disproportionately represented. It's also low budget: one camera, one actor.

It's hard to see why anyone would transfer the format to television. In the TVshow-within-the-film, Ed Harris's production of Truman's life deploys 5,000 mini-cameras, hundreds of tiny earpieces and several expensive meteorological effects to bring us a story that disdains all the criteria of drama. Truman leads an utterly boring life. Indeed, the only drama lies in the desperate efforts to quash anything dramatic from happening: when Truman gets a yen to see the world beyond Seahaven, the posters at the travel agent are suddenly all about the health risks of foreign parts until, to the producers' relief, he decides to stay put. Meanwhile, across the planet, from the bars of New York to the living-rooms of Tokyo, the world is shown lapping up this everyday story of non-interesting folk. But why? On America's daytime soap operas, in the space of a year the average character comes out of a coma, turns lesbian, goes back into a coma, turns straight, discovers she's carrying her nephew's child, etc. …

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