A popular movie a few years ago, The Truman Show, featured Jim Carrey as a man whose entire life had been a television show, filmed constantly under a huge bubble that was his whole world. His gradual discovery of this situation is personally devastating, and Truman knows he can never be the same again. In a sense he is an exaggerated but apt metaphor for this entire book. Our lives, and all that we know, are far more heavily influenced by the media than most of us realize, even if our whole lives are not completely reducible to a TV show. Although you will not, like Truman, find out through reading this book that you have no identity except as an entertainment figure, you may discover that an amazing amount of what you know and how you behave is a direct product of your interaction with television, radio, print, and computer-mediated communications. In any event, you will probably never look at media the same way again! At least that is my hope.
Some real people are as much media creations as Carrey's Truman. Mourners around the world cried over the death of Britain's young Princess Diana in the late summer of 1997 and over NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt's fiery crash death in 2001. These were not fake tears; the loss was real. These deaths were a true personal loss for millions of people who had never met Diana or Dale but knew them only as friends through the media. A few years earlier, people had been stunned at the arrest and trial of football great and actor O. J. Simpson for the murder of his ex-wife. Many people truly felt shock and disbelief—how could he have done what he was charged with doing? Simpson's lawyers argued that the saturation tabloid-like coverage of his trial had painted a false media picture of him that had no relation to reality. Even though Simpson was acquitted, many refused to accept that he had NOT committed the crime. The irony, however, was that the picture created by the prosecution was no less a media creation than the original, positive image of the football hero (also entirely a media image). Where was the real O. J. Simpson? Was there even a real O. J. Simpson? Does anybody know? The media picture became the reality.
Sometimes the media and reality become intertwined in odd ways. The Westport Dry Cleaners in Manhattan, Kansas was suddenly inundated