The Truman Show showed us what utopia could look like? Or was it dystopia?
The question of whether dystopia is a concept, phenomenon or a process is a debate that has been up for grabs ever since A Clockwork Orange made its appearance in 1971 and has been the same intense, sinister discourse of cultural warnings today, with ‘Anonymous’ being a keeper of democracy. Let’s start with The Truman Show.
What makes The Truman Show so eerie is the fact that the film predicted the future, way before Black Mirror did and the only ground of unfamiliarity is probably Jim Carrey and unlimited amounts of cocoa powder at home.
The Truman Show is a 1998 Peter Weir film where Truman Burbank (Carrey) lives carefree and happy with his wife on Seaheaven Island, blissfully unaware that his family and friends are in fact, actors and that the Island has 5000 cameras watching his every step. His every step made Christof a world-famous producer as he televised Truman Burbank to the world, from the time he was born to the time he discovered that his whole world was actually a set.
Coming back to what makes this film so disdainfully frank and accurate is the question of do we call this a utopia or a dystopia? A future that’s ideal or real? And what I’ve come to make of it is, it’s utopia because it’s so perfect and it is dystopia because it’s so perfect. I couldn’t help but draw parallels to Black Mirror’s episode, Nosedive, and in its stride baulk at the uncanniness and the conspicuous manner at which an unnatural human behaviour took control and exercised itself politely into a trail of futuristic predictions. In Nosedive, a person’s social status is determined by their rating that predicts their interaction, media presence and a foreboding sense of pitch-perfect behaviour in a social arena. This social credit score system has already been implemented in China with their every move being monitored by the government and agencies like MegVii which recently received a capital investment of half a billion dollars. Facial recognition has proven to be one of the major factors resulting in the establishment of a ‘supposedly’ dystopian environment, taking into account our faces, names, age, sex, occupation and even home addresses.
Leila, a 2019 show which disclosed what segregated communities would look like and feel like to its residents, takes place is an India in the 2040’s with Hindutva paving a way into an ideal Hindu country, Aryavarta. Leila drew compelling narratives and showed us what the country may look like with one and only one religion that got its religious standing revoked with dirty politics. When Donald Trump made his historic visit to India in February this year, our Prime Minister erected a brick wall for a 400 metre stretch to block out the India that Trump shouldn’t see during his roadshow; the slums. Leila drew a wall that separated the slums from the cities too, the rich from the poor, the people who had black water in their taps to the ones who swam with their families in pools. Leila predicted it and we saw Modi breathing life into what was most dreaded. Cinema does what it does best, story-tell an issue into a roll of futurism. This concept popularized itself by entering popular culture ever since George Orwell’s 1984 and has been since been on every filmmaker’s mind. While it’s a cultural warning to what could possibly happen in the future, it’s also a metre to measure the progressions of humans in science and technology.
Advertisements. Or a more-sugary term, product placement is another inescapable shindig that is inevitably going to be twirling on the media and Fifteen Million Merits from Black Mirror analyses what’s left of ethical advertising. On YouTube, a single ten-minute video calls in 4 adverts with no skip button. The milder version is the dystopian version of paying to skips adverts and while the goal is to get the golden coins out of a customer’s online wallet, algorithms study digital footprints only to present adverts that could potentially cater to the viewer and this is what you’d typically call, a filter bubble. It’s a bubble you’re trapped in which can inadvertently leads to the bigger more pressing issues of net neutrality. Social media is the judge, jury and the convict.
Product Placement has always found its way into content and has always wooed its generators into placing the product evidently yet subtly, sitting with a trophy money sum on its head. The Truman Show removed all signs of understatement and restraint and introduced a scene where Truman Burbank’s wife, Meryl consoles him by saying “Why don’t I make you some of this new Mococoa Drink? All natural. Cocoa beans from the upper slopes of Mount Nicaragua. No artificial sweeteners—”
And well, it keeps transitioning from one product to another with its advertisers staring bang into the camera.
Constant lampooning is what dystopian, futuristic movies with potential destruction is all about. Where could your personal data go and what it could stir up, is dystopia. There are so many sides to this rusted coin and it’s here to collect your data and analyse it to glory and BAM! That already happened. Cambridge Analytica made it possible, Zuckerberg got grilled for skulduggery on a public platform by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who is now a congresswoman for New York 14th Congressional district.
We’re slipping into what you’d call an Orwellian Dystopia which defines itself as “an attitude and a brutal policy of draconian control by propaganda, surveillance, disinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of the past, including the “unperson”—a person whose past existence is expunged from the public record and memory, practiced by modern repressive governments.”
What do we expect next?