One of the great oxymorons of modern Western ‘culture’ is “reality show”. The heavily scripted and more heavily edited nature of shows like “The Real World” or “Survivor” makes them about as real as krab legs and chik’n nuggets. The genre goes back to the 1940s with the likes of “Candid Camera,” but the writers’ strike of 2007-2008 changed the face of television forever with a heavy infusion of shows where stars danced, survivors survived, and for some strange, sad, and unknown reason people kept up with the Kardashians.
A decade before television jumped on the reality train, Hollywood produced a most unlikely movie featuring Jim Carrey and Ed Harris where the idea of a reality show is taken to its logical and ultimate conclusion – much as when Network took the television news industry to a place where people threw open their windows and screamed that they were “mad as hell” and they “weren’t going to take it anymore.”
The Truman Show was about a television series that followed the life of Truman Burbank, an affable insurance salesman from Seahaven. The show is unique not only because it begins with images of Truman prior to his birth, but, more importantly, because everyone in the world is in on the set-up except Truman Burbank.
The creator of this one-of-a-kind reality event is a man named Christof whose brilliant idea has become the planet’s most popular show, one that has run for almost 11,000 days, and one that many people never, ever turn off. Everyone in Seahaven – his wife, his best friend, his mother, his boss, everyone – is an actor playing a role. There are no commercials during “The Truman Show” and so product placements become more ubiquitous than Reese’s Pieces in ET or advertising on South American soccer jerseys.
The distinction between reality and fantasy is an essential part of life. It is endearing that the very young, and tragic that the very old, cannot make that distinction, but for the rest of us the ability to know what is real and what is fantasy enables us at least to survive and hopefully to thrive. One can imagine the sheer terror felt by Truman as events unfold that lend to the growing realization that what he had always believed to be the real world was merely a façade, like an Old West street on the back lot at MGM.
As Truman closes the film with his trademark “If I don’t see you…good afternoon, good evening, and good night” and the lights go up in 223 Loyola Hall, my seniors, on their last day of class, look to me for some sort of explanation as to why we ended their semester, their year, and their Ignatius Theology careers with this enigmatic cinematic gem.
I had already clued them in to some of the symbolism. The Ed Harris character tries to play God in Truman’s life but it is a role for which he, as a mere mortal, is unsuited, and thus he plays a sort of anti-God, and lives up to his name Christof – Christ but “off”. Jim Carrey plays the only real person in the unreal world of a television show, Truman the “True Man”.
But now that the film has ended, the guys in the room sense that there must be something more to this story, and there is.
I remind them that they are all about to go off to Seahaven, for that is what every college and university campus in this land proudly proposes itself to be. One look at their brochures and websites lets prospective students know that the next four (five? six?) years will be spent in a world so disconnected from reality that it would make Walt Disney blush.
Given that Seahaven is their destination, they each have a very important choice to make. Do they live the shallow existence of the posh doofus who goes along with the crowd, so enthralled with all of the Jersey Shore-ness of campus life that he willfully never allows himself to doubt that Seahaven is reality? Or do they dare to follow Truman through the door on the back wall of the set, and notice that on the other side there is a lot of authentic living going on?
So, to the Class of 2018: Do not settle for Seahaven’s debauched theme park lifestyle.
Stay close to Christ – in the Eucharist, in the confessional, and in the least of your sisters and brothers. Waste time – read more than what’s assigned (I suggest The Bacchae and Brave New World), discuss late into the night, be open to what offends you in what others say, be willing to charitably speak the Truth to those who will be offended. And love – remembering that love never, ever uses another person, but always, always does what is truly best for a beloved child of God, because love always cares for its rose.
Be authentic; be True Men. And if I don’t see you…good afternoon, good evening, and good night. Peace.