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This is a copy of a letter on The Truman Show that appeared in Salon Magazine in 1998.

To the Editor:

The Truman Show offers a grand metaphor for contemporary American culture. Its message is that we are immersed in a media landscape of lifelike fantasies that serves the interests of those in power. If we want to be free and have a chance at an authentic life, it tells us, we will have to distance ourselves from the safety and comforts of our media-saturated culture, and be willing to live in the world as it is.

What many critics don't fully appreciate is that The Truman Show is only the latest in a series of books, movies and television productions that have conveyed this message. Most of these works have the same plot, with variations in character and settings and slight alterations in their basic elements.

Typically, the characters in these stories -- and often the societies they live in -- are trapped in prisons disguised as ideal places. An entire society may be in an enclosed, high-tech, city of self-indulgence that is really a death camp, as in the movie Logan's Run. Or it may be stuck in a shared, drug-induced, hallucination of a world of futuristic conveniences that covers up the fact that the actual surroundings are in a state of collapse, as in the book The Futurological Congress.

As the main characters realize that things aren't what they appear to be, they try to make an escape, only to be blocked by malevolent simulators and high-tech manipulators who are intent on keeping them inside. In the end, they often break free and they free the societies that are trapped, as well.

When you examine these works, it is obvious that humanity is using these stories to warn itself of the danger that we will lose ourselves in environments of media simulation and high technology. All the realms of lifelike fantasy the characters find themselves in, whether they are themed stage sets, as in The Truman Show, or virtual realities, or hallucinations, are depictions of our media culture in which television, computers, theme parks, et al, are surrounding us with simulations that masquerade as something authentic.

The message of these works is unmistakable -- media and advanced technology could cause us to regress into a new infantilism in which machines and human manipulators feed us fantasies and lifestyles of endless gratification. These works call on us to resist these temptations and, like most of their heroes, to make a journey of mind in which we are free from manipulation and illusions.

Having studied these works for 20 years (and readers will find my take on all this at www.transparencynow.com/truman.htm ), it is gratifying that The Truman Show is finally getting the message across. What is really happening is that our media manipulators -- the giant entertainment companies, the corporations, news organizations and politicians -- have become so powerful and pervasive, and so willing to violate ethical standards, that these issues can no longer be kept under wraps.

The question is, why do we have to become so similar to the caricatures of fiction before we are willing to start discussing what is really going on?

Ken Sanes
Metro Boston


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