Sunday, March 16, 2008

The role of Christoff in The Truman Show

Christoff is an allegory of programme makers to a large extent. Truman here is parallel to the audience in real life.

In The Truman Show, Christoff is omnipotent. Behind the scene, he shapes and manipulates Truman’s life since birth. Christoff has absolute control over everything in Truman’s life, from the existence of the friends and relatives around him, the weather in Seahaven, to even the death of his father. Everything in the artificial dome was carefully planned, controlled and developed by Christoff to make it seem like reality to Truman.

At the start of the show, Truman recounts a scene in which he was boating with his father. They encountered ferocious wind when they were out at sea, and as a result, Truman's father lost his balance and fell into the sea, and never seen again. Witnessing the death of his father at such a young age caused Truman much trauma and he turned hydrophobic from that incident onwards. As a result, Truman did not step out of Seahaven again.

As mentioned earlier, all these are just events meticulously planned and prepared by Christoff. The sea was just a prop and the strong winds and turbulent waters were all created by Christoff. This was to induce a sense of fear towards large water bodies into Truman to prevent him from leaving Seahaven. Truman remaining in Seahaven is of utmost importance to Christoff as he had to contain Truman in the artificial world he created to ensure the continual of his reality show.

Programme makers work in a similar way. As the name of their role suggests, they have an extensive control over the media. Contents of the programmes are carefully crafted in the way which would maximise their programme’s ratings and corporation’s economic benefits. Appealing to the viewer’s demand, the programmes create an emotional experience that looks like reality, which is similar to that of Christoff creating a ‘reality’ in Truman’s world. However, in both cases, it is clear that this ‘reality’ is not real after all, since it is made up by a person or a group of programme makers, who has the selective power over the reality. Hence, the reality that we often perceive in programmes is not the complete reality of the world. For example, in the reality show The Big Brother, scenes displaying the good side of the protagonist are often cut, as it is not what the viewers would want to perceive of the ‘bad character’. Scene cutting and plot cutting are often done not to best represent reality, but to best represent the programme’s commercial interest.

In the film, Truman represents the consumers or the 'ordinary' people, while Christoff represents the companies all over the globe and the artificial world in which Truman lives in as the media. Through a crossover reference, this specific part of the film is trying to inform its audience that they, as the ordinary people in the society, are being manipulated by the companies and corporations. The corporations, fueled by their desire to maximize profits, would do whatever they can to influence the public, to sway their thoughts towards their cause. To achieve this, they would use the media as a medium to convey their messages, similar to how Christoff uses his artificial world to manipulate Truman. Truman has no idea that he is being manipulated for a long time and hence Christoff could do anything he can so that Truman would bend to his will. Similarly, the ordinary people are being twisted around the fingers of the corporations without them having any faintest idea of it. Hence, the film is trying to tell the audience to break out of the grip of the corporations and companies.

However, there is also a stark difference between Christoff and programme makers in real life. In The Truman Show, Christoff is omnipotent. He dictates over Truman’s life. Initially, Truman is not even aware that he is under the manipulation of Christoff until he reaches the end of the dome-shaped studio, let alone having any say in Christoff’s decisions over The Truman Show. Programme makers, however, do not have as great control over the audience as compared to Christoff. Audience do have a certain degree of media literacy, demand and expectations of the media and their programmes. Their desire for reality shows for example, is the driving force behind programme makers to craft their programmes in the way which best suit the audience demand. While programme makers strive to satisfy the audience demand in order to boost their profits, their programmes also influence the audience demand.

The Truman Show is a mirror image of how TV influences the audience in the world. The action of the audience crowding around the TV gawking at the private life of Truman is an example of how TV has influenced the minds of many. TV has flared up the curiosity of people to peek into the lives of others. Christoff is merely someone who can grasp the curiosity and emotional needs of the audience to produce a programme which reflects human beings in real life. When the audience stare at every action made by Truman, they are actually gawping at themselves.

Ironically, TV has always been a platform for audience to escape the reality of the world. People watch TV to relive their daily stress and get away from the world they live in. Yet, reality shows and drama still dictate the TV world. Audience do not bat an eyelid watching the real world from the screen of a tiny box. What do TV have such a huge influence on the audience? The answer lies in the vanity of human beings. TV is more than just a platform for audience to escape the reality; it is a stage of comparison for human beings. The audience always want to compare their own quality of life to that of those on TV shows. In The Truman Show, Christoff creates a scenario which allows the audience to sympathize with Truman and take pride in their own lives. Ultimately, the ‘reality’ is merely another brand used by Christoff to promote The Truman Show to the audience by feeding their vanity.

At the end of the day, The Truman Show is just another movie produced by Paramount Pictures to suit the needs of the audience.
Done By: Guo Ji Wei, Ho Weiliang, Ng Chen Xuan, Ng Yong Sheng of 09S06J

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