File spoon-archives/foucault.archive/foucault_1998/foucault.9806, message 36

Date: Mon, 15 Jun 1998 16:15:16 -0500
Subject: Too true to be good

Dear colleagues,
   I'd be interested in Foucauldian first reactions to Peter Weir's _The
Truman Show_, starring Jim Carrey, released in North America this weekend,
and already grossing over 20 million dollars.  It is reported to have
achieved the highest ratings ever at FlickPicks, The Moviegoers' Website
(, surpassing previous record holder, James
Cameron's _Titanic_.  As you might have picked up, the subject of the movie
is ' Truman Burbank' (played by Carrey), a man whose life is being
broadcast as a 24-hour TV show without his knowledge.
   I have to say I'm stunned by the film.  Alongside the likes of _A
Clockwork Orange_, and _They Live_ it stands in my mind as the best
depiction of biopolitics and biopower I've yet seen.  Baudrillard fans will
also love it.  I'm rather worried by the whole thing.  I'm not sure what
the function of this film will be.  On the one hand I'm breathtaken by the
possible effect of placing a man like Carrey in this almost entirely
serious role.  People are going there expecting to see _Dumb and Dumber_,
and being confronted by satire, social commentary, refusal, awakening,
liberation, rejection, the enticement of critique etc.  Lurking around the
theatre in NYC where I saw it, most people's reactions seemed to be of
surprize and slight confusion; not at all agressive, but typical of someone
whose system of meanings has been subtlely dislodged, and who is coming to
terms with the notion of a past perhaps lived under questionable
assumptions.  I left almost naively thinking I'd witnessed 'an event'.  On
the other hand I'm disturbed; for how could such a movie be made, and does
it not fit perfectly within the generalised criticism of social existence
long prepared since the birth of reason; only half-jokingly employed in the
works of Foucault (well aware as he was of the risks), already belying
Baudrillard's accusation ('Foucault can only draw such an admirable picture
since he works at the confines of an area now in the process of collapsing
entirely.'), and making Carrey - and the audience - 'dinosaurs' (cf.
_Oublier Foucault_) of the already obsolete 'age of biopower'?  The film is
an amazing, breathtaking, representation of the pastoral State; of the
defeat of populations; of the humiliation of everyday people by the
everyday apparatus of disciplinary society.  But how did I find myself one
body among thousands, packing out cinemas with multiple showings?  Why is
it selling, becoming part of the mainstream?  For sure some people 'missed
it'; laughing in the wrong places, or laughing because they needed to.  But
it is actually a film with very few laughs; quite skillfully playing down
the typical corporation/media explanation (though its written into the
script), Ed Harris's handling of the interview scene indicative of the
deeper location of power in this story.  What is presented is a view of
authority just as likely 'the State'.  As a result, it's not as simple a
film to dismiss as Richard Donner's farcical, _Conspiracy Theory_.  It
forces, and suceeds, and I'm not sure where its going.
   The most important thing we could do is work out the nature and
location, and uses of critique.


Ian Robert Douglas,
Visiting Lecturer & Fulbright Fellow
Watson Institute of International Studies,
Brown University, Box 1831,
130 Hope Street,
Providence, RI  02912

tel: 401 863-2420
fax: 401 863-2192

"The powerful imagination creates the event"
  Michel de Montaigne


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