The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
The above quote is from an October 2004 New York Times Magazine article written by Ron Suskind. The identity of the aide is widely believed to be Karl Rove, Senior Advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff for the first seven years of the George W. Bush administration. Rove has an additional title, bestowed upon him by Bush himself— “The Architect.” (Bush also called him “Turd Blossom,” but that’s another story.)
Now, most of us have heard of the Beltway Bubble, aka Washington D.C., that rarefied environment where the gods of government and their corporate lobbyists live, move, and have their lordly being. Outside that bubble lies what Rove would call “the reality based community.” Composed of the vanishing middle class, wage slaves, students, and the poor, it is their collective lot in life to watch passively as history is being made by their superiors, their only contribution limited to what taxes and fees can be extracted from their miserable hides.
We were reminded of The Architect the other day as we watched the prescient and thoroughly entertaining 1998 movie “The Truman Show.” (The film is widely credited as the inspiration for what today we call “Reality Television”; in 2008, Popular Mechanics named it one of the 10 most prophetic science fiction films; it also contains a devastating satirical treatment of the annoying profit center called “product placement.”)
The film’s protagonist is a good-natured insurance salesman named Truman Burbank, played by Jim Carrey. The antagonist is a visionary and manipulative television producer and director named Christof, played by Ed Harris. Christof is the creator and producer— a televisionary— of the most successful and longest running show in television history. The set is a humongous dome where 5,000 actors and extras live in a realistic but artificially constructed island community called Seahaven, accurately staged to the minutest detail.
Christof chooses as his lead character an infant named Truman. (In a prophetic nod to Citizens United and Mitt Romney, Truman is described as “the first child adopted by a corporation.”) From the time he is born, nearly all of his movements and utterances are captured and broadcast by thousands of hidden cameras and microphones to an adoring audience in the reality based community outside the dome. For thirty years his audience vicariously share in the emotions of his life’s struggles as he grows and matures. Truman seems to be aware of all this attention at a subconscious level, at one point saying: “It seems that the whole world revolves around me somehow.” (If that doesn’t capture the spirit of narcissism that permeates our media-political-financial complex these days, nothing does.)
Truman’s most formative experience occurs in his youth. He and his father are out sailing one sunny day when the weather begins to change. Despite his father’s advice that they return to shore, Truman insists they sailor on. The winds howl and the sea rises until finally a large wave sweeps his father overboard to a watery grave.
The traumatic experience of his father’s death creates a turmoil of conflicting emotions in Truman’s psyche. Guilt, abandonment, and fear, especially a fear of water, weigh heavily on his decision making. Indeed, the latter is the point of the whole drowning episode, written and directed by Christof himself, to instill a sense of fear in Truman such that he won’t be tempted to test the watery boundaries of his artificial, island world.
Truman’s life changes forever one day as he set off to work. From out of nowhere, it seems, a klieg light comes crashing down at his feet.
This has the effect of altering his awareness of his surroundings. He begins to notice subtle peculiarities in his environment (glitches in The Matrix, as it were, to borrow an allusion from another movie in the simulated reality genre).
Slowly but surely, his desire to know the truth of his existence, coupled with a long frustrated desire for adventure symbolized by his lifelong desire to visit Fiji, becomes the motivating force in his life. He confronts every obstacle Christof throws his way, losing some battles, but increasingly winning others. The tipping point occurs when his actress wife, under the mounting stress of having to accommodate Truman’s increasingly militant self-awareness, freaks out. She violates the Fourth Wall by looking into a hidden camera, frantically begging Christof to rescue her.
Truman, convinced that something is rotten in Denmark, goes about his daily routine, all the while planning his escape. Things appear to have returned to normal, until one day he goes missing. A frantic search of the Seahaven set ensues. Initially, no one thinks to search for him in the gigantic water tank/ocean because of Truman’s fear of the sea. But that is exactly where they find him, in a boat named after Columbus’ ship, Santa Maria, sailing towards the world’s artificial horizon.
For Truman, it’s a win-win situation. Either Fiji is actually out there, in which case he has a small but real chance of attaining his lifelong goal. Or it’s not, confirming his suspicions that his cognitive chain is being yanked somehow by forces outside his immediate control.
But Christof isn’t about to give up on his meal ticket. He orders up a violent storm to force Truman back to shore. But Truman refuses to be deterred. In a scene reminiscent of the climax of the movie Moby Dick, Truman is thrown to and fro until becomes entangled in the ships rigging, lashed to his little ship like Capt Ahab to Moby Dick, one arm swaying freely, pointing the way forward.
With Truman at the point of drowning, Christof orders the storm generators to cease. The sea calms and the clouds give way to a brilliant sunlight. Truman frees himself from the rigging (pun intended) and doggedly resumes his quest.
He sails the now calm waters until the ship’s forward mast encounters the limits of his artificially created world, ripping a hole in the set’s artificial canvass horizon.
Truman disembarks and begins exploring the set’s horizon, seemingly walking on water. (A symbolic identification with Christ, who similarly transcends the limitations of his environment.)
He arrives at a stairway (to heaven) and begins to ascend.
Out of nowhere, he hears Christof’s voice. “Who are you?'” asks Truman. Christof replies: “I am your creator…”
Christof levels with Truman about the truth of his existence. He offers him a chance to return to his previously safe and comfortable life. Truman, now a True Man who has overcome his greatest fears and illusions, declines.
He bids farewell to his previous life.
Finally, he’s ready to enter the great unknown, seeking the answer to a question emblazoned on a pin worn by his wife throughout the film:
“How’s it going to end?”
You humans have begun an endless unfolding of an almost infinite panorama, a limitless expanding of never-ending, ever-widening spheres of opportunity for exhilarating service, matchless adventure, sublime uncertainty, and boundless attainment.
—The Urantia Book