What does The Truman Show tell us about company ethics?


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When thinking about ethics in pop culture, the first idea that came to mind was The Truman Show starring Jim Carrey. For those of you who haven’t seen the film, here is the trailer! The protagonist, Truman, is the world’s first true reality TV star who has been filmed since birth in an artificial studio world built just for him. Everyone he has ever known is an actor, every interaction he has ever had is fake, and he is the only one who doesn’t know the truth. Even the environment itself is controlled by the director, Christoff, who manipulates everything from traffic to the weather in order to get higher ratings. The staff (comprised of studio employees, technical directors and actors) go along willingly with every one of Christoff’s demands in his attempt to play God. Despite the fact that what is going on is clearly wrong, everyone being paid to work on the program goes along willingly (with the exception of Truman’s love interest as a young man who tries to tell him the truth). They abandon any shroud of ethical thought and listen to the orders of their leader.

In the film, Christoff has a responsibility to the network heads to get them the highest ratings possible, and also must provide a compelling program for his audience. He does whatever he possibly can in order to achieve these goals, but neglects the fact that he has completely ruined Truman’s life. I think that this is very relevant to the recent discussions we have had about Apple, Nike, and all corporations that negatively impact the lives of stakeholders. Employees develop a sense of complacency and willingly neglect that their companies’ actions are hurting others. They will do so even when the evidence is right in front of their eyes (ex. unfavorable working conditions at Foxconn going unnoticed, or actors participating in 30+ years of Truman’s artificial life). When business is booming like it has for Apple or for The Truman Show, people can suspend any sense of ethics or responsibility to stakeholders. I believe that this film demonstrates how employees need to think ethically for themselves to prevent a huge negative impact on stakeholders, whether it be an individual like Truman or the entire workforce in the Foxconn factory.

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9 thoughts on “What does The Truman Show tell us about company ethics?

  1. Great, great movie. Haven’t seen it for awhile.

    Does the producer character change? I can’t recall. Doesn’t Truman get out? And when he does, does that extend your thoughts about companies and stakeholders.

    I kind of thought you might go with the more obvious idea of how his whole life is an illusion of happiness which might also be a critique of a consumerist mentality in modern society. Not saying you needed to, just it is what comes to my mind first.

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  3. I’ve never seen that movie so thanks for bringing it to my attention! But from what I saw in the trailer, I think there’s an interesting dichotomy between the characters who try to help him out and the ones who try to keep him in. And since the director has complete control over anything, would he risk removing someone who may give away his scheme in order to keep the illusion going? Or is that all part of the drama?

  4. Michael, great post. Whenever Truman Show comes on TNT I always catch myself watching the whole thing. Another movie that comes to mind when thinking of Truman Show is Ed TV, a Matthew Mcconaughey classic (if there is such a thing). In this movie he is chosen and “wins” the opportunity to be filmed 24/7 and have his life play out on television. Obviously the things that happen to him are not false but they are indeed incredibly effected by the fact that he has cameras all around him at all times.

    The two movies are interesting to compare as one is obviously more of a serious nature in theme. But they are similar in that at some point in the movie both men determine that this is not how they want their lives to be. Worth a watch if you want a laugh and a less serious movie!

  5. I love this movie too. Truman eventually does escape. He tunnels out of his house and take a sailboat to sea, eventually hitting the edge of the set. Cristoff talks to Truman and tries to convince him to stay, but eventually gives up and allows Truman to leave. The audience of the show is then shown cheering for Truman. This could parallel to companies like Apple scrambling to conceal their unethical actions, but eventually having to face their atrocities in a public setting. Another parallel is the collective ignorance of Apple consumers and watchers of the Truman show. While happy to enjoy their iPhones, or highly immoral television show, once the issues become apparent, they feel differently about their indulgences.

  6. Haven’t seen this movie in a long time. There are definitely ethical tensions in this film along the lines of employees “just following orders” instead of doing what is right. Its unfortunate that America needs to watch television shows to see “reality.”

  7. I have never seen the Trueman Show, but just like Wald said, I have seen Ed TV. Today’s networks will do anything to keep ratings up. Big banks and Wall Street mogals are not the only ones in the world do to absolutely anything for immidiate success. Take any reality show today, even that damn Honey-boo-boo child, producers are paying them nothing to film a show about their family which suprisingly has been getting lots of watchers (I have no idea how since most of the shows need subtitles even though they are speaking english). Producers will take advantage of any opportunity that gives quick success

  8. Such a great movie to write about, Mike! I haven’t seen it in awhile, but I remember being struck (even at a young age) by the underlying ethical issues in this film. I agree with Roger in regards to the parallels between the ending of this movie and the situations of large companies like Apple and Nike who are eventually publicly called to react. I think the audience’s response is one of the most interesting parts of the movie. It’s fascinating that they were able to separate the humanity of Truman from the objectivity of a character on a television show…especially because I know a lot of people (including myself) hate when characters from their favorite shows are written out of the script or leave the show. Maybe that just makes for a better Hollywood ending than a bunch of angry fans, but it’s something to consider.

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