As the Internet makes abundantly clear, the line between an archive and a rubbish heap is a fine one.
I Thee Web
Get me to the church online.
A language of optimists takes root on the Internet.
6 Billion Human Beings
An online exhibit from the Museum of Natural History in Paris looks at our burgeoning humanity, en masse and one at a time.
The state of art on the Net.
The CIA reaches out to a new generation of spies.
A multimedia "essay" has technology serve humanity, and vice versa.
"Interactive fiction" moves to the Web.
The "Why?"s Have It
For a nation of strangers, the simplest questions can help bridge the widest distances.
For more, see the complete Web Citations Index.
June 18, 1998
"Just turn your TV off!... Get off the air and get aware!... Abolish media manipulation!... Join us!"
Such are the urgent and earnest exhortations that confront visitors to the homepage of a grass-roots movement calling itself the Truman Liberation Front. Follow a link to the organization's history and one reads:
Imagine, for a moment, that everything in your life is artificial. That you have no family, no real home, no real relationships. That you've never ventured outside your hometown.... Imagine that every moment of your life has been broadcast, without your consent or knowledge, into living rooms and bedrooms around the world. Imagine what it feels like to be Truman Burbank and to know, deep in your soul, that something isn't right.Who is Truman Burbank? He's the twenty-nine-year-old "star" of the fictitious TV program The Truman Show -- or, more specifically, a character played by Jim Carrey in Peter Weir's acclaimed new film, The Truman Show (which opened across the country on June 5). Adopted by the OmniCam Corporation at birth, Truman has spent literally every minute of his life surrounded by hidden TV cameras in the perfectly planned island-community of Seahaven, a "town" built within a huge bio-dome-like soundstage in Southern California. Every person in Truman's life -- from his parents to his best childhood friend to his wife -- is an actor, though Truman doesn't know it. Everything in his world -- from the local media to the company where he works to the very weather itself -- is fake.
The Truman Liberation Front (never actually mentioned in the movie) is determined to free Truman from his virtual captivity. With its Web site -- where visitors are encouraged to "know your enemy," and are given a link to the "official" Truman Show site -- somebody has created, with uncanny verisimilitude, a perfectly dead-pan knock-off of countless Web pages posted by real grass-roots political organizations and protest movements (while simultaneously managing to promote the new film).
Intentionally or not, this joke site drives home a certain truth. In a culture not merely permeated by mass media but in some crucial ways created by it, there's a sense in which social and political issues aren't felt to be real until the Hollywood-New York media nexus discovers them. So it is that now, thanks to the hype and counter-hype surrounding The Truman Show, the issue of television's pernicious and all-pervasive influence on society, its role as not just mirror but shaper of reality, has suddenly been raised to a level of awareness in the mainstream media that ordinarily eludes egg-head, anti-establishment, non-celebrity causes.
It's easy to forget, amid all the reviews and interviews and op-ed columns, that organizations like TV-Free America, the Media Foundation (publisher of Adbusters magazine), the Center for Media Education, the U.K.'s White Dot, and many others (including the Cultural Environment Movement, founded by George Gerbner and profiled in the May, 1997, Atlantic Monthly) have been singing similarly subversive tunes for years, and that several of them have used the Internet, long a breeding ground of anti-TV sentiment, to disseminate information and generate support. One can't help but wonder where all the media hoopla was this past April during TV-Free America's fourth-annual National TV-Turnoff Week, when, according to the organization's Web site, "five million people in 45,000 schools, libraries, religious groups, and communities across the country turned off their televisions." Really. No joke.
Copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.