There are many ethical issues throughout the movie The Truman Show. In regards to media ethics, some of the major issues include private versus public people, transparency and autonomy, and advertising. Truman, who was chosen through an online birth competition, was adopted by the television show and had been followed by people around the world since he was a baby. Through this scenario, Truman was not given the choice to live a public life; he doesn’t even know he is a public figure, prohibiting him to private protections through media law. This also leads to the issue of transparency and autonomy, preventing Truman to be in control of himself and what is being shown on television, as well as the lack of information that he is given, making him believe he is living a normal life. Finally, the not-so-subtle advertising that is thrown in throughout the show is not very transparent to the audience, acting as product placement.
In the opening of the movie, Truman’s wife, who is actually an actress, said, “There is no difference between a private and public life. My life is The Truman Show” (Niccol & Weir). This is representative of Truman’s life as well. This is an ethical issue because Truman was never given the chance to have a private life. This can be similar to the royal baby or a child born to celebrities, however the difference is that these children have autonomy and transparency. They know that they are in the public spotlight; therefore they are able to change the way they act and control the information that they provide to the public. Truman on the other hand does not know that he is on television for everyone to see; he believes he is living a private life. These are important factors to have in a real-life situation, and are the reason something like The Truman Show would never happen in real life.
A less-significant ethical issue in comparison to Truman’s public life without transparency or autonomy is the fake advertising through the movie. The Truman Show actors and actresses used product placement throughout the movie that was very subtle, resulting in little transparency and autonomy for the audience watching. Although the products were not really being advertised to viewers such as myself, they are a good example of the way ads can be presented in films. Some examples of the product placements include the wife’s chef pal from the grocery store, when Marlin and Truman were hanging out on the bridge and Marlin promoted the beer, and the Mococoa that Meryl the wife tried to promote, resulting in Truman exclaiming, “What that hell are you doing? Who are you talking to?” This was followed up with a title screen across the television that said, “Truman drinks Mococoa…” (Niccol & Weir). With the advertisements attempt to blend in with the show, the audience may not realize it is an ad, prohibiting the autonomy of their opinion towards the product, as well as a lack of transparency that what they just saw was an advertisement. Although this happens all of the time in movies with sponsored product placement, it is still an ethical issue that advertisers and film producers must consider.
Niccol, A. (Producer), & Weir, P. (Director). (1998). The Truman Show [Motion Picture]. USA: Universal Studios.