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The Portrayal and Significance of Cognitive Dissonance in Truman Show

Truman Show Themes

Cognitive dissonance has a huge role in the movie. There are many instances of cognitive dissonance that are worth mentioning. The first occurrence of cognitive dissonance is the flashback between Truman and Sylvia, Truman’s first love. Sylvia had been an extra on the show and was not allowed to speak to Truman. Sylvia had not planned to but after the incessant request from Truman, Sylvia gave in. Even though Sylvia was still fulfilling her role as an actor, she felt discomfort having lied to Truman all his life. Ultimately, Sylvia attempted to tell Truman that his life was complete farce and expose the show. This is an example of cognitive dissonance because Sylvia’s attitudes and behavior were at odds with each other. Sylvia had cared for Truman and hated what he was going through in the show. Yet, she remained an actor on the show for years and it wasn’t until she was removed from the show did she attempt any action to have the show cancelled.

Another instance in which attitudes contradicted each other was near the end of the show when Christof attempted to capture Truman and bring him back to the show. When Christof had demanded the crew to create powerful waves that would capsize and potentially harm Truman. While many were afraid to disobey Christof and heeded his commands without hesitation, there were others who were unwilling to harm to Truman. There were two feuding attitudes that some of the crew had to decide between. Eventually, the crew dissented to the command of Christof. This scene was reminiscent of the Stanley Milgram studies. Although they didn’t think what they we’re doing was moral, they felt they didn’t have a choice to go against Christof’s authority.

Classical conditioning is another theme in the movie. Truman’s aversion to water is the result of strong very strong classical conditioning. Although classical conditioning takes many trials for the stimulus to be truly condition, the “death” of Truman’s father was a strong stimulus to be paired with water. The death of Truman’s dad was a device used by Christof to inhibit any desires Truman may have of leaving Seahaven. Truman’s phobia of water is displayed when one of his coworkers asks him to close a deal located on the mainland Truman had attempted to go, but after seeing a sunken boat, he quickly returned home. His fear of is so strong that he is not able to drive on a bridge over water. Because his father returned on the show, the phobia of water ceased to exist. This example, while not exactly accurate showcases the strength of classical conditioning. Water had always been a neutral stimulus to Truman. It wasn;’t until his father had “drowned” in a violent sea storm had Truman paired water with the aversive feeling his felt during the death of his father. Generalization is seen when Truman has a conditioned response to any type of moving water be it a lake, ocean, etc. We see extinction when Truman rode his sailboat out in the open sea as an attempt to escape Seahaven. Because he knew his father was indeed alive, he no longer paired an averse response to water.

Lastly, we see persuasion in different instances in the movie. Because show is shown 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, there is no slot for commercials to advertise their products or services. Therefore numerous times a day actors on the show implicitly advertise different consumer goods. A prime example is when Meryl offered Truman Cocoa. Instead of simply asking if he wanted some, she started talking about the properties and benefits of the coffee to Truman’s confusion. Obviously Meryl wasn’t just speaking to Truman but in fact to the hidden audience that Truman couldn’t see.

Another example of persuasion in advertising is when Truman was planning to leave for Fiji. On the walls were advertisements that depicted the dangers of travel, with often graphic images. One example was an ad that stated “It could happen to you” and showed a plane getting struck by lightning. Truman’s discomfort was evident having seen the advertisements. However, Truman was highly motivated to leave Seahaven (to meet his first love) and therefore it may not have had the intended effect the producer, Christof wanted. There are many occasions of other advertisements and propaganda in the Truman Show.

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