Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts (BA)
The Truman Show and Pleasantville both present a vision of the 1950s that is manufactured and mediated by television. I attempt to explain this using Lauren Berlant's model of the pilgrimage narrative, in which a character encounters true America in Washington, DC. Instead of locating America in the nation’s capital, though, I argue that these films locate America in the idealized suburbs of the 1950s. I propose that this pilgrimage differs from the one Berlant outlines in one crucial way: the capital can be visited at any time, but if America is really located in 1950s suburbia, then citizens of the 1990s have missed the boat on encountering the nation. The anxiety that “real” America may be a relic of the past may help explain why both these movies’ versions of the 1950s have to be constructed by television.
Both films associate the 1950s with the camera of the television show, which they depict as manipulable and unreliable. In contrast, they associate the perspective of the 1990s with the seemingly objective camera of the film itself. The television shows in both movies construct a version of the 1950s that is “fixed” by 1990s values, erasing or repairing the racism and sexism associated with the decade. At the same time, though, in refusing to allow women to partake or succeed in pilgrimages, and in excluding people of color from meaningful roles in the narrative, both films ultimately advance the argument that the only people equipped to successfully encounter the nation are white men.
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Cohen, Sophie, ""A Kindler, Gentler Time": How Pleasantville and The Truman Show "Fix" the 1950s Suburban Ideal" (2021). English Honors Theses. 56.