In Foucault’s piece on Panopticism, he states that the effect of Panopticism is to “arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary;…in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers” (Foucault, 226). This statement relates to “The Truman Show” because Truman’s whole life was lived in a bubble (literally) for the rest of the world to see. His ignorance of his surroundings led him to live a life that he was unaware of at all.
Foucault said that Panopticism arranges things so that the surveillance on the person is permanent. This was true with Truman’s life. No matter where he was – home, work, grocery store, car – camera’s were watching his every move. His entire life was under a microscope and he was completely unaware of these circumstances.
Foucault also stated that the true perfection of power should render its actual exercise unnecessary, in other words, the observers should not necessarily interfere with the observed because then that would not be true Panopticism. Instead of letting true actions happen, creating false ones would not be true Panopticism. Essentially, this is where “The Truman Show” strays from Panopticism because the producers were telling the people in Truman’s life (all actors) what to say and what to do in certain circumstances (through an earpiece) to help calm Truman down when he was questioning the reality of people’s motivations and conservations, as well as what to do when certain events happened to him (like when he fell for Lauren and her “father” took her away and told Truman that she was mentally ill).
Finally, Foucault stated that the people who are being observed should truly be in control of what they are doing. This is true to the film in the sense that the main producer, played by Ed Harris, said that if Truman really wanted to escape Seahaven, he really could and that they would not stop him if he tried to get out of the bubble. Essentially, they did try to stop him from escaping every time (the dog, the nuclear power plant meltdown, the sea storm at the end), but they eventually let him break through the fourth wall (literally) when he finds the exit door in the ocean. What’s truly ironic is that the last scene of people watching Truman discover the falseness of his life and fall in love with Lauren is full of emotion and happiness, yet once the scene ends, they change channels again to find something else to satiate their need for voyeurism.