The Truman show effect



I just finished listening to an episode of This American Life called Human Spectacle. It began with a segment in which people told mental health professionals they believed that their lives were a reality show and that everyone around them was part of the show. Apparently there was a movie about this idea called The Truman Show in which a man was actually being watched by people all over the country as his life played out.

Even stranger was the next segment of the program which told about a program Sweepstakes Life that had aired in Japan in which people were talked into being part of an experiment. They lived in a room naked cut off from their families and the only way they could survive was by winning sweepstakes that would provide food and other necessities. The doors were never locked, they could leave at any time and apparently many people did. There were many bizarre encounters. One man who stayed for 15 months was taken to Korea and put in a room and had to try to win his way back to Japan. Millions watched his often painful ordeals and a studio audience laughed at him. As to why the man endured this suffering for so long, he simply referred to a Japanese concept of carrying out what you agree to do. Even though he had no contract. Once a delivery man brought some food and told him the cost but he had no money so the food was taken away.

The creator of Sweepstakes Life said that he did the show for lofty ideals and never apologized for anything. I am providing a link to the story about the young comedian Nasubi, or Eggplant Man and his struggles . What was even more fascinating was that the man who created the show reached out to Nasubi  and talked with him years after the program had ended. The show had lasted 14 years, long after Nasubi’s experience had ended. Ratings declined after the Japanese grew tired of watching the spectacle of their naked countrymen trying to win prizes. When he was interviewed by the producer for This American Life, Nasubi said he would welcome an opportunity to work with the man who had tricked and manipulated him on Sweepstakes Life.

His last episode had included being brought back to what he thought was his home except that the producers had re-created the room where Nasubi had lived during the broadcast. He immediately took off his clothes only to find the walls fell down and he was standing in front of a studio audience. Sometimes, if you think people are watching you walk around naked all day, maybe it’s because they are.


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