SEVENTEEN and The Truman Show
The long-running parallels between SEVENTEEN’s musical storytelling and The Truman Show’s central themes
The Truman Show
The Truman Show is a classic psychological comedy/drama from 1998. The main character is Truman Burbank, the first child to be legally adopted by a corporation. His entire life is a reality show, unbeknownst to him until enough oddities add up to raise his suspicions. When he becomes fully aware of being endlessly surveilled and controlled, he attempts to go “off-script,” and those attempts are met with creator and producer Christof’s ire. For example, when Truman sets sail, Christof generates a storm to block him from reaching the edge of the dome; he cannot risk the chance of Truman realizing the dome is not the actual sky. Spoiler alert: Truman does discover this, and Christof’s final attempt to convince Truman to stay on set fails. For a split second, Truman might have been tempted by Christof’s argument: staying on set would please the audience and provide comforting predictability for Truman. But these upsides no longer outweigh Truman’s thirst for freedom, so he proceeds to exit the manufactured realm.
One aspect of Christof’s final pleas that is worth reflecting on: his insistence that the fakery surrounding Truman actually became real. He argues that Truman made his surroundings real. Truman led his life as if seeing is believing, so isn’t the fact his environment and relationships were real to him enough? Why should a fake sun and moon be considered fake if they are real to Truman? Is there really a difference between a relationship that is all an act and an authentic one? Doesn’t one inevitably become what one used to just pretend to be? The Truman Show prompts the audience to ponder the very nature of reality and autonomy, and these questions are provoked through SEVENTEEN’s musical storytelling too.
The World as SEVENTEEN’s Stage
SEVENTEEN’s “show within a show” premise has been a core story element since their debut music video. In “Adore U,” they introduce themselves as characters in front of green screens and inside of computer files. Computer pop-up screens reappear in “HIT.” Images of the natural world - ocean waves, blue skies - appear as literal projections in videos including “Rock with you” and “Fallin’ Flower.” The scene suddenly switches to widescreen during both “HIT” and “Fear.” Ending credits roll after “HOME;RUN”’s hijinks. Other videos pull back the curtain to reveal stunt work (“HIT”), rows of televisions being used for surveillance (“Not Alone,” “BOOMBOOM”), and a television that eventually goes static (“CHANGE UP,” “TRAUMA,” “Getting Closer”). Not to mention the times cameramen are in the shot (“Happy Ending”) and the times what looks “real” is revealed to actually be part of a larger set upon zooming out (“CLAP,” “Oh My!”). SEVENTEEN imply their adventures are fictional in less overt ways too, like in some of the installments in the “13 Inner Shadows” series (DK sees everyone around him concealing their true selves with paper bags over their faces; DINO’s short film ends with him unplugging everything in his “Wire Jail”).
Even SEVENTEEN’s song lyrics allude to their story being all for show. They describe trying to find the perfect words, like “Lines in a movie,” in “Pretty U.” They also describe a relationship as cinematic in “Crazy in Love”: “What I thought only happened in movies or TV shows / Something like that is happening to me too… There’s a line in a movie that says that love comes around / I didn’t understand before, but I understand now…” In “Anyone,” they sing, “We are two main characters without supporting actors on stage.”
Direct references to The Truman Show are rampant throughout SEVENTEEN’s “F*ck My Life” music video. Just like in the movie, the video features a stage light falling from the sky, a targeted downpour, and an escape attempt via boat. Plus, SEVENTEEN’s JOSHUA and The Truman Show character Lauren both wear white pins with red letters, the former’s reading “FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE” and the latter’s reading “HOW’S IT GOING TO END?” (something VERNON also asks during his “Life in a minute” video narration). Even more nods to the movie are made in HOSHI’s scenes: he draws an image on the mirror (from the viewers’ perspective, the camera screen) just like the one Truman draws, and both appear by similar posters of a stormy sailing trip.
Key Differences Between FML and The Truman Show
The most crucial distinction between SEVENTEEN’s and Truman’s stories is the presence or absence of independence. While Truman lacks power for the first part of his story, SEVENTEEN have been directing theirs since day one. This adds an interesting wrinkle to the question Christof’s experiment prompts: should SEVENTEEN’s manufactured reality be considered more “real” than Truman’s, since SEVENTEEN consent to its design? Does autonomy factor into defining something as “real” or not?
SEVENTEEN’s “Life in a minute” and “F*ck My Life” videos end with the same message on the screen: “Inspired by everyone around the world.” This highlights the difference between what SEVENTEEN is doing and what Truman is experiencing: SEVENTEEN take inspiration from “real” people. If anyone’s performance should be considered art that imitates life, it is theirs! Truman has never known what people are like when they are not playing characters; he has no authentic human interactions to draw from that could allow his life story to evolve and improve. SEVENTEEN’s story is made up of all the factors that influence them, whereas Truman’s story is made up, period. There is no better quality level his story can reach. Perhaps what takes something from pretend to real is not just personal buy-in, but collective care and cooperation. SEVENTEEN are growing with their audience; Truman is isolated from them. Truman’s world stays static, whereas SEVENTEEN’s world expands.
SEVENTEEN’s story shows the benefits of seeing the world as capable of redefining on one’s own terms. Truman’s story emulates the downsides of that: the potential to personalize meanings can be misused to exploit someone. Consider the movie title versus SEVENTEEN’s album title. The movie title itself is a farce: “The True Man Show” is anything but! It means nothing; the character is a substance-less figure, molded into whatever spectators desire. In contrast, SEVENTEEN imbue “FML” with their own meanings, asserting they want it to stand for more than just the common assumption, “F*ck My Life.” They also say their album title stands for “Faded Mono Life” and the key words “Fallen, Misfit, Lost.” SEVENTEEN get to characterize what their story is called, while Truman’s show title stands for nothing.
A core lesson that ought to be learned from the ending of The Truman Show is what SEVENTEEN’s story teaches: at the end of the day, pleasing oneself is most important. The only guaranteed viewer in one’s life, and therefore the person whose happiness deserves the highest priority, is oneself. After all, despite being emotionally invested in Truman’s journey for ages, the second he exits the manufactured world, his viewers move on, looking for what else is on TV. Similarly, public interest in music moves fast, and SEVENTEEN want to live a life they can look back on proudly for pursuing their vision regardless of the public’s fickle desires. Truman leaves the fake world without gaining anything; giving others satisfaction means nothing if it’s at the expense of one’s own. That is why, as they say in “Life in a minute,” SEVENTEEN are determined to “fight for their lives” and remember they “deserve to be happy” too. SEVENTEEN live life like nobody's watching, because someday, that could be the case.
Truman can now write his own script, just like SEVENTEEN have been establishing the terms of their own lives since the beginning. Life is one big performance, and Truman can now follow SEVENTEEN’s lead and become his own future’s director.
For more analyses of SEVENTEEN’s work and more thoughts on their newest album, check out the essays and podcast episode linked to below!
“FML (Seventeen Talk, Vol. 13)”:
“The Changing Lenses in SEVENTEEN’s Music Videos”
“A Guide to SEVENTEEN’s Music Video Settings and Key Props”
FML album review:
Other previous SEVENTEEN essays:
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