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Paramount Shows Creative Use of the Web With Site to Free Truman

June 25, 1998|ERIKA MILVY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

More often than not, the official studio site of a blockbuster picture is a shameless advertisement masquerading as a fun-filled Web site. Such sites offer little more than promotional fluff and hypnotic hype. But every now and then a Web developer has a stroke of genius and concocts a site that is well worth the surf.

Paramount has created such a site with the Free Truman Web site (http://www.freetruman.com). The site is a clever parody that purports to propel the mission of the fictitious Truman Liberation Front, a radical grass-roots organization that appears in the current hit flick "The Truman Show."

For those who haven't yet seen the film, Truman (Jim Carrey) is the unwitting star of a 24-hour, live docu-tainment TV show. Born and raised before hidden TV cameras, he is unaware his wife and friends are actors and that his private life is being broadcast to a mass audience. While most are hooked on the soap opera that is his day-to-day existence, a small faction of activists, the TLF, is intent on infiltrating and sabotaging the show and freeing Truman from this sham he calls his life.

Ostensibly, TLF extols us to: "Turn off your set and open your eyes! Join the thousands around the globe who are already assisting the TLF in its efforts to combat video tyranny."

Paramount's nonprofit organization is, of course, as fictitious as OmniCam, the mega-conglomerate that it opposes with protest rallies, boycotts and leaflet droppings--none of which ever happened. While almost all of the site is bogus, you can call the number provided on the Web site and speak to a live operator who will sell you a real Free Truman T-shirt for $18.95.

Having its cake and eating it too, the Free Truman site offers a link to the official movie Web site (http://www.trumanshow.com/). "Know Your Enemy" is the cleverly conceived hyperlink logo to the site where the sales pitch is more straightforward.

Paramount's promotional people are mixing reality and fiction as they gleefully blur the lines separating real life, film, entertainment and advertisement.

Paramount is also spamming folks with bogus propaganda purporting to liberate Truman. The spam reads, "Dear Friend: A specter is haunting our modern society--the specter of the omnipresent video camera. The multinational corporations have entered into an alliance to manipulate reality to control every aspect of our existence and to broadcast the most intimate moments of our private lives."

Hmm. Are they talking about OmniCam and Truman Burbank or actual exploits like Lewinksygate, OJ-TV or the recently broadcast freeway suicide?

Recently, Film Threat Weekly, an e-mail newsletter, pointed out that the pseudo-propaganda has more than a few grains of truth. It cited the so-called Trumanist Manifesto, which reads in part: "The Truman Liberation Front is the official voice of concerned citizens against media manipulation for high ratings, product placement and the insatiable need for voyeuristic entertainment. We are very unhappy with the false messages these programs convey and how they are affecting our society."

As Film Threat wrote, "Reread the manifesto and delete any reference to the 'Truman Show' and you've got a pretty thoughtful and radical essay."

So, let's see: A big media conglomerate (Paramount) is selling a motion picture that shows a big media conglomerate exploiting reality in the name of entertainment. The ad campaign that is telling us to turn off our TVs and reject mass media is really telling us to shell out bucks to be bewitched by that very same media. Yikes, what fun!

Erika Milvy is a freelance writer. She can be reached at erica@well.com.

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