I was really fascinated with our discussion in class about how Main Street has become somewhat of an illusion to modern day America. When thinking about what do to my post on, I remembered one of my favorite movies, The Truman Show, and thought it did a good job at bringing the illusion of Main Street to the forefront. The picture shown above is a snapshot of the downtown center in which the movie takes place. Orvell writes in his book on Main Street, “[Main Street] is also a mythical place, perhaps the most iconic (and sacred) of American places, fraught with nostalgia for a lost America, carrying the symbolism of political community, of democratic town meetings, of life in harmony with nature…” (98). In the picture above, we can see that downtown Seaside fits Orvell’s description of a “mythical” Main Street–there is an overt sense of community, even though the viewer cannot see a political headquarters in this shot, we can assume most democratic proceedings are held near this central location, and the green lawn represents also a “harmony with nature.” It also refers back to, like how we said in class, the practical roots of Main Street, which was first and foremost a transportation stop. The viewer sees here a bus station, presumably the place where tourists to the area would arrive, and the town’s Main Street would be the first thing they saw.
The “first thing they saw” idea connected me back to Disneyland. Orvell writes, “[Disney] placed at the center of the Disney universe, an image of small town America that struck a deep chord with American’s after WWII” (104). So, the practicality of placing Main Street at the center of “the greatest place on Earth” makes a little bit of sense. But, the meanings for choosing Main Street as the first thing visitors have to be more complicated than that, right? Well, how about nostalgia? How about referencing an America that we all cherish in some way? Or how about consumerism–people love to shop, and what better way to get them to buy stuff than disguise it in a Main Street feel?
But, the symbolic nature of Main Street being put into Disneyland or into The Truman Show shows the actual destruction of real life Main Streets. Orvell writes, “Disneyland is the essence of the inauthentic: it represents nothing but itself, its own factitious universe” (105). By having a Main Street in Disneyland, its almost of if Disney himself is shouting, “Hey look, the Main Street America you all love is just as much a fantasy as a flying carpet or a talking life sized mouse!”
What does it mean, then, for Main Street to also be included in the Truman Show? Well, the movie’s central conflict revolves around Jim Carey’s character (Truman), who slowly realizes that he has been living in a constructed reality his whole life that is monitored by thousands of cameras and aired to the rest of the country as a reality TV show. Truman actually lives in a huge dome, filled with actors and sets that are meant to serve as real. So, by the directors of the movie choosing a town that has a Main Street in it, they are suggesting that an idealized world would be one with lovely people and a quaint town with a Main Street. However, since the whole world they have created is fake, what it is actually saying is that Main Street’s have become only a fixture of America’s past, something that can only be constructed in a fake or fantastical reality.
So, what does this mean? Well, to me it unveils the tension that we touched on in class–American’s are continuously trying to innovate and push forward at an exponential rate, but are also continuously trying to hold on to our past. As American’s we have not come to terms with the reality that to create something also sometimes means to destroy something else. In order to try and reconcile this problem, we create places where we can go and get our “Main Street fix,” whether it be on the streets of Disneyland, or through the screens of our television.