The Truman Syndrome


I’m voting you off the planet….

In 1969 the first man walked on the moon.

In 1972, the last man walked on the moon, and we have not been back since.

That’s 36 years.

For 36 years the moon has still hung there every night.  We have the technology to go. We just opt not to.

How come?

The reason, I think, is television and video.


When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon for the first time on July 20th, 1969, Star Trek, the TV series was in it’s second season.

The moon experience was over 3 years later, but nearly 40 years into the franchise, Star Trek is still going strong:  5 iterations as series, endless re-runs, 8(?) movies, with the latest one due to be released shortly.  And of course, The Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas, ever popular, as is its gif shop.

Why is this? Why is it that we are so fixated on Star Trek (or Star Wars, take your pick), as opposed to real space adventures.

It is, I think, because we are increasingly becoming an image-driven culture.  (My good friend Dr. Len Shlain wrote a fascinating book about this, The Alphabet vs The Goddess, if you want a great read).

In any event, when Americans landed on the moon in 1969, the whole world watched on TV. If you are old enough, you probably have an image in your mind’s eye of those flickering black and white images as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface.  “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”. (Ok, he flubbed the line, but who wouldn’t have been nervous?)

Well, exciting, but not much in the way of character development or action, when you think about it.  Flip the dial and you get Captain Kirk blasting the Klingons at warp speed.  And, as we view the world through the filter of video, both fiction and fact, they tend to get confused.  Star Trek got renewed because it was exciting. Apollo got cancelled because it was not. It didn’t rate.

Now, Roy Greenslade, one of my favorite columnists in The Guardian, reports that psychiatrists are diagnosing a new mental disorder: The Truman Syndrome.  People who believe that they are living in a reality show all the time.

This is a new phenomenon, but I think we can expect to see more of these cases in the future.  We live in a world bathed in video. The average American now spends 4.5 hours a day watching TV, and that number is expected to jump to 7 hours a day when video comes to the web full-bore.

In the not too distant future, we may look a bit like one of those dysfunctional planets that Kirk and company used to visit from time to time. An entire culture that spends all it’s days staring at glowing screens.  In the old Star Trek episodes, Kirk was generally able to free the planet by asking the central command computer some tricky questions like ‘if I always tell the truth, what happens when I say, I’m lying?”  Given that knotty quiz, the computer generally blew up in a cloud of smoke and the planet was freed from bondage.”

Alas, here on earth, we may have to figure this one out on our own.


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