Truman doesn't know that it's fake
The Truman Show (1999) is about a man's life. Since the day he was born, his life has been filmed and broadcasted to the rest of the world without him knowing. Everyone around Truman is an actor, following the script as his friendly neighbours, his love interests, and his co-workers. His hometown, Seahaven, was a hyperreal stage set inside a massive dome. The movie portrays life as a performance within a simulation, and the result of such simulation was so convincing that they had the viewers doubting the outside world. Since Truman only lived in this simulation, it is the only true reality that he could experience.
The collision between virtual and reality happened when Truman saw a stage light fall from the blue sky. While the movie successfully hopped on the late 90s trend of simulation fantasy cinema, it steered away from the zeroes ones coding gimmick of The Matrix (1999). It found its reference in the cookie-cutter tranquillity of the suburbs. The Truman Show taps into what an American Dream looks like for its fragility and performative qualities, challenging the planned routine and predictable loops of life in American suburbia.
New Urbanism tried to fix the suburbs
The movement held on to traditional values of a peaceful time in America; a bygone era is now revamped for American families in search of the sweet ol’ suburban living. It was the period after WW2; many urban planners sought the New Urbanism movement, fostering a vision for walkable, human-scaled suburban neighborhoods and pushing for the revival of community living. The American urban sprawl fostered an ideal vision of a perfect white-picket fence house for a traditional nuclear family. They reside a 30-minute drive from the metropolitan city core, away from the pollution and madness.
Looking back, most Floridian neighborhoods built during New Urbanism and Postmodernism can look a little… tacky. But this tackiness is part of the peaceful quality of an ideal American neighborhood, and its residents embrace it dearly. The essence of New Urbanism is a controlled homogeneity that is upheld with rules and regulations, where one can be scrutinized and fined if their house is painted in a colour unapproved by the housing association. Postmodernism coincides with this movement through its antithesis to the isolated and supreme modernity of its predecessors. They both celebrate the conviviality that a uniform yet vibrant facade can bring to a community or a building.
The well master-planned suburb in Florida
While The Truman Show is a hyperreal simulation, it was filmed at Seaside in Florida, one of the many towns established during the rise of New Urbanism. During its primetime after the success of The Truman Show, Seaside became a tourist landmark for travellers and vacationers to see the pastel-colored tranquil neighborhood and immerse themselves into Truman's universe. The American housing circus is known prominently for its suburbs, full of cul-de-sacs, driveways, and single-family houses. However, not all suburbs were made equal. Zoning laws, infrastructure, utilities, and housing construction are all at stake when planning a new suburban neighborhood.
But what happens when a private corporation controls these state-regulated factors?
Welcome to Celebration, Florida
TTransitioning this notion into the protagonist of our matter is the town Celebration in Florida. Fitting for its name, the town celebrates the good ol' American qualities of suburban living, minus the isolation and disconnection, for Disney privately owns it. While everyone is aware of Disney's empire and their parks, unknowing to the rest of the world, Celebration was made so people don't just play at Disneyland, they can also live and raise a family near Disneyland.
Learning from their mistake of not buying the surrounding lands of the first Disneyland (160 acres) in California, when they arrived in Florida, Disney bought 27,000 acres and set out to build a utopia and extend their wealth. Much of the inspiration for Celebration came from Mr Walt Disney's original idea called EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (now became one of the six parks within Disney World).
The magic is kept alive in Celebration as it is owned completely by the Disney Company, which means its streets, garbage collection, bridges, and amenities are all contracted under Disney. With such a historic corporation backing its development, Celebration's amenities and planning aspect must abide by strict privatization rules. The goal of private zoning for an entire town is to bring in suitable amenities and businesses that can best serve their population and attract the right visitors.
As long as postmodernism is concerned, the downtown area is adorned with some pleasant creations from Michael Graves, Robert Venturi, and Denise Scott Brown, well-known as the pioneers of the Postmodernist movement in America. In short, the town is made to evoke a comforting feeling of nostalgia. Pretty, picturesque, and unreal are the first few words to describe the downtown area of Celebration. One can only imagine what life here is like being on summer holiday forever. And that is exactly what Disney aimed for when they planned this 5,000-acre for 10,000 new residents.
The pattern book
To maintain its beauty, it has a pattern book that all homeowners in Celebration abide by. This book aims to prevent randomness or disorder in home renovation in the name of homogeneity, one of the main characteristics of the New Urbanism period.
— Every home in Lake Evalyn is required to have a
— Victorian homes do not have shutters
— On Downey Place, all home must be painted
— All street-facing windows treatment must be white
Celebration's pattern book omits many colors on its pages, creating an atmosphere where people are increasingly seeking comfort in others who look like them. Since its opening day in 1996, this beige and pastel dreamland has struggled to find racial diversity in its population. Celebration is a direct neighbour to towns comprising mostly Black and Hispanic residents. Within the county's census, there is 29 percent Hispanic, while Celebration, only 7 percent of its population, is Hispanic. During the homeowner recruitment process, Disney campaigned hard to invite more diversity with brochures featuring minority families; to prevent bias in the housing market, they made a lottery system for house owners for the first 500 houses and apartments. From their theme park to the real world, Disney did their best to nurture diversity, but the reality is not so easily engineered. Fueled directly by the revival of suburban planning, the New Urbanist movement made way for the picturesque towns of Florida, where it is so pristine and uniform that you almost feel like you're living in a simulation. Should more corporations own and plan new towns? One can say that this is the American Dream, and it is alive in Florida, although it depends on your daydreaming ability.