The Truman Show or Bust: Usenet Group Rules and Regulations for Film Review
As an avid lover of movies and frequent user of the film review app, Letterboxd, I was immediately drawn to the Usenet group alt.movie.truman-show. The moderation of this thread piqued my interest, wondering if the occupiers of the group would keep discourse strictly about the film or if it would be opened up to discuss more than just Jim Carey’s best movie.
In the 1998 film, The Truman Show, Truman Burbank discovers that he has unknowingly been a reality TV star his whole life. Truman grows up believing that the town he lives in is real life, but in actuality nothing more than a huge set with actors playing various roles in his everyday existence. Truman isn’t aware that his entire life has been a fabrication for a TV program that is shown all over the world. Once Truman becomes suspicious of his seemingly ideal life and successfully escapes Seahaven by using a door labeled “exit”, he enjoys his newly acquired freedom.
The Usenet group was filled with many different types of moderation aiming at limiting spam
keeping the conversations focused on film analysis and reviews, warranting all types of feedback no matter if it was positive or negative.
In a discussion titled “Truman Sux” the original writer did nothing but simply claim the movie sucked. They were subsequently shamed for this post, not because of its dissenting review, but for the lack of substance. Moderators of the Usenet group pleaded with the individual to at least provide an actual review if you are going to bash a movie. These comments were followed by a real unfavorable review that claimed “I really tried to like the movie, but couldn’t get into it. Carey was good, but I wasn’t keen on the plot.” This simple review was received graciously by the group telling the opposing user that his comments were “perfectly alright” and some actually thanked the user for being “intelligent about your response.”
I was pleased to learn that the users of the Truman Show Usenet community were receptive to opposing viewpoints and thoughtful criticism, even if it was negative. Their responses in this thread fit well with their regulations values of keeping debates about the movie relevant and high quality. The group’s rules appear to encourage thoughtful conversation and analysis of The Truman Show rather than only praising or condemning the film. They clearly set the expectation that comments should constructively review the film, even if users disliked it.
By giving a distasteful review supported with analysis, like criticizing particular elements such as the plot, the negative comment clearly met the groups requirements for offering a relevant opinion on the film. The group’s respectful acceptance of this review demonstrates that they value different points of view as long as they are supported by evidence. Instead of having only favorable viewpoints, this interaction benefits the conversation by allowing for various types of discourse to exist about the film in this thread.
The other types of moderation on this usenet group came in the form of keeping the discussion board on topic and limiting spam. Some users set strict guidelines reminding others that the group is specifically about the Truman Show and voice their grievances toward spam messages and cross-post comments. By reminding users the goal of the narrow intended scope of the thread, they do their best at removing clutter consisting of unrelated topics. Moderators of this thread clearly have a love for this film and dislike discourse that takes away from possible analysis.
For example, one user posted an unnecessary comment about their inappropriate daydreams of Britney Spears naked. This post was promptly responded to by a user expressing their distaste with this comment and quick reminder by asking “What the hell does this have to do with the topic of this newsgroup?” This thread exhibits users self-moderating the Usenet group by flagging inappropriate tangents. This allowed moderators to hone in on non-compliant posts and take action accordingly.
Another illustration of the moderation in the Truman Show group was in response to a user writing a review about the 1997 film, Lolita. Reminding users to keep their messages to stay relevant to the specific topic of the Usenet group is a clear sign of regulation that seems very strict in this capacity to keep the thread tailored.
Collectively these examples show the group’s expectations for maintaining attention on The Truman Show inline with its premise. Moderators and users diligently attempted to flag and limit external topics that would divert the discussions while still permitting meaningful critiques and debate within that boundaries of the group. Preserving posts that relate to the topic and prohibiting those that steered the discourse in unrelated directions allowed for the desired conversation space for this film to thrive.
“Alt.Movies.Truman-Show.Mbox.” Internet Archive: View Archive, ia800701.us.archive.org/view_archive.php?archive=%2F3%2Fitems%2Fusenet-alt%2Falt.movies.truman-show.mbox.zip. Accessed 3 Oct. 2023.
“The Truman Show.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 5 June 1998, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120382/.