A Real-Life Truman Show?

The town of Rosemary Beach sits along a stretch of the Florida panhandle known for its alabaster sand beaches and clear aquamarine water. The community is a recreation of an Italian seaside resort, complete with stone cobbled streets and towering villas overlooking quaint shops in buildings in muted hues of cranberry and tangerine.

I’ve stopped here on a tour I’m taking of the Gulf of Mexico coastline. I started my drive Friday from the Atlantic Coast in Jacksonville and have been working my way west. Eventually I’ll cross paths with the eastern migration of tar balls and blobs of oil suspended in waves. After that, at some point, I’ll reach the viscous sheen that covers the water and everything in its path. With each dip I take in the warm water along the way, I wonder whether it will be my last.

Rosemary Beach is part of a long-stretch of high-end resorts, connected by palm-tree lined roads. On Sunday, this stretch had not yet been touched by the BP oil spill disaster and one arriving here straight from a cave would have no knowledge that anything bad could be headed its way. But then Rosemary Beach is designed to keep out the bad elements of reality. The private beach is only for those who own homes here. To get through the gate leading to the water, one must punch in a combination pass code. The town’s elegantly manicured gardens belie its state’s housing market collapse. But just outside of town, realtors advertise “Free Foreclosure Lists!”

Sitting along a commons of lush grass, an attractive young couple casually dressed in designer sunglasses, khakis, and expensive sandals led a group of fair-haired children in prayer. The young blond woman urged the children to suggest prayers to say for their families, but the group of eight- and ten-year-olds sat silently except for the sound of them slurping from their juice boxes.

Finally, the woman gave up and began the prayer herself. She thanked God for all his blessings. She made no mention of the oil spill disaster or of the people whose lives had been destroyed by it. Rather, she asked God to continue to bestow his bountiful blessings on the children and their families.

Later, I learned that filmed near here was The Truman Show, a movie in which the protagonist (played by Jim Carrey) spends his life not realizing that everything around him is just a carefully crafted illusion and that his entire world exists in a bubble visible from outer space. Truman only learns about the real world when a camera comes crashing from the sky, almost landing on his head.