Plato is not the god of science fiction

SourceFed's Movie Club is a great series.  Members of the SourceFed team get together and watch old movies, invite the audience to watch old movies, then make videos about them, in which they talk about those movies and play clips of other people's videos in response to the same movies. The latest one, which came out yesterday, is about the Truman Show.  It's a very good movie, and Elliot and Steve did a great job making a show about it.  I have no problem with them.

I do, however, have a problem with YouTube user "TheProfessor," who said,

Now it's one of the many films that takes its inspiration from the Greek philosopher Plato, and his Allegory of the Cave, basically challenging the idea of what we perceive to be reality.

No.  No, for frak's sake, no.  Plato did not come up with the idea of a veiled or false reality -- and, really, it's not that hard an idea to come up with.  It comes pretty naturally, if you work professionally in fiction -- which is lying to people about reality for a living.

The ideas "A lot of people don't really know what's going on" and "It's in the interests of some people for that to be a case" aren't the central points of the Allegory of the Cave.  The Allegory of the Cave is about Plato's concept of the Forms, a comprehension of a fundamental trueness embedded in reality that can be arrived at within one's own mind.  A person being lied to, even a person being lied to a lot, is not enough to make something a retelling of the Allegory of the Cave.

Here are some of the things that would need to be present in a movie to make a reasonable case that it's inspired by, or heavily based on, the Allegory of the Cave:

  • The false reality should be a falsehood based on a falsehood -- in the cave, it was shadows of sculptures.  (In the Truman Show, Truman has real, complicated relationships with people who both live a lie in relation to him, and genuinely care about him in some way or another.)
  • The world outside should contain metaphysical truths not present in the standard reality.  (If The Truman Show is an allegory for Plato's Allegory, Truman escapes from who knows what obscure falsehood, and makes it out into the cave, chained to the wall.)
  • There should be multiple, distinct phases of revelation, and those phases should each seem to be reality for a while.  (The Truman show does actually have this, but I bring it up because the standard Cave-remake example, the Matrix, doesn't.)
  • The other people in the 'cave' should be deceived, too.  (The Truman Show is sort of solipsistic -- Truman is the only person trapped in the cave.  All the other people actually are the shadows.  ...And the puppets.  And the real world.)

In connection, I want to quote YouTube user "ClassyLibrarian," slightly earlier in the video, who said,

The overall idea of the plot is incredibly interesting, it's one that's used so much in sci fi, in films and literature, of course the classic is Big Brother, you've also got the Matrix, the Adjustment Bureau, Dark City, which have similar themes, they're all very different but they all have that kind of similar feeling of not being in control of your own destiny, of trying to fight the outward destiny.

I quote this one because she mentions a lot of movies that often get compared to the Allegory of the Cave, and I don't think it's fair to do it with any of them.

When critics (or, more frequently, philosophers) insist that any given false world narrative is based on the Allegory of the Cave, they are doing a number of problematic things, including, but not limited to:

  1. Burying a worldwide, much longer, much richer historical tradition of false world narratives throughout the whole of art and culture, not just the Greeks after Socrates.
  2. Dismissing the ingenuity and presence in time of the creators of the work in question.
  3. Artificially inflating Plato's significance by giving him credit for stuff he had, really, nothing to do with.
  4. Feeding into the fundamentally flawed idea of essentialism, which, by the way, Plato played a huge role in popularizing, by suggesting that false world narratives are all versions of a sort of master false world narrative:  a 'Platonic' story, if you will.
    1. Buying into the idea that the minuscule handful of connecting details between any given story and all the other stories that have ever existed is more important than the particularly relevant, unique and culturally present aspects that give the art its meaning in its context.
  5. Being lazy.
  6. Being assholes.
  7. Pissing me, personally, off.

Writing stories in which things are not what they seem is not always, or even generally, a love letter to the Western-World champion in egocentrism.  There are other important stories that the artist could be referencing, if reference is a central part of the work, which it doesn't have to be.  Other people have, and will continue to, notice that we are frequently lied to by people with a lot of power -- shockingly, sometimes this happens even without a metaphor involving shadows, campfires, and the sun.

TL;DR: Stories in which people with a lot of power lie to people with not very much power are not always retellings of Plato's Allegory of the Cave -- even if there's a lot of science-fictiony or high-concept stuff in the plot.