Jury Duty’s Ronald Gladden or How to Accidentally Become a Star

By Charlina Strelow

Remem­ber “The Tru­man Show,” the icon­ic 90s movie star­ring Jim Car­rey who slow­ly real­izes that his entire life is being filmed against his will and broad­cast to a mass audi­ence? Well, imag­ine that, but make it true this time.

The set­ting:

Los Ange­les. Four­teen peo­ple are called in for jury duty. Jury duty is part of America’s judi­cial sys­tem where ran­dom­ly select­ed U.S. cit­i­zens are required – unless excused – to appear in court and take part in a case’s verdict.

The cast:

Most impor­tant­ly, we have our obliv­i­ous Tru­man, Ronald Glad­den. Also, there’s James Mars­den, known for the movies The X‑Men, The Note­book, and many more. He plays an ego­cen­tric ver­sion of him­self, con­stant­ly demand­ing spe­cial celebri­ty treat­ment. Because of him, the jurors have to stay in one hotel with no cell­phones, seclud­ed from their fam­i­lies and friends dur­ing the two weeks of the tri­al. This is quite a clever way of let­ting Ronald and the char­ac­ters grow clos­er, show­case their quirks, and secure more inti­mate footage.

Join­ing James Marsden’s char­ac­ter is Noah, a devot­ed Mor­mon who tries to nav­i­gate his strict reli­gion and the new­ly-found atten­tion of fel­low juror – chaot­ic, flir­ty Jean­nie. Then there’s Todd who, fas­ci­nat­ed by cyber­net­ics, shows up in court with many imprac­ti­cal inven­tions, for exam­ple his “chair-pants.” Both the defendant’s lawyer and the wit­ness­es are com­i­cal­ly incom­pe­tent. Now release Ronald into this group of strange per­sonas, let it derail into chaos, and there you have it: eight episodes of hilar­i­ous, unique entertainment.

Every actor in the show is fan­tas­tic. Their abil­i­ty to stay in char­ac­ter for so long and impro­vise is remark­able. Ronald, seem­ing­ly one of the kind­est and most patient peo­ple ever, uplifts the show to a whole new lev­el. Take Todd, “the nerd.” He was placed in the cast specif­i­cal­ly to unnerve Ronald. Instead, Ronald encour­ages him and even shows him the movie A Bug’s Life, claim­ing: “I showed him that movie to kin­da let him know that, you know, those peo­ple tend to be mis­un­der­stood in soci­ety […], all he’s [Todd] try­ing to do is help in his own way.”

For his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the show, Ronald was giv­en $100,000. He was able to object to scenes he didn’t want aired and speaks fond­ly of the cast. Sounds nice, right? How­ev­er, there are more and more peo­ple online ques­tion­ing the moral­i­ty of the show. For over two weeks, Ronald thought he’d been form­ing gen­uine con­nec­tions. Yet, nei­ther the con­ver­sa­tions nor the peo­ple were real. What if he had entrust­ed per­son­al infor­ma­tion to some­one? Yes, it prob­a­bly wouldn’t have appeared on TV. But with the crew watch­ing, it also wouldn’t have stayed just between Ronald and the actor he con­fid­ed in. Mas­sive­ly lim­it­ing his con­tact with fam­i­ly and friends cer­tain­ly made him more vulnerable.

Ronald was told a doc­u­men­tary was being filmed, so at least he knew about the cam­eras in court and for inter­views. Yet those were only a frac­tion of the record­ings used. After the tri­al, Ronald expe­ri­enced para­noia. He thought he was being fol­lowed and secret­ly filmed all the time. Hid­den cam­eras aside, con­sent­ing to be a small part of a doc­u­men­tary just isn’t the same as unknow­ing­ly becom­ing the main char­ac­ter of a high­ly pop­u­lar show.

Even if Ronald had want­ed to scrap every­thing, would he have been able to? With Ama­zon and an entire pro­duc­tion team behind the show, hav­ing invest­ed lots of time and mon­ey? From what we see in inter­views, Ronald seems hap­py with the expe­ri­ence. I still think it’s impor­tant to, at least once, think about the eth­i­cal dilem­ma and pow­er imbal­ance behind it all. I’m hap­py that it went well in this case.

It’s unlike­ly that you’re acci­den­tal­ly going to become the star of a pop­u­lar TV show. (Although that’s prob­a­bly what Ronald thought too, and here we are). Becom­ing a hero (or anti-hero) on Tik­Tok, the very plat­form that made the show as famous as it is, is much more like­ly. Film­ing strangers in pub­lic and upload­ing the videos on Tik­Tok with­out con­sent has become com­plete­ly nor­mal. These videos can be pos­i­tive (e.g., show­cas­ing a cool out­fit), neg­a­tive (e.g., catch­ing a snip­pet of someone’s per­son­al­i­ty off-guard and judg­ing them relent­less­ly) or any­thing in between (e.g., mak­ing up sce­nar­ios about the peo­ple filmed). They all have one thing in com­mon: These peo­ple did not ask to be filmed, let alone go viral. This time it isn’t a planned TV show like Jury Duty, it’s us, reg­u­lar peo­ple try­ing to go viral. There’s a great Buz­zfeed arti­cle about the top­ic, in which the author refers to it as Panop­ti­con­tent. The word com­bines con­tent with Jere­my Bentham’s philo­soph­i­cal con­cept of the Panop­ti­con, a prison in which every pris­on­er can be observed at all times. Fit­ting, isn’t it?

If you want to learn more about ways in which being secret­ly record­ed can affect people’s lives, here’s an inter­est­ing com­pi­la­tion by YouTu­ber Salem Tovar:

We all deserve to live life with­out the con­stant fear of being filmed. Let’s nor­mal­ize mind­ing our own busi­ness and not using inno­cent peo­ple around us as step­ping­stones for our fif­teen min­utes of fame. Let’s not cre­ate any more Tru­mans, please.

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While Char­li­na likes her major, cul­tur­al stud­ies, as a whole, she’s most pas­sion­ate about lit­er­a­ture. Cur­rent­ly, she’s try­ing to read one book from every coun­try in the world. So far, her favorites are from Turkey, India, and Vietnam.