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Background Details

In this world, a single man (let's call him Morgan) lives in a ginormous steel structure designed to be a perfect model of a small American town. From inside the dome, everything appears to be normal, but once you reach the edge, it is but a wall. This is done so that people from all around the world can watch a sitcom that is real life (think The Truman Show). Everything about Morgans life is controlled from his conversations to when his car runs out of gas.

The Question

In The Truman Show, Truman only finds out his life is fake because the people running the show mess up: lights fall, rain is isolated, he can tune into their radios from his car. But let's say the people running The Morgan Show are smarter and they don't make the same, obvious mistakes. Assuming that he is content with his current lot in life, how can an ordinary person like Morgan find out that his life is fake?

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    $\begingroup$ Has he been there since birth/early childhood similar to the Truman Show? $\endgroup$ – Kys Jun 6 '16 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ This Q&A has a disturbing resemblance to teaching North Koreans about the outside world $\endgroup$ – Nayuki Jun 6 '16 at 23:09
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is unanswerable without knowing how he was educated. With good training in subjects like economics, physics, psychology, or anything that tells how the world normally works, he'll quickly find a gazillion errors in the show's worldbuilding. But if he's brainwashed, he might not even have a concept for things being fake. $\endgroup$ – Vandroiy Jun 6 '16 at 23:09
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    $\begingroup$ How do you know you're not in a show right now? or a simulation for that matter? $\endgroup$ – LukeN Jun 7 '16 at 2:27
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    $\begingroup$ Think less Truman Show and more The Village. *shudder* $\endgroup$ – Shane Jun 7 '16 at 19:23

12 Answers 12

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The problem made by The Truman show operators was not isolated rain. It is more fundamental than that.

As others have said, they taught Truman about the real world, and they taught him about fake worlds on tv shows. Then expected him not to discover that his life was more similar to a fake world than the real one? They taught Truman what a plane was, and then scared him away from using them by saying they are dangerous. Why tell him of the existence of planes in the first place?

They taught him that there was a world out there, and built a dome that blocked him off from it. They gave him a tv, so he would be expected to recognise a terrible, overdramatic tv plot - when his uncle twice removed comes back from the dead, claiming to have had amnesia, and actually be the heir to the Morgan family fortune, Morgan will realise that not only is he in a tv show, but the ratings are heading south. TV producers are bad at their job, and he will realise eventually, if he has tv to compare his life to.

People are inherently curious. They will explore the limits of their environment. If there is a dome, they will find it. If they have been taught that there is a 'rest of the world' out there, they will realise they are in a 'fake world'.

If the Morgan show crew take the same fundamental approach as the Truman show (he knows the world population is ~7 billion, he owns a car and a tv, can afford a plane ticket and reach an airport, and is contained within his world by a dome and 'coincidences' to keep him away from it, He will inevitably try so frequently to leave that the 'coincidences' become obvious conspiracy.

If they actually wanted Morgan to never realise he was in a tv show, they would need a much better way to stop him from leaving than relying on him not being curious, and the dome is a liability, not an asset.

Base the show in the middle of hostile and remote terrain, i.e. somewhere in Australia, near the border of SA, WA and NT. Don't build a stupid dome. Don't give the town an airport. If he leaves, that's not a problem. Tell both of the people who live within 24 hours drive not to freak out if he talks to them, and if he does drive for 4 days straight to reach Perth, Darwin or Adelaide, plenty of time to drill everyone in 'not messing up a conversation with him', and some time to stage a mugging and some other unpleasant events to make sure he doesn't enjoy his holiday.

The best way to stop him realising it is a tv show would be locate the town as above, but don't teach Morgan about the existence of any of the following items: Car, plane, train, T.V., computer, smartphone. This way, if he leaves the town, he will be dying of thirst before he reaches anywhere (and plenty of time for the town to send a rescue team to save him. Have the town mostly self sufficient, and bring in supplies by wagon (well, 99% of the way by truck and the last bit by wagon). This may make the TV show less realistic I suppose?

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    $\begingroup$ They taught Truman about these things so they could place commercials about them. Commercials ruined the Truman show. There's a lesson in there. $\endgroup$ – DevSolar Jun 7 '16 at 7:15
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    $\begingroup$ "This may make the TV show less realistic I suppose?" - You'd get a more realistic TV show by replacing Morgan with an actor. Frankly, that's much more practical than any of this Truman Show silliness, but OP probably doesn't want that answer. $\endgroup$ – Kevin Jun 7 '16 at 7:15
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    $\begingroup$ I fear this relies a little too much on there not being anyone who sets out with the intention of interfering/notifying Morgan of his predicament. The world is full of crazies, and one doesn't even need to be that to sympathise enough with Morgan to take action. Without controlling access to his location, a visitor from out of town could ruin everything... and having access controls will surely arouse Morgan's suspicion/prevent him leaving. $\endgroup$ – eggyal Jun 7 '16 at 7:20
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    $\begingroup$ Down vote because, just like in Truman Show, outsiders will disagree with the show's morals and will try and disrupt it. Without a dome, or some other sort of physical access control this will be very easy. $\endgroup$ – Qwerky Jun 7 '16 at 9:15
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    $\begingroup$ Have the town mostly self sufficient, and bring in supplies by wagon. So where does the wagon come from? Where does the wagon go to? The outside world? Then let me hitch a lift. $\endgroup$ – Nigel Touch Jun 7 '16 at 9:53
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He wouldn't

I enjoyed the Truman Show a lot, but it suffers from a fatal flaw which your scenario shares. We (the audience) see the character's world as mostly normal but not quite right. We know lights don't fall from the sky, people don't blatantly advertise products, and so on. The flaw in the Truman Show is that Truman shares our sense of normality. In actuality, this sense would be shaped by the society he was raised in. Consider the following scenario:

Morgan is raised in a village. To our modern knowledge, it is a classical-era European style town. Every day, the High Priest prays to the Great Bird God for benevolence. And each day the Great Bird God (cargo plane) bestows its gifts (paradrops supplies) upon the town. To the outside observer, this is very achronological. But to Morgan, nothing is out of the ordinary. This is the way his world works. The same idea could be applied to the dome. Morgan doesn't think, "This is the dome keeping me from the real world." He thinks, "This is the edge of the world."

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    $\begingroup$ I always thought Truman shared our sense of normality because the showrunners weren't screwing up before. He'd be used to the product placement, but not stuff like the lights falling from the sky or "dead" cast members returning. $\endgroup$ – user2357112 Jun 7 '16 at 0:17
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    $\begingroup$ If people always accepted received wisdom without question, human civilisation would never have developed. We are fundamentally inquisitive creatures, and there are many examples throughout history of people rejecting the beliefs of everyone around them because they have seen something that does not fit. $\endgroup$ – eggyal Jun 7 '16 at 0:50
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    $\begingroup$ @eggyal: true, but not as many as there examples of people not doing that. $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Jun 7 '16 at 1:45
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    $\begingroup$ But to make the sitcom entertaining to the viewers (people presumably in the real world), you would want to this domed world to imitate the real world as much as possible so it's accessible to viewers. $\endgroup$ – LukeN Jun 7 '16 at 2:30
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    $\begingroup$ i think you just convinced me i'm trapped in a show. it seems like the most reasonable explanation for widespread religion and patriotism. $\endgroup$ – james turner Jun 7 '16 at 18:25
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Alienate viewers and the cast itself by committing serious crimes.

A TV show of this nature will be very skilled at control and manipulation of events. What they’ll have a harder time doing is hiding the fact that Morgan is a criminal or a bloodthirsty psychopath.

Even with a heavily cynical perspective of the world today, a show which emphasizes that it’s following an actual person’s life will not be able to depict heinous crimes without consequences. (Most) audiences won’t stand to watch it and real-world laws will require a response. A TV show about Morgan’s daily life in a prison cell is likely to have a steep ratings drop after a couple of days.

If the show runners are sufficiently ethically dubious, they might first try to play off the crimes or even hide them. Robbery, vandalism, or even assault could potentially be hand waived with the right PR department (after all, is it really robbery in a fake TV town?). More serious crimes, such as murder, would inevitably have out-of-show consequences that could not be easily hidden. This leads to a choice of cancellation and prison for Morgan (thus having stumbled upon the truth) or doctored footage and an attempt by the show runners to rehabilitate Morgan without his knowledge. Rehabilitation would necessarily require an increase in suspicious occurrences from Morgan’s point of view as his (supposedly) unsuspecting victims somehow seem to know he’s coming or he otherwise has random obstacles thrown in his way. If this continues long enough, even talented show runners might not be able to keep up the farce.

This of course says nothing of the cast itself, which might seriously reconsider their roles on the show after the star murders a co-worker.

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    $\begingroup$ lol, the first SE answer where "kill 'em all" is the accepted response. Imagine a cannibal eating people on the "set". $\endgroup$ – Cloud Jun 6 '16 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ This seems very situational, really. Either Morgan is a sociopathic murder, or he is not. Committing crimes to determine whether or not he is in a TV show is not something that would be done unless he had reason to believe he was in a TV show. The question called for an 'ordinary' person, and ordinary people aren't rampaging psychopaths. So, unless he was given reason to believe that he lived in a TV show, he probably wouldn't turn to psychotic crime. $\endgroup$ – guildsbounty Jun 6 '16 at 20:42
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    $\begingroup$ @guildsbounty I agree, although I wouldn’t presume that someone raised from birth in a budgeted simulation would quite match our definition of ordinary. $\endgroup$ – Avernium Jun 6 '16 at 21:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Avernium unless we are all raised from birth in a budgeted simulation. Just ask Elon Musk $\endgroup$ – Liam Jun 6 '16 at 22:33
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    $\begingroup$ @guildsbounty even if he suspected it he would have to be fairly mal-adjusted already to murder someone just to try to figure out if he was on a TV show! $\endgroup$ – colmde Jun 6 '16 at 22:43
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First, he will accept everything

As others have mentioned, there's nothing that Morgan wouldn't accept, because he grew up with it.

Imagine once a year a bright pink tank drove onto set, shoots massive confetti cannon, then drives off again. Morgan wont think it's weird, he'll just know "Oh, it's that time of the year, the annual pink tank confetti event."

Media

The only way to get Morgan to question his world is to present information about the real world. If he reads books, watches shows, or receives any media that describes the world that doesn't match his dome, then he'll begin to question his environment. Once he's on alert, it will be easier for him to spot discrepancies.

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    $\begingroup$ He's not guaranteed to accept everything. Most adults are capable of critical thinking. He might accept the pink confetti tank as a child, but as an adult at some point he's going to ask; where does it come from, where does it go afterwards, why is it here? Most children figure out that Santa Claus doesn't exist before they're 10, despite large scale efforts to uphold the pretence. $\endgroup$ – Qwerky Jun 7 '16 at 9:20
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    $\begingroup$ That's not a great analogy - I think everyone would believe in santa if he actually turned up on christmas. $\endgroup$ – patstew Jun 7 '16 at 17:18
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    $\begingroup$ I think he would have critical thinking, but more on why things happen, not whether they should be happening. E.g. we want to find out more about the sun, but we don't think "hey, something's up, there shouldn't be a sun here" $\endgroup$ – Mirror318 Jun 7 '16 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Qwerky The Santa Claus thing is slightly different since a lot of media actually encourages children to question it and they can see older children and adults don't believe. It's a massive tell when 90% of the population clearly doesn't believe. $\endgroup$ – Pharap Jun 7 '16 at 23:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Mirror318 I suddenly find myself questioning whether the sun is real or not. $\endgroup$ – Pharap Jun 7 '16 at 23:13
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Travel as far as possible. There's a limit to how big they can make the set.

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    $\begingroup$ Is this a reference to Truman's journey over the "ocean"? $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jun 6 '16 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 I never watched The Truman Show. Travel by some means that lets you actually see the terrain you're going over. Unless they have holodeck-level ability to simulate you'll find the edge of the set in time. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Jun 6 '16 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds like the solution to The Thirteenth Floor as well $\endgroup$ – JamesCW Jun 6 '16 at 21:02
  • $\begingroup$ @LorenPechtel The person in question could have been taught that the world has an edge and would simply believe that they had found it. $\endgroup$ – Pharap Jun 7 '16 at 23:25
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His personality

His personality is probably the biggest thing that can let him know he's in a fake environment. If he's an average joe who will accept life as-is... no. He's not going to find a way out. But that isn't the only type of people that exist. Some have a natural inclination of something more, and follow through with it.

Here's some personality types that would "break out of the bubble" so to speak.

  • The explorer. Kys answer makes the claim that he'll reach "the end" and accept it. Someone with a true explorer mentality, when they reach "the end" will try to see what is past "the end". The attitude that looks at "the end" of Europe and says, "I wonder what's on the side of that Ocean..." the attitude that looks at an endless desert and wonders, "Not only can I cross it, but how fast can I cross it?" or the type that looks at the stars, jumps, and then thinks, "Hm... I need to think of a way to get up there" and starts strapping fireworks to the legs of a chair.

  • The researcher. A simulated environment, no matter how well crafted, will have flaws due to limitations of simulation. In fact, there are scientists right now investigating whether our universe is one advanced holodeck by watching for minute fluctuations in cosmic rays that will indicate if things are truely analog or if they're "rounded" at a certain number of decimal places like a computer might to save space. In your dome scenario, the dome could easily be discovered by tests involving wanting to look at what's "in the sky" by firing some high-altitude fireworks.

  • The conquorer: Someone who rapes/pillages/plunders/conquors/destroys things. Everyone will know what the target of the show would be doing. If he's highly destructive, the world's eventually going to run out of volunteers to take the job. Further, if he ever reaches "the edge", he'd likely try to break it. And he'd get there through conquest. The "fake" world thrust upon him wouldn't matter as he exerts his own will on the world around him.

  • The authority: Someone who rules, who takes command, if he rises up in the ranks (which would be more likely because it'd make good progression) he'd eventually want to contact others and make deals/alliances/etc. Sure, they may all come to him initially. Alternatively, if he thinks he's the only one (leader of anything), and that there's nothing beyond, the boundary zone that separates him from the wall will become a terrain to be conquered. it'll be slow, but he'd get his reach to it and through it eventually, or die trying.

  • The Thrill Seeker: Some something "bad" happens every time he heads out into the boundary zone before he hits the wall. Well, that's just an obstacle to overcome. Empty desert? He takes provisions next time. Gas? Next trip he wears a gas mask, takes bottled air, etc. Roving bandits next time? He learns to defend himself next time out. A sea? He learns to sail. Each trip, and each thing that blocks him, he learns to cross it and gets further. The wall at the end of the world? The pickaxe comes out. The fact there are things to block him becomes the very thing that drives him onwards. The fact that the crew will probably avoid killing him will probably drive him to more intense acts of daring-do.

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You couldn't do it with a pretence at reality, ie in a small American town. Curiosity and critical thinking would at some point reveal the truth. He's going to figure out that his life and his town are very different from what he knows about the world. At some point in his life he will want to leave town. There are many reasons why;

  • He wants to go on holiday
  • He wants to buy something not available in his town
  • He wants to have some sort of experience not available in his town
  • He wants to visit somebody who lives somewhere else

An example of his critical thinking might be;
My car always runs out of gas. Other cars don't run out of gas. There is something special about me.
I don't go on holiday. Other people do go on holidays. There is something special about me.
I've seen public transport on TV. There are no trains, buses, boats or planes that leave my town. There is something special about my town.

Instead of a setting in a town it would be easier to construct an artificial scenario based around an isolated group of survivors after some sort of global disaster. Examples might be a group in an underground bunker/shelter after nuclear war, or a group hiding on a small isolated island after an alien invasion of the planet.

Whatever scenario you come up with you should have;

  • A backstory to explain the situation and evidence to reinforce it
  • A physical barrier or obstacle to make it hard to get on or off the set
  • A compelling reason why nobody would ever try to leave and why nobody ever visits, backed up with evidence of its futility/danger
  • Self sufficiency, or an irrefutable explanation of resources
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  • $\begingroup$ A small town would be fine as long as you said 'the world is tiny, this is the only town in the world'. $\endgroup$ – Pharap Jun 7 '16 at 23:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Pharap if its the only town in the world, where does all the food/clothing/tools/goods come from? It needs to be self sufficient. $\endgroup$ – Qwerky Jun 8 '16 at 9:59
  • $\begingroup$ That's perfectly possible. Food can all be grown or farmed, tools can be made from the convinient nearby mines, clothing can be silk from silk worms or made from wool or plant fibres. The simpler you keep things, the more self-sustainable the town will be. $\endgroup$ – Pharap Jun 8 '16 at 22:51
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At present, if you wanted to create a 'show' about a person, you actually wouldn't need to confine them in a dome.

You could get the majority of your footage from existing sources in our environment - CCTV on the streets, safety cameras on police officers/taxis/buses/etc, you could very easily hide small cameras in objects on his daily routine. Audio could be captured clearly and in real time from his own phone, and he'd be oblivious. That in itself wouldn't make a great show, but we already have shows that make big ratings on low quality footage, pad it out a bit with some opinions of nobodies watching from their couches, a few snazzy graphics, and bam. You have some high-profit low-cost reality TV.

Your actor could be anyone, and your show could kick off right now. With the data collection governments are doing, you could spin off hours upon hours of voyeuristic content about almost any person alive and living in a big city that has ample surveillance.

The question remains. How would Morgan find out he is on this show?

Which brings up a poignant answer directly in the comments. How do you know you're not already on such a show?

Edit: And I feel bad, and should probably give you a hypothetical to go along with your story. Lets assume he never finds out - it's a perfect simulation. But the world grew tired of him, budgets ran out. If this scenario occurred, in a moral world, he'd probably be approached, told that his environment was no longer sustainable and had to leave - hence finding out about the dome. Alternatively, since he is confined in a dome for everyone elses pleasure we can assume it's not a moral world. One day everyone he knows leaves, the world goes dark, and he's alone. You'd either clue on or go mad pretty rapidly.

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  • $\begingroup$ If you make a show out of the life of a real person out in the real world, it won't take long for someone who has seen the show to recognize him in public and spill the beans. Even if you try to keep people in the area it's filmed from seeing the show, it'll get in eventually. $\endgroup$ – Martin Carney Jun 8 '16 at 19:29
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I'm not sure how helpful this is but I had an idea I think is intriguing enough to sign up for and share.

Do you ever tell someone a story, and when something weird happens, you say it was just like in a soap opera? Well, since he's part of a show this might happen to him. Or his life is so mundane that he gets nuts, starting to question everything, experiencing signs of delusion, developing serious mental illness. As part of said delusion, he becomes convinced that all their lives are staged, resulting in him losing everything. Due to this obsession he starts to find useless proof, tiny tiny holes in the setup that everyone will rule out as complete randomness (This solves the issue of the show's runners being smart enough to not leave any evidence behind) and attribute to his crazyness. Just in the nick of time, before he's locked up for good or something, other people find real proof that they are part of a show. Sort of like in 12 Angry Men, with the protagonist being Juror number 8. Same narrative, make the story about someone in his midlife crisis going nuts, and use this revelation as the ultimate plot twist in the end.

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Someone from shows crew will tell him

Even if you do something good to people there will be a lot of people that will blame you. In this case you're taking humans freedom so you will have millions of haters. I will be one of them.

After few episodes or seasons (and how they will make every season finish on epic moment) someone will get a job at show and then tell him a truth.

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His life is real. Influenced and limited but not fake. Observational and perceived reality are relative to the individual and the observer. Yes, he is controlled and influenced directly by others, but we all are. Some more than others.

Most people determine and accept their own limiting bubble from experiences and beliefs learned from others.

Simply, we create our own domes. Our friends and family add to the dome. Our governments add to the dome.

Our memories, desires and fears and create the dome - that does not exist.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site Jeffrey. While interesting you answer doesn't directly address the question as asked. Keep in mind this is less a philosophical discussion and more a here's a situation how does it work? question. If you have any questions check out the help center and feel free to visit Worldbuilding Chat $\endgroup$ – James Jun 8 '16 at 14:28
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Probably not at all.

Inspired by @pharap's comment about doubting OUR Sun is real:
Our own situation isn't much different from Morgan's.
Our ability to test things breaks down very quickly... To what degree would you demand the reality of the Sun proven? Learn optics, astronomy, research possible errors/security flaws in that lore/tech, build (not buy) a good telescope, record from multiple points, find everything else you don't know about... yech.
Maybe trust an astronaut instead? But why would you? How would you verify they WERE an astronaut in the first place? Or that they weren't duped? Going there yourself, besides being prohibitively expensive, would have been only marginally better.
And then what level of certainty would you say you held if everything you can test checked out, after years of effort? If you were in a world that was NOT modern to the viewers outside, your idea of technical & economical plausibility would be woefully outdated.

And, most important of all: What would make you want to go to any of that effort in the first place? The show admins supposedly don't screw up.

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protected by Tim B Jun 8 '16 at 8:45

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