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The Prophetic "Network"
During the last few decades we have watched the news organizations and media outlets conglomerate together. When this began, many were unaware that the same people behind their favorite morning news are often the same people behind their favorite Hollywood movies. This means the people we all count on to give us the truth are the same people feeding us fake stories meant to conjure up certain emotions. We no longer count on the truth if we are entertained. Yet, when we encounter a movie that shows us bluntly the true effects of what is in store, we laugh and call it entertainment.
That is exactly what many people did when the film Network was released in 1976. The film uses satire to expose the corrupt greed that arises from the conglomeration of networks. Network exposes our own vices to us. The film uses the audience as a mirror; offering us the chance to see ourselves through them. We love sensational mad prophets. We are willing to overlook any accuracy, so that we can continue to be entertained instead.
The film features the character Howard Beale. Beale is a retiring network news anchor whose ratings has declined along with his home life. Other main characters are: Diana Christenson, an overly ambitious woman who heads the programming department. Beale’s co-worker and friend Max Schumacher, is the head of the news department at the station. Frank Hackett is Diana’s boss and head of the entertainment division. Arthur Jensen is a chairman of the Communications Corporations of America (CCA). In the film, Howard announces on the air that he will commit suicide because his ratings are so poor and the job was all he had. His announcement boosts his ratings and that causes Diana to see him as prey. Diana and Frank decide to put him on the air in their department; something Max disagrees with and is subsequently fired for. Then, The Howard Beale show is born.
On the show, Howard takes on the persona of the angry Mad Prophet who spews vitriol on stage about the destructive forces working against the people. One of the most interesting things about this film, was the reactions of the audience and the viewers. He tells them what they already know; they are participating in a propaganda force, television is not the truth. He tells them he is there to kill their boredom. Reminds them to read, but knows they won’t. He screams at the audience to turn off their televisions and they clap at this and watch diligently and scream with him en masse.
The film was released in 1976, but it might as well have been released today. Like the film, our networks have been bought up by conglomerates. Like the film, people are exploited to their detriment on “reality” network shows. The truth only gets high ratings when it is led by blood, sweat, and/or pain. It is just as hard to find anyone with integrity in the film as it is to find one on our airways or internet sites. Like the film, our society has also lost part of its humanity. Empathy has been taken over by apathy. Integrity has been lost to dishonesty.
Diana found a willing vessel with Howard. With help from Frank, she shapes and molds Howard into her choosing, dehumanizing him along the way. Interestingly, she seems to get an awful lot of pleasure out of this. She is as corrupt as a human being can be; she sees ratings only at one point she thinks a “suicide of the week” would be great for shares.
Howard was easy to mold. After causing an uproar about a merger, he meets with Jensen. Jensen sets him straight about mergers and what they mean; he says the scariest thing imaginable to Howard, “there is only IBM and ITT and ATT and Dupont, Dow, Union Carbine and Exxon” (Network). This speech to Howard causes him to tow the line and his last full on-air speech is the direct result of it. Howard says on stage the most prophetic statement of the entire film, he says, “It’s the single, solitary human being that is finished”. Ironically, we watch as Howard stands on stage feeling despondent about the individual. He speaks as much about the loss of individuality as he does the giving up of companies to large conglomerates. He again urges the audience, but this time it is to basically accept their fate.
We see this now; we are told that hanging on to any specific culture is wrong. We are told that wanting to keep the mom and pop shop open will drag us down. We are denied integrity from our news anchors and writers, so that they may focus on their ratings instead. We are told that to save a company, we must combine, or simply be bought out. This we see now, we see it everywhere. The CEO’s of The Disney Company also own large shares of ESPN, ABC (Page); they own films, music and recreation. Where there was once many there is now only a couple. Large giant masses have formed in their stead. What do we usually get when we allow a giant mass to be left unattended? We are left with a type of cancer, one that eats away all that is good in us, and in this case, our society. This film points out what many of us are too afraid to say; by allowing these masses to form we have killed the little guy. We are choking the individual, he is taking his last gasp.
Howard’s prophetic ramblings are hard to find amusing, instead I watched in sadness and fear. In becoming the Mad Prophet, he self-fulfills his own madness. We watch him devolve into it. He was their churnalist, a machine with only one role to play; to entertain the easily fooled and to keep their ratings up.
Howard claimed his life held value, but when he lost his ratings once again we see the true value of his life. He was ratings pure and simple. Shares and revenue are all that is held sacred.
This film was satire, and yet it was more real than anything most news anchors are saying on air right now. It is interesting that a film, an “illusion” was more transparent in actual truth than those who we actually depend on for transparency.
Everyone should watch the movie Network; re-watch if you have already seen it. Though it is entertaining, it is also something to learn from. You might learn about yourself. Maybe you will learn once and for all that you just don’t care what the news organizations are doing; we should all care though. To roll over and accept what we are told we must, has made fools out of too many of us.
Mad As Hell
© 2017 Diana Boresk