A couple of year’s ago I stopped watching television news because it had become a cesspool of crime and horror. My New Year’s resolution last year was to stop paying attention to politics because it was bringing too much negativity into my life. Yesterday a friend of mine reported that he too has limited his intake of “news” because it was far too negative. Television in general has become a wasteland of “reality” that is anything but real. These days save for a couple of solid cable shows and a whole lot of sports I use TV purely as background noise…I doubt I’ll ever be one of those people who claims to not have a television or says they don’t watch it, but I get it. Soothsayers have been saying since its inception that TV was a beast that would eventually control us, and while that seems farfetched it’s hard to argue that we haven’t become a society of slaves to the tube. Some people argue that TV is simply a reflection of society. If that’s true, god help us! Network was released in 1976 and it caused quite a stir. It’s dark humor explored what would happen if the accountants took over the news department and TV news became beholden to ratings and profitability and was run by corporations. Yep, it came out nearly 40 year’s ago even back then the disease of corporate control was under scrutiny. There’s nothing new under the sun.
The film is most famous for the iconic character of network news anchor Howard Beale, who because his ratings were slipping had a breakdown on live television and because his meltdown was good for business he was given the green light to continue to proselytize about the demise of society and the devil inside the box known as TV. His famous line “I’m mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore” became a national catch phrase and Peter Finch’s portrayal of Beale won him an Oscar for best actor (albiet posthumously). I’m not going to share that famous scene, but rather I’d like you to take a few minutes to watch this scene that I think sums up the spirit of Network‘s message:
I don’t think I’ll say much about the film itself other than to say it was ahead of its time and its message was eerily prophetic. But I would like to comment on where we have found ourselves in 2012 in terms of the sort of television this film considered satirical. Have you spent much time flipping through the proverbial dial on your cable box these days. Most of us are guilty of watching some of this so-called programming (I have my guilty pleasures). What the hell are we watching? Hoarders Buried Alive. To Catch a Predator. Celebrity Rehab. Hillbilly Hand Fishing. Strange Sex. Cops. Toddlers and Tiaras. Bad Girls Club. Kourtney and Kim Take New York. I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.
These are real shows…not satire. Network was supposed to be satire. Showing the assassination of a newscaster on live television was a joke. The “Mao Tse Tung Hour” in which a left wing terrorist group filmed themselves committing crimes was a crazy idea. But honestly, how close have we come? Would anyone be surprised if the next big reality hit was a live broadcast of an execution?
What I’ll say about Network is that it was a film that made you think about the state of the media and society in general. Not too shabby for 1976. I also think a great sequel to the film (or a perfect complement for a radical double feature) would be Natural Born Killers! That’s one of my favorite films and it too takes the reality TV concept to its potential horrific end game.
Next Up: Cabaret