Warning: Spoilers for the motion picture “Network” follow.
From Monday’s on-line Media & Advertising in the New York Times.
With a mix of moral lessons, outrage and an apocalyptic view of the future, Mr. Beck, a longtime radio host who jumped to Fox from CNN’s Headline News channel this year, is capturing the feelings of an alienated class of Americans.
In an interview, Mr. Beck, who recently rewatched the 1976 film “Network,” said he identified with the character of Howard Beale, the unhinged TV news anchorman who declares on the air that he is “mad as hell.”
I would now like to say something to any media type reading this. And I’m going to put this in bold type just to make sure that no one misses it.
If you use your identification of Howard Beale in “Network” as a justification for the type of television show you do, you have entirely missed the whole fucking point of the movie!!!!
“Network” is not about an anchorman who goes crazy and starts telling the truth. “Network” is about an anchorman who goes crazy and how his network uses that insanity to boost it’s sagging ratings. When Paddy Chayefsky wrote “Network”, he wasn’t trying to write a satire. He was simply looking at was in the air in 1975-1976 and made some guesses about where things were heading in television. And the thing that still gives the film a jolt thirty three years later is the fact that so much of what Chayefsky saw coming, cooperate ownership of the media, weakening of network news, the blurring of news and entertainment, has come to past. It goes way past any type of satire and turns into prophecy so accurate, it would make Cassandra slap her head and go, “Fuck me! I should have had Paddy pick my NCAA brackets this year”.
Let me take a moment to explain why I think Glenn Beck misses the point about “Network” (Or rather, saw the point coming and just ducked.) and should be very, very concerned about his identification with Howard Beale.
1. HOWARD BEALE IS FUCKING NUTS!
There’s no getting past that fact. Howard Beale is stark raving mad.
That is not a slight against the character. I am simply putting his actions in perspective.
Yes, he is ultra articulate. Yes, he says the right things about the state of the world but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s hearing voices and he is following their advice. If you see someone on the bus and he’s having a conversation with an imaginary person, it doesn’t matter that he’s making an excellent point about Rene Descartes “Meditations on First Philosophy”, all that matters is that he’s talking to an imaginary person! If he’s making a valid point, it’s probably by accident.
2. HOWARD BEALE’S INSANITY IS REPACKAGED FOR MASS CONSUMPTION!
After Beale has his big mad as hell moment, the network news show is totally changed. Instead of being a program devoted to the reporting of the news, it’s now turned into a carnival side show (Complete with it’s own fortune teller, “Sybil the soothsayer”.) with Howard Beale front and center as sideshow barker and the main attraction. His cry of anger regurgitated and transformed into a mindless catch phrase.
Again, what he’s saying isn’t wrong. But it’s been packaged in a way that no one turns off the TV but will instead keep tuning in night after night. (Yeah, after the “Mad as Hell” speech, we see lots of people yelling out their window. But where’s the montage of people switching off their sets and reaching for some Thoreau after this scene?)
3. HOWARD BEALE IS ABSORBED BORG LIKE INTO THE CORPORATION!
And it’s here that if Glenn Beck has any self awareness, he should really start rethinking his Howard Beale analogy.
After Beale derails a deal between UBS’ parent company CCA and a Saudi conglomerate, Beale is taken to see the head of CCA, Arthur Jensen. But instead of being fired, Mr. Jensen uses Beale instability to his advantage.
So, let’s review. Glenn Beck, a man who nightly rails against a possible one world government identities with a film character who ends up advocating a one world government.
Please, let us take a moment to savor this irony.
Mmmmmm, that’s good irony.
Let me just make the point that I’m not trying to rag on “Network” itself. It is one of my favorite films of all time. Hell, I used to use the second Beale speech as an audition piece for a number of years. And as I’ve said before, it’s scary accurate. But the point needs to be made that if you believe that you are a television personality and you believe that Howard Beale is an acceptable role model for the type of show you do, then you are missing the fucking point.
Howard Beale is not a role model, he’s a warning. He’s the path that should not be trod.
(Cross posted at Daily Kos!)