The news used to be just that, the news. It offered to the world illustrations of major events, movements and ideologies in the most impartial and matter of fact way it could. Because it was the news anchor’s job to relay only facts. Because it was the news writer’s job to write only the facts.
We aren’t in that era anymore, and 1976’s “Network” tells us just that.
Things begin innocently enough for Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch, as he goes out for a drink with his old friend and producer Max Schumacher.
Very quickly, things devolve from there as Howard finds out his job as anchor is likely over as ratings for his news show have sagged and he himself is over the hill in years.
Before being put out to pasture, however, his old friend Max allows him to say goodbye on air for his final show. But things do not go according to plan in this show, Howard looks worse for wear. He comes in wearing his raincoat, hair disheveled and a wild look in his eye.
This is when Howard tells it how he sees it, and in truth, how it is. Howard tells the viewers at home that, in essence, everything is going wrong economically, socially, politically and even environmentally. That he has no idea what to do or what to encourage his audience to say or do themselves. All Howard can do, and tell his audience to do, is to vent.
To yell through the halls and streets saying, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
This, this is the turning point of the film. This is where the newscaster becomes the preacher. And while his words at first ring true, slowly but surely, it all goes downhill from here.
Beginning at that on-air speech, “Network” pulls away the curtain to reveal what it is really about. Because it certainly isn’t about a downtrodden news anchor that finds a new voice and means of presenting the news.
Rather, the film becomes about how original voices and ideas get taken to create a hybrid news where fact meets opinion and becomes editorial commentary. Where initial honest voices are swapped and mutated to become voices of anarchy and fearmongering. Where the news becomes a hotbed of diatribes and sensationalized stories.
As “Network” does this, Howard Beale loses his grip on his sanity and burrows himself further and further into the lies and sludge that have crept into the news around him. But he doesn’t realize the moral peril he is in.
Nor does Howard Beale realize what drives the world until he is pulled aside by powerful businessman Arthur Jensen, masterfully portrayed by Ned Beatty, and told money is what determines everything in life.
Mr. Jensen tells Howard that there is no America or any foreign nations, that we are a conglomeration of corporate entities and their respective interests. That the world has been, and always will be a business.
It’s a jarring speech and message to hear. It begins with Ned Beatty’s Arthur Jensen really hamming it up and yelling a fire and brimstone message at Beale. But then he cuts the acting and gets down to an honest message that is free of the veil and veneer of true anger and malcontent.
It is in this sequence where Mr. Jensen is revealed to be, symbolically, old and new testament versions of God, but he pushes the religion of corporation and currency over any other.
This is where we find ourselves today. In a state of malcontent and dissatisfaction with the voices above and around us. Feeling like outcasts in a crazy world that seems like it is on the brink of total chaos.
But this is also where “Network” offers a silver lining to us.
A silver lining in that we have been down this road before. The world has felt like it was going to implode on itself and disappear into the abyss before, but we have pulled ourselves out time and time again.
“Network” offers up an ageless message of popularity, profitability, and wrong winning over the innocent, downtrodden, and morally pure. But it also tells us if nothing else that we have felt these things at so many different times, but we were able to weather the storm each time.
While “Network” does not offer up a solution to the problems stated, it does illustrate to us that no situation or feeling of twirling in violent winds ever stays permanent. That doubt and concern will eventually be replaced with solidarity and reform.
And that we will eventually bring forth the change and results we do so desire.
Grant Mitchell is a junior majoring in public relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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