OffG Recommends…Network

A deep and biting satire, with far more important things to say than its most famous quote.

Kit Knightly

Usually the OffG recommends articles* take the form of a review, but Network doesn’t need another review, and nor does it require our endorsement. Firmly ensconced as it is as a classic of both its genre and Western cinema in general.

However, it has reached that point where it exists in the public mind as a kind of meta reference rather than a work. It is a title, a quote, and a distilled meaning more than a film.

Such is the fate of “the classics”, in all fields. They are seen more than they are watched. Everyone has heard of them, nobody listens to them.

To somewhat address this imbalance, this “recommends” takes the form of a sharp focus on one key speech.

No, not that speech. We’re all mad as hell, obviously, but we’re not screaming out the windows today.

Rather, it is a scene later in the film.

Peter Finch plays Howard Beale, a veteran reporter who – at the beginning of the film – has an on-air nervous breakdown, resulting in an angry rant on the state of the country and the threat of suicide live on air.

Initially, his boss intends to fire Beale, before it is discovered that his outburst resulted in a surprising bump in ratings. Immediately the studio seizes the opportunity and Beale is given his own show and branded “the mad prophet of the airwaves”.

However, after going too far and calling out corporate corruption on air, Beale is summoned to the boardroom of the company that owns the media conglomerate he works for, to be confronted by the CEO Arthur Jansen (Ned Beaty).

Jansen launches into a monologue and proceeds to lecture Beale about the true nature of the world in which he lives, and how Jansen has chosen him to preach his “evangel” to the masses.

It’s a wonderful speech, poetically written and wonderfully performed by Beatty, whose performance is blackly hilarious as it jolts from Shakespearean declaration to informal chat and back again.

…and he predicts the future we’re all living today.

You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West.

There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels.

It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and YOU WILL ATONE! Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale?

You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon.

Those are the nations of the world today.

OK, maybe not “predicts”. Perhaps at the time it was intended to be satire through exaggeration, or maybe – even then – it was already obvious where we were heading.

Hell, maybe we were already there.

It’s certainly out of character for a Hollywood movie – or any movie – to draw parallels between the elites of the USA and USSR at a time when the Wall was still up. To reduce all apparent ideologies to business plans.

But the part that stuck with me – and may stick with you – is his vision of the future, recounted with a tone of reverent awe.

[O]ur children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that… perfect world… in which there’s no war or famine, oppression or brutality. One vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock. All necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused.

The supreme irony being whichever side you come from – capitalist or communist – the nature of power structures is to grow into a tyrannical centralised collective, devoid of freedom or choice. A company or a state. Either way.

Prediction or not, satire or not, the writer – Paddy Chayefsky – nailed the mindset of the people we’re dealing with now.

That’s what they want.

I wouldn’t usually recommend a movie on one speech alone, but in this case, the one speech – much more than the oft-quoted “mad as hell” rant – is the spirit of the movie. A satire that picks on the nature of a television-centric world.

Howard Beale’s fleeting moment of sincerity is immediately exploited to make money, carefully redirected when it treads on the wrong toes, co-opted to spread the elite agenda…and finally dumped as soon as it was no longer useful.

There are no nations, only money. And there is no truth, only stories. Reality is fed through a mill to produce content. Everything is only as real as it’s convenient to allow, they don’t care what you believe as long as you’re paying attention.

Watch Network. It’s just as good as when it was first released, and might be more relevant than ever.

But, man, you’re never going to get any truth from us. We’ll tell you anything you want to hear; we lie like hell […] We deal in illusions, man! None of it is true! But you people sit there, day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds… We’re all you know. You’re beginning to believe the illusions we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think that the tube is reality, and that your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you! You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even *think* like the tube! This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God’s name, you people are the real thing! WE are the illusion! So turn off your television sets.
Howard Beale

*On review, there’s only ever been one previous “OffG Recommends” article, I keep planning them and not writing them. Blame the news.


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