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photos by Lara Shipley

Network

July 20th, 2002 · No Comments

“All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value! So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’”

I saw Network last weekend — a classic 1976 film with Faye Dunaway, William Holden, and Robert Duvall. Peter Finch won the only posthumous Oscar for his role as Howard Beale, an aging news anchor who has a breakdown/epiphany, and becomes the “mad prophet of the airwaves” for the UBS network. This is one of those movies that was a bit ahead of itself: in some ways, I suspect it plays better now than in the 70s.

What was then parody is now awfully close to real network programming. Ratings-crazed executives don’t just throw on a ranting Beale (O’Reilly? Alan Keyes?), they also produce the Mao Tse Tung Hour, which follows the terrorist escapades of the Ecumenical Liberation Army (Cops, anyone?). The news also comes to include a gossip section (Hard Copy) and “Sybil the Soothsayer” (Jonathan Edwards).

Television gets raked over the coals, and there’s some top-notch satire of both corporate and revolutionary culture. One of my favorite scenes has a gaggle of lawyers and executives huddled in the ELA’s hideout, haggling over distribution costs with The Great Amhed Khan and a communist party functionary. We also meet Chairman of the Board Arthur Jensen (played by Ned Beatty!), an unhinged evangelical capitalist. The tirade he delivers to Beale in the fantastic boardroom-scene actually manages to capture, in an exagerrated form, some element of the libertarian mindset:

“You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it, is that clear?! You think you have merely stopped a business deal – that is not the case! The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back. It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity, it is ecological balance. 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 immense, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars!”

Preach on, Brother Jensen! A good deal of the movie feels like Neil Postman-lite, and Postman’s always struck me as equal parts cranky, myopic, and insightful. But the film is still clever, and very funny – pick it up if you’re looking for a Sunday afternoon flick..

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