NETWORK: the last great film about the news
by Jon Rappoport
Network: the last great film about The NewsBy Jon Rappoport
Network, the 1976 film written by Paddy Chayefsky, reveals what media kings would do if they unchained their basic instincts and galloped all the way into the madness of slash-and-burn Roman Circus.
Instead of concealing the staging of events, build the stage in full view of the audience, put actors front and center, and let them live out their impulses on national television.The audience is jaded beyond recall. It needs new shocks to the system every day.
The adrenaline must flow. The line between reporting the news and inventing it? Erase it. Celebrate the erasure. Watch ratings soar.Why pretend anymore? Why spend countless hours preparing and broadcasting synthetic artificial news, as if it were real? Does the audience care about such niceties? The audience just wants action.The film proceeds from these premises.
Arthur Jensen, head of the corporation that owns the Network, speaks to unhinged Network newsman, Howard Beale, who has revealed, on-air, a piece of the real power structure in a few moments of sanity: “You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it!! Is that clear?!… 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!”Head of programming for the Network, Diana Christensen, shifts the whole news department over to the entertainment division.Thus emerge new shows with soaring ratings: Howard Beale, [Religious] Prophet of the Air Waves;
The Mao Tse-Tung Hour, in which a guerrilla group films itself carrying out armed bank robberies; and Sybil the Soothsayer, a Tarot reader.Diana becomes the network’s new executive star.There is no longer even a pretense of a need for news anchors to appear authoritative, objective, or rational.Diana Christensen is unstoppable. She sees, with burning clarity, that audiences are bored to the point of exhaustion; they now require, as at the end of the Roman Empire, extreme entertainment. They want more violence, more insanity, out in the open. On television.In promoting her kind of news division, she tells network executives:
“Look, we’ve got a bunch ofhobgoblin radicals called theEcumenical Liberation Army whogo around taking home moviesof themselves robbing banks.Maybe they’ll take movies ofthemselves kidnapping heiresses,hijacking 747’s, bombing bridges,assassinating ambassadors.We’d open each week’s segmentwith that authentic footage,hire a couple of writers towrite some story behind thatfootage, and we’ve gotourselves a series…“Did you see the overnights on theNetwork News? It has an 8 in NewYork and a 9 in L.A. and a 27 sharein both cities.
Last night, HowardBeale went on the air [as a newscaster] and yelledbullshit for two minutes, and Ican tell you right now that tonight’sshow will get a 30 share at least.I think we’ve lucked into something…“I see Howard Beale as a latter-dayprophet, a magnificent messianicfigure, inveighing against thehypocrisies of our times, a stripSavonarola, Monday through Friday.I tell you, Frank, that could justgo through the roof…
Do you want to figure outthe revenues of a strip show thatsells for a hundred thousand bucksa minute? One show like that couldpull this whole network right outof the hole! Now, Frank, it’s beinghanded to us on a plate; let’s notblow it!”Television in the “real world” isn’t all the way there yet, but it’s getting there.
In Network, Diana Christensen personifies the news. She is the electric, thrill-seeking, non-stop force that is terrified of silence.She lives and feeds on adrenaline. So does the viewing public. Nothing else ultimately matters. Ratings are the top line and the bottom line. The individual and his thoughts are completely irrelevant.Howard Beale, over the cliff, a news man screaming on-air about the insanity of the news, is perfectly acceptable, because the audience is simply responding to Beale’s inchoate outrage and their own. Nothing deeper is explored. What could have resulted in a true popular rebellion is short-circuited. Beale becomes a crazy loon, a novelty item.
Yet one more distraction.When, in a brief interlude of clarity, he begins telling his audience about the takeover of society by mega-corporations, his show droops. Ratings collapse. Diana is no longer interested in him; she …………………..