Randy's Corner Deli Library

27 July 2008

"Network": Deja Vu All Over Again

I am watching the film "Network" which was broadcast the other day on HDNet, Mark Cuban's TV station. I am convinced that he must have a hand in the programming, as "Network" is like watching (thanks to Yogi Berra) deja vu all over again.

It was prescient in that most everything that was thought to be satire in 1976 has come to reality. The bastardization, commercialization and propagandization of the news in this country is apparently complete, according to 1976 absurdists who were responsible for "Network", primarily Paddy Chayefsky, who wrote the screenplay.

When Howard Beale - a fictional character whose contemporaries were Walter Cronkite, Harry Reasoner and Eric Sevareid -- is thought to have a mental illness when he announces that he is going to commit suicide on the air in a week, Faye Dunaway's character, ("Diana Christensen") sees a chance to bring UBS' evening news out of the ratings cellar, and turns Beale into a visionary prophet - a messiah - whose mission is the condemnation of the bullshit that he admits he has been spewing for the past 11 years as anchor for the UBS evening news. He does not deliver the news; he is on a mission. Robert Duvall goes along, until Beale starts inveighing against the Saudi Arabian purchase of the ginormous corporation that owns UBS. Alas, Saudi Arabia is owed $2 billion so they are not terribly keen on having their financial deals sullied by the likes of Howard Beale.

The funniest part is the Angela Davis - like character that is introduced to the mix as "an angry Communist n****r" who is given a show called "The Mao-Tse Tung Hour". Cut to a meeting of the local Communist party central committee going through a distribution agreement so that UBS can film the criminal activities of the "Ecumenical Liberation Army" who supplies UBS with live footage of bank heists that they commit and which is used by UBS to boost its ratings, damn the federal criminal conspiracy charges. Journalism first! Protect those sources!

"The world is a business and has been since man crawled out of the slime." So says Ned Beatty ("Arthur Jensen") to Beale to tell him that Business is an ecumenical holding company for everything and that nations and states do not exist. (Makes me wonder whether this film was the uncredited parent of "The Matrix". It could be argued that big corporations exist in a parallel universe to that of people like me who think that they actually have freedom of choice or that votes really matter.)

By the end, Beale is howling about the end of democracy, saying that "the individual is finished". Beale starts the beginning of the end by starting to preach the death and decay of society and the conversion of people into humanoids, devoid of feeling and sensitivity to real pleasure and pain.

At the end of the film , Network bigwigs are dissecting the 18-34 demographic and syndication potential in figuring out whether to keep or fire Howard Beale. All discussion is just about money. In the end, they plot to have the Maoists kill Beale because of the ratings drag he'll end up being. And kill him they do, right on the air, for having lousy ratings.

The film won three best acting awards and was nominated for Best Picture in 1976.

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