“I don’t have to tell you things are bad.” This opening to the classic rant by Howard Beale in the 1976 movie “Network” could be a statement about our election and the state of America in 2016 in general. This film about the mainstream media of the 1970’s highlighted the corruption of the news by market forces. While by today’s standards, this film would be considered preachy and over the top, thematically it holds up fairly well 40 years after its release. Network goes down in film history as the source of the much imitated “mad as hell” rant, but there was a lot more to this movie than people yelling out of the window.
Peter Finch played newsman Howard Beale, a man who is considered a relic of a bygone era in the fictional station UBS. To turn around the eventuality of him being let go by the news company for low ratings, Beale begins speaking the truth in an unvarnished fashion on the evening news. Instead of it backfiring, it resulted in the network commercializing and turning his proclamations into a commodity to boost ratings for UBS. Fitting right in with the sensationalism of the news, the nearly discarded Beale is changed into “an angry prophet denouncing the hypocrisy of our times.” All goes well, and everyone loves the act until his continued populist rantings result in the prevention of a big business deal that costs the owners of the network a great deal of money. That is when the stop is put to Beale.
In addition to the depiction of Beale, also of note was the character of Diana Christensen, the shrewd network executive. Laureen Hobbs, the representative of the voice of revolutionary struggle eventually gets co-opted by the concerns of the financial bottom line. As is told to Beale in one other so over the top scene in the film, the world is a business. And nothing can “meddle” with the issue of making a dollar. This film came out in the year of the 200th anniversary of the independence of the United States, and skewered the state of the country quite well. The stagnant economy of the 1970’s was the backdrop for a great deal of frustration. This film debuted Nov. 27th, 1976, a few weeks after the election of Jimmy Carter. 40 years later, there are many frustrations, some different, some not so. We saw it with supporters of Bernie Sanders about the economic inequality and the shortage of decent paying jobs available for the post college crowd. We also see it in the bubbling cauldron of hatred encouraged by Donald Trump for Mexicans, Muslims, and women in general. In two days, we have an presidential election. Four decades of deindustrialization, privitaization, austerity, and union busting has brought us to where we are now. An election year where many issues are off the table, where primaries were stolen and we are bombarded with vulgarities and scandal instead of real proposals to fix deep roted problems. The frame of discussion is narrow, but we are damn near bullied into participation. Whether we want to admit it or not, as Howard Beale said 40 years ago, “We’re in A Lot of Trouble”
Refuses to atone.