Monday, July 18, 2016

I'm Mad As Hell!


...And I'm Not Going To Take It Anymore!

That's the infamous shout out of Howard Beale to his legion of devoted viewers who discovered in this aged newsman for a mythical network called UBS (Union Broadcasting System), a new messiah, a modern day prophet. Beale is the focal point of the movie Network written by Paddy Chayefsky. Beale attracts an enthusiastic audience when in a fit of depression and knowing he will soon be fired, he threatens to kill himself on the air. Instead of seeing that he gets the care he needs, some of his bosses notice that the ratings went up and arrange for Beale to get a regular gig where he speaks the truth as he knows.

Peter Finch in his Academy Award Winning role as Howard Beale
It's pretty clear that Beal is going mad (nervous breakdown) and that his madness only becomes more and more complete as the story develops. Along with the story of Beale we follow other TV executives who trade on Beale's popularity and exploit his illness. They themselves are shown to be callow individuals who care only for their own individual success as they define. And further we see how the tropes of television define not only the movie but the character of the people we follow, who after all are very much like ourselves.


I bring this up for two reasons. One reason is that I recently saw Network again after many many years, long enough to forget all but a few key sequences. Many of the debates about real life and life as spun on television I had forgotten, but that material really struck a chord with me as I reflect on the seemingly endless political race we are currently enduring.


Donald Trump, a product of TV, a character really who defines himself by his ability to succeed as he determines it, seems to me at once like Beale and also like the executives who exploit him. In "The Donald" we  have the absolute apotheosis of what the movie Network described, an individual who utterly defines himself by the tropes and storytelling devices of television. And also we have a man who is completely and utterly defined by winning, whatever that might mean. He seems to want to win the election first and foremost while being President is at this point a remote afterthought.

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4 comments:

  1. Network must be one of Aaron Sorkin's favorite movies. The inciting incident in the pilots of two of his TV shows: "Studio 60" and "The Newsroom" both feature "Mad as Hell" moments. They are both great moments.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q49NOyJ8fNA
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zyOhZsvIzI

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    1. I'd seen the Newsroom rant before. It has more in common with Network I think, even if the other is more closely akin to the structure of the movie. Both miss though the key satirical thrust Network made which was that these rants were insignificant since the powers, far from being embarrassed by them were in fact eager to reap profits from them. The higher ups were never brought to task in Network, because they cannot be shamed as long as the revenue stream remains intact.

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    1. We're in the midst of the Republican convention right now and while Trump remains behind consistently, I agree it's a real possibility he can win. That reality is a dark one indeed, and I remember when similar attitudes were abounding about Reagan. Reagan though was so much more qualified and mature than Trump that it's difficult to compare. People were afraid of Reagan in the same way as they are of Trump. Weird.

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