I think about The Network movie (1976) quite a lot these days because it feels like a parallel world here in 2022.
It was a genius flick.
Broadcaster Howard Beale was crazy himself but it’s important to remember that crazy people can speak truth. The irony is that he was used by the corporate fascist machine (those who controlled The Network) to increase its own revenue and power so long as it could, in order to recover from its flagging ratings under prior programming.
And while the population lapped up Beale’s sensationalist yet true message, they didn’t actually comprehend it. And in the end, the machine just rolled on.
It feels like we’re still living through this movie, and it’s disempowering because here we are in the same place — a worse place — over 45 years after it was produced, where we are still the likes of Howard Beale screaming into the void of zombies.
“I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth; banks are going bust; shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter; punks are running wild in the street, and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it.
We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat. And we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be!
We all know things are bad -- worse than bad -- they're crazy.
It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out any more. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we're living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, "Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials, and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone."
Well, I'm not going to leave you alone.
I want you to get mad!
I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot. I don't want you to write to your Congressman, because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street.
All I know is that first, you've got to get mad.
You've gotta 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!!”
And if you watch the clip, the entire country does indeed rise from its chairs and go to the window and stick their head out, and yell, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”
But here’s the thing.
You can get the zombies to scream into the void with you sometimes, just as Beale does with his exhortation to go to the window and stick your head out and yell, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
It was a wildly popular message, actually. The entire country went to its window and yelled with Beale.
And The Network went on to construct a TV show where the entire crowd screamed each week, before Beale’s live monologues on stage: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!”
Edward George Ruddy died today! Edward George Ruddy was the Chairman of the Board of the Union Broadcasting Systems and he died at eleven o'clock this morning of a heart condition! And woe is us! We're in a lot of trouble!!
So, a rich little man with white hair died. What does that got to do with the price of rice, right? And why is that woe to us?
Because you people and 62 million other Americans are listening to me right now.
Because less than 3 percent of you people read books.
Because less than 15 percent of you read newspapers.
Because the only truth you know is what you get over this tube.
Right now, there is a whole, an entire generation that never knew anything that didn't come out of this tube.
This tube is the gospel, the ultimate revelation.
This tube can make or break presidents, popes, prime ministers.
This tube is the most awesome goddamn force in the whole godless world.
And woe is us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people.
And that's why woe is us that Edward George Ruddy died.
Because this company is now in the hands of CCA -- the Communication Corporation of America. There's a new Chairman of the Board, a man called Frank Hackett, sitting in Mr. Ruddy's office on the 20th floor. And when the 12th largest company in the world controls the most awesome goddamn propaganda force in the whole godless world, who knows what shit will be peddled for truth on this network.
So, you listen to me. Listen to me!
Television is not the truth. Television's a goddamn amusement park. Television is a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of acrobats, storytellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, sideshow freaks, lion tamers, and football players.
We're in the boredom-killing business.
So if you want the Truth, go to God.
Go to your gurus.
Go to yourselves!
Because that's the only place you're ever gonna find any real truth.
But, man, you're never gonna get any truth from us. We'll tell you anything you wanna hear. We lie like hell. We'll tell you that Kojak always gets the killer and that nobody ever gets cancer at Archie Bunker's house.
And no matter how much trouble the hero is in, don't worry. Just look at your watch. At the end of the hour, he's gonna win.
We'll tell you any shit you want to hear.
We deal in illusions, man.
None of it is true!
But you people sit there, day after day, night after night -- all ages, colors, creeds.
We're all you know!
You're beginning to believe the illusions we're spinning here!
You're beginning to think that the tube is reality and that your own lives are unreal.
You do whatever the tube tells you --
You dress like the tube.
You eat like the tube.
You raise your children like the tube.
You even think like the tube.
This is mass madness, you maniacs!
In God's name, you people are the real thing!
We are the illusion!
So turn off your television sets. Turn them off now! Turn them off right now! Turn them off and leave them off. Turn them off right in the middle of this sentence I'm speaking to you now.
Turn them off!!
But they did not turn them off.
They watched as Beale collapsed on stage and then they clapped with enthusiasm.
Our problem really isn’t The Network. It’s the zombies.