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Network: the last great film about The News

By       Message Jon Rappoport       (Page 1 of 4 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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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.

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.

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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.

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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 of
hobgoblin radicals called the
Ecumenical Liberation Army who
go around taking home movies
of themselves robbing banks.
Maybe they'll take movies of
themselves kidnapping heiresses,
hijacking 747's, bombing bridges,
assassinating ambassadors.
We'd open each week's segment
with that authentic footage,
hire a couple of writers to
write some story behind that
footage, and we've got
ourselves a series

"Did you see the overnights on the
Network News? It has an 8 in New
York and a 9 in L.A. and a 27 share
in both cities. Last night, Howard
Beale went on the air [as a newscaster] and yelled
bullshit for two minutes, and I
can tell you right now that tonight's
show will get a 30 share at least.
I think we've lucked into something

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"I see Howard Beale as a latter-day
prophet, a magnificent messianic
figure, inveighing against the
hypocrisies of our times, a strip
Savonarola, Monday through Friday.
I tell you, Frank, that could just
go through the roof...Do you want to figure out
the revenues of a strip show that
sells for a hundred thousand bucks
a minute? One show like that could
pull this whole network right out
of the hole! Now, Frank, it's being
handed to us on a plate; let's not
blow it!"

Television in the "real world" isn't all the way there yet, but it's getting there.

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Jon Rappoport has worked as a free-lance investigative reporter for over 30 years. He has written articles on politics, health, media, culture and art for LA Weekly, Spin Magazine, Stern, Village Voice, Nexus, CBS Healthwatch, and other newspapers and magazines in the US and Europe.

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