Network: A Film Review by Kerstin Becker

By Mar.05, 2013

By Kerstin Becker

A teenager suffering from Facebook addiction, a homemaker meeting an online lover, an unemployed man getting a job via LinkedIn…no, these scenes are nowhere to be found in the movie called “Network.” In 2013, one might easily be misled by the title of the film but the US film from the 1970s refers to broadcast networks that provide the daily gossip and possibly deranged gospel to their believers:

The spotlight is on, the cameras are rolling and the studio audience sits perfectly still as they await their ‘paramount’ – (no, actually it is Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) preacher.

Drum rolls, please, for Mr. Howard Beale who is the media muppet of the day. Mr Beale appears and delivers what he has promised. The audience seems mesmerized by every word he shouts during his “mad as hell” speech. The audience are disciples in their own right, following a man with a supposedly successful television career: from anchor man to mad man. Inspiring. Instead of remaining the plain and neutral broadcast anchor, Beale literally bursts out one day announcing his madness to the world with tremendous success. He gets his own show.  However, his accomplishment was mainly due to luck. Had Beale not worked for a broadcast network but for any other type of company, who knows! Instead of speaking to millions of viewers on stage which happened soon after his emotional rants on air, he might have spoken to a psychiatrist. Instead he was lucky, indeed, since he worked for an understanding news division executive who discovered his talent and gave Mr. Beale his time to shine. It’s inconceivable what would have happened if no one decided that an emotional explosion from an anchor man was actually newsworthy. Would the viewers have complained? Would they have even noticed?

But thanks to the format of news reporting programmes, it is decided for the public what is important and what is not. The audience does not have the difficult task of selecting content. The meal is offered in small portions: easy to swallow and easy to digest. Besides, if you do not like what is being offered, just switch the channel or get the mad man off the air. Beale is only good as long as he increases ratings and the market share and feeds the hungry masses with enthusiastic slogans that only delay their doubtless development into humanoids. “We’re as mad as hell, and we’re not going to take this anymore,” the masses scream along with Beale who does his little drama act and throws himself on the floor due to madness, for effect or for ratings. Audience, ratings and broadcast executives are frantic.

Nevertheless, it is not always easy to get up when you are the programming directors favorite star and you have fallen. Waves of emotional favoritism eventually subside but numbers are hard facts that are here to stay. And what those numbers show is that Beale might not count anymore, other banalities have outstripped him and a replacement is required. But then again, it is not so bad after all, humanoids can be replaced with each other. Even though Mr Beale might have been a non-conformist, and a mad one on at that, he can easily be replaced by a sensational terrorist army that seems to attend more to the audience’s needs than he did. And that is what is important, the audience needs, isn’t it?

In the end, the “mad prophet of the airwaves” gets killed by his own puppet masters. New puppets and muppets enter the stage and do what they are asked to do. At least, wasn’t he mad and couldn’t take it anymore?

However it may be, Mr. Springer-Stern-Beale was “the first known instance of a man who was killed because of lousy ratings”. And I wonder: who else is mad? And who else cannot take it anymore?

Thanks to Dr. Sharon Coen for selecting this movie and organizing a brilliant film experience.

Source: Chayefsky, P. (Writer), & Lumet, J. (Director). (1976). Network. [Motion Picture].

United States: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer & United Artists.

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