Network (1976)

I’d like to begin this (long overdue) post by quoting a headline from a recent yahoo.com news story:

“Michelle Obama wearing shorts proved too much for the media.”

I think the implications of such a news ‘story’ sum up the film, Network, pretty well.  Though I’m very weary of jumping to the conclusion that Network is a film that accurately reflects today’s media sentiments. I jumped to this same false conclusion when I first started reading The Grapes of Wrath (in terms of economic depression, now and then), and by the time I was finished with the novel, I realized I had grossly overcalculated the resemblance between America’s depression in the 1930s, and the economic ‘crisis’ being experienced in 2008/2009.

This film reminded me a lot of Requiem for a Dream (2000) in that Darren Aronofsky also latched onto the intoxicating virtues of television, and the way the medium of television can be used to mesmerize individuals. And not just mesmerize, but completely take over. Videodrome (1983) is also another film that comes to mind.  I think all of these films would make George Orwell proud. Or distraught.

Network really makes me think about the idea that certain entities in our modern times go completely unchecked (n.b. I plan to write more about this in my next post on There Will Be Blood). It goes without saying that the lengths to which the network executives go to accomplish their goals (usually associated with self-preservation) are completely immoral. The final result of the film is a clear sign of this: when they decide to “axe” Beale live on his television program.  But why would professional business executives in a mainstream market first of all consider, but then actually end up implementing, such a drastic plan? Is it JUST greed? Is it greed and power? Is it status? Is it success?

Looking back throughout the film, I think one of the most disturbed, and also one of the most important, characters in this whole story was Diana (Faye Dunaway) because throughout the entire narrative  she is shown and described as someone who only thinks in terms of being able to relate real-world scenarios to fictional television/film scripts. She does not ‘live’ in the real world; she lives in a world where everything can be turned into a screenplay. Even her love affair with Max (Wm. Holden) is described to Max’s wife as a predictable plot that will unfold in one of a few inevitable, standard plotlines. I would say that Diana represents the true heart of the problem: a detachment from reality that leads to an ultimate justification for immoral action in real life. Diana’s detachment from reality, and her completely numb way of living life (she feels nothing and just goes through the motions, even with her lover), are reminders that despite the existence of the slimy network executive, Hackett (Robert Duvall), who everyone  would expect to make immoral decisions, the true problem exists with the Dianas of the world.

So? What does that leave us with? Well, this is where films like Requiem for a Dream come in to help because it is that same detachment from reality that allows people to get sucked in and mesmerized by the intoxicating nature of television. In Requiem, Mrs. Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) went down a very disturbing rabbit hole of diet pill/drug use, in addition to becoming obsessed with a television personality. The viewer, watching it all unfold, could only shake his or her head and say: Man, people trust the TV (and the medical community) too much, and look where it gets them…in very pitiful places! The same with the other characters in that film: Requiem leaves you with an awful feeling in your stomach for all of the characters involved. Addiction to whatever substance or idea you might be obsessed with is only going to cause suffering or death (in the worst case, I guess). With Network, it reminds us that what’s ON the TV, and what’s BEHIND the TV are aren’t always educational, or therapeutic, or informational. Sometimes it’s a vast ‘network’ of Dianas and Hacketts and others whose sole intent is to push their own agendas of power, greed, success, or whatever it TRULY is that they’re doing in their executive offices.

I won’t consider the obvious conspiratorial aspect of the broader context of network executives and their goals to take over the minds of the masses, and what they plan to do with us once they’ve finally hot-synced all of our brains with their motherboards (though we might be safe in our assumption that perhaps it has already happened). I’m more concerned here with the degree to which the Dianas of the world, the truly diluted (the Inner Party members, if you will), have a hand in making or breaking individual lives. There will always be masses of soft brains to manipulate, and the general public is going to be coerced into just about anything. But, it’s the Dianas that are the more interesting to think about, and how, on an individual basis, people’s lives are destroyed as a result.  I guess I’m making a distinction between Diana and Hackett, and individuals versus the masses.

The film, Network, presents us with both a view of the masses (the scenes of everyone screaming out of their windows “…I’m not gonna take it anymore…” or the television audiences), and of individuals. But it is on that individual basis that the film seems to be focused. There is no specific concern about the masses, only that the masses are the target audience that will keep the network machine running.  But individuals’ lives are ruined, and that’s what the viewer gets to see.  There is a sense that one-by-one, humanity is being destroyed by the forces behind corporate, conglomerate television.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll just sit back, drink my Victory Gin, and rant my Two Minutes Hate while tuning in to see what happens next on TLC’s hit reality show.

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