NETWORK: the last great film about the news

Network: the last great film about The News

by Jon Rappoport

July 1, 2017

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.

Instead of concealing the staging of events, build the stage in full view of the audience, put actors front and center, and let them live out their impulses on national television.

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.

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.

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…

“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.

In Network, Diana Christensen personifies the news. She is the electric, thrill-seeking, non-stop force that is terrified of silence.

She lives and feeds on adrenaline. So does the viewing public. Nothing else ultimately matters. Ratings are the top line and the bottom line. The individual and his thoughts are completely irrelevant.

Howard Beale, over the cliff, a news man screaming on-air about the insanity of the news, is perfectly acceptable, because the audience is simply responding to Beale’s inchoate outrage and their own. Nothing deeper is explored. What could have resulted in a true popular rebellion is short-circuited. Beale becomes a crazy loon, a novelty item. Yet one more distraction.

When, in a brief interlude of clarity, he begins telling his audience about the takeover of society by mega-corporations, his show droops. Ratings collapse. Diana is no longer interested in him; she wants to sack him.

However, Arthur Jensen, the head of the corporation that owns the television network, wants to keep Beale on the air, as a messenger of the “galactic truth” about the beneficial integration of all human activity under the rubric of global money and global power. He converts Beale to his cause.

Diana sees only one way out of this ratings disaster: kill Beale; on-air; during his show. And so it is done.

Network also shows us the audience becoming actor, player, participant. The audience is jumping out of its skin to be recognized, courted, and adored as a mighty rolling force embodying no particular meaning.

Audience wants to be a star. Audience wants coverage; audience wants its actions to be shown on television. That establishes its legitimacy. Nothing else is necessary.

Diana knows it, and she is more than willing to accommodate this frantic desire, if only her bosses will let her go all the way.

The best film ever made about television’s war on the population, Network stages only a few minutes of on-air television.

The rest of the film is dialogue and monologue about television. Thus you could say that, in this case, word defeats image. Which was scriptwriter Paddy Chayefsky’s intent.

Even when showing what happens on the TV screen, Network bursts forth with lines like these, from newsman Howard Beale, at the end of his rope, on-camera, speaking to his in-studio audience and millions of people in their homes:

“So, you listen to me. Listen to me! Television is not the truth. Television’s a god-damned 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… 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.”

It is Beale’s language and the passion with which he delivers it that constitutes his dangerous weapon. Therefore, the Network transforms him into a cheap religious figure, whose audience slathers him with absurd adoration.

Television’s enemy is the word. Its currency is image.

Beale breaks through the image and defiles it. He cracks the egg. He stops the picture-flow. He brings back the sound and rhythm of spoken poetry. That is his true transgression against the medium that employs him.

The modern matrix has everything to do with how knowledge is acquired.

Television, in the main, does not attempt to impart knowledge. It strives to give the viewer the impression that he knows something. There is a difference.

Knowledge, once established, is external to, and independent of, the viewer. Whereas the impression of knowing is a feeling, a conviction, a belief the viewer holds, after he has watched moving images on a screen.

A basic premise of New Age thinking is: “everything is (connected to) everything.” This fits quite well with the experience of watching film or video flow.

Example: we see angry crowds on the street of a foreign city. Then young people on their cell phones sitting in an outdoor café. Then the marble lobby of a government building where men in suits are walking, standing in groups talking to each other. Then at night, rockets exploding in the sky. Then armored vehicles moving through a gate into the city. Then clouds of smoke on another street and people running, chased by police.

A flow of consecutive images. The sequence, obviously, has been assembled by a news editor, but most of the viewing audience isn’t aware of that. They’re watching the “interconnected” images and listening to a news anchor tell a story that colors (infects) every image.

Viewers thus believe they know something. Television has imparted that sensation to them.

Therefore: a short circuit occurs in the reasoning mind.

When you take this pattern out to a whole society, you are talking about a dominant method through which “knowledge” is gained.

“Did you see that fantastic video about the Iraq War? It showed that Saddam actually had bioweapons.”

“Really? How did they show that?”

“Well, I don’t exactly remember. But watch it. You’ll see.”

And that’s another feature of the modern acquisition of “knowledge”: amnesia about details.

The viewer can’t recall key features of what he saw. Or if he can, he can’t describe them, because he was in the flow. He was inside, busy building up his impression of knowing something.

Narrative-visual-television story strips out and discards conceptual analysis. And lines of reasoning? To the extent they exist, they’re wrapped around and inside the image and the narration.

Howard Beale: “…democracy is a dying giant, a sick, sick dying, decaying political concept, writhing in its final pain… What is finished is the idea that this great country is dedicated to the freedom and flourishing of every individual in it…”

Paddy Chayefsky’s words. He made his pen a sword, because he was writing a movie about television, against television. He was pitting Word against Image as the primary form of knowledge.

When a technology (television) turns into a method of perception, reality is turned inside out. People watch TV through TV eyes.

Mind control is no longer something merely imposed from the outside. It is a matrix of a self-feeding, self-demanding loop.

Willing Devotees of the Image WANT images, food stamps of the programmed society.

The triumph of Network is that it makes its words win over pictures, IN a picture, IN a film.

The Matrix Revealed

(To read about Jon’s mega-collection, The Matrix Revealed, click here.)

Jon Rappoport

The author of three explosive collections, THE MATRIX REVEALED, EXIT FROM THE MATRIX, and POWER OUTSIDE THE MATRIX, Jon was a candidate for a US Congressional seat in the 29th District of California. He maintains a consulting practice for private clients, the purpose of which is the expansion of personal creative power. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, he has worked as an investigative reporter for 30 years, writing articles on politics, medicine, and health for CBS Healthwatch, LA Weekly, Spin Magazine, Stern, and other newspapers and magazines in the US and Europe. Jon has delivered lectures and seminars on global politics, health, logic, and creative power to audiences around the world. You can sign up for his free NoMoreFakeNews emails here or his free OutsideTheRealityMachine emails here.

10 comments on “NETWORK: the last great film about the news

  1. jmilamdeal says:

    That movie was way ahead of its time and gives the narrative of what is going on now accurately. It’s all about ratings and what they want people to believe, not just news anymore, but thought control, and leading people to believe what they want them to believe. Trump is gumming up their work by talking back to them on Twitter and wherever he is, not just taking what they spew out.

  2. truth1 says:

    A great warning, Jon. Sadly, warnings often go unheaded and unnoticed as you even pointed out. but I do believe anyone would do well to automatically question (reasonably) what is going on around them. And here is what I mean. With humans being preprogrammed (instinct) to trust and obey mom and dad and because mom and dad do lots trusting, the child trusts who the parents trust. Its automatic! Its in our genes. Now if we were guided accurately from the beginning, we would learn to be critical and independent in our thinking. We don’t vote for who our parents might like but who seems to us in our own judgment to be right, right to join, right to believe, right to say.

    But the trust routine runs deep. Instinct developed to make sure we had our legs underneath us before we tried to stand on our own. If everything is great, everything will continue to be great. But if there are traitors in our midst and among us, then what we receive from trusting should may not be enough to save us from social saboteurs. It is natural and automatic to trust. It can also be deadly. But the converse is true, too, that to throw out everything we inherited or learned, as we did in the 1960s, has brought to where were are now. Because we have choice, we have danger because our choices may be being made by our base immediate selfish instincts and not the careful contemplative mind that seeks to understand the forces and beliefs that guide our lives.

    Too many are scared, even petrified, by what is inside us. Which is? The truth. Internal truth about what we really are and if we are good or bad, right or wrong, honest with ourselves or trying to fool our selves. Maybe we need to take the journey inside us and dare to find fault with ourselves and not just embrace free sex because it is fun, but ponder the many weaknesses of our natural instinct and if there might not be more needed than just instinct.

    Our capacity for technology is amazing. But our capacity for examining our motives is not so good. It takes guts and courage to look in the mirror and determine that we are sadly lacking in too many ways and that we need some leverage against our base desires for fun and thrills. Ya know, just saying 😀

  3. Ft. Nolan says:

    Interesting how the media pundits of today may have been high schoolers or just young when “Network” appeared. How many of us really saw the future and what it beheld with Howard Beale’s rants via Paddy Chayefsky?

    The Earth is a plantation having “all boredom amused.”

  4. John Rigby says:

    Hey Jon! That movie was apocalyptic and still failed. Your summary/commentary here today was top form, brilliant.
    I used to worry that “They” might come for you one day, (think I did say so to you on line), but they won’t. This one sermon of yours today, coupled with that amazing movie distilled here by you, actually says it all.
    Nothing is going to happen.
    Nobody is going to know/notice what is being done.
    Everybody now knows – none of it is real, it is just entertainment. But for whom?
    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  5. Very, very important.

  6. joe rorke says:

    Thank you so much, Jon, for letting me know about this film.

  7. thisizwhack says:

    It’s been clear to me for some time that one is able to glean factual information from movies labeled as ‘Fiction’ and have accepted that it’s no mere coincidence. When I was a teenager, I believed the works of Aldous Huxley, George Orwell and P.K. Dicks to be revolutionary..until I researched their backgrounds. That’s NOT to insinuate that these men weren’t highly intelligent individuals, just that they were working in concert with the carefully crafted system and that they were privy to inside information.

    • Michael Burns says:

      Yes, Huxley for sure, he’s a blue blood. Eric Blair doubful, he had deep hatred of totalitarianism.
      Phillip K Dick; it doesn’t get any more individual than Dick. Ahead of his time, have you read any of his works?

  8. barn moose says:

    “Upon its original release [1957], A Face in the Crowd earned somewhat mixed reviews, one of them from Bosley Crowther of The New York Times. Though he applauded Griffith’s performance (“Mr. Griffith plays him with thunderous vigor …”), at the same time, he felt that the character overpowered the rest of the cast and the story. “As a consequence, the dominance of the hero and his monstrous momentum … eventually become a bit monotonous when they are not truly opposed.” Crowther found Rhodes “highly entertaining and well worth pondering when he is on the rise”, but considered the ending “inane”.

    “One critic who had only praise for the movie was François Truffaut; in his review in Cahiers du Cinéma, he called the film “a great and beautiful work whose importance transcends the dimensions of a cinema review”.” -wikipedia

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