Reaction to Network

By Tim Barlow

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The movie Network, a 1970’s classic, tells the story of a nightly network newscaster, who goes off script one evening to speak his mind, and then the ensuing fallout as both the public and the network, obsess over or try to harness him, respectively.

Network, a weighty movie not unlike some other 70’s greats, examines a pretty light and straightforward topic, in this case, the very fabric of our society and economy, through a thoughtful, and at times (thoughtfully) absurd, dialogue and plot.  There’s a now famous line from the movie, which I had heard reference to before finally seeing the source, and it goes: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”  During one scene the now unleashed newscaster encourages his viewers to throw open their windows and scream “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” towards the street, and we see as an entire neighborhood do just that.  I found this direction to yell out of a window, to be an interesting choice, it seems like such a domesticated form of rebellion.  But then again maybe it was more for the yeller to hear that they were indeed mad as hell, than to incite revolution.

Back in real life, in this wake of the now mostly defunct and forgotten Occupy movement, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to that trend of non-violent protests and sit-ins to some of the lines and scenes from Network.  But like the Occupy movement, Network, left me reluctantly let down. Both asked the honest, hard hitting questions, but both also failed to provide any answers…or at least any that offered hope of change.

In Network there is a subplot, or maybe it’s the real story, but it revolves around the affair of an older (already-married) curmudgeonly news man and a younger uber- ambitious female network executive.  But they’re different, he’s a romantic and she’s a realist.  At one point he rebukes her, saying “You’re television incarnate.  War, Murder, death, they’re all the same to you as a bottle of beer.” And at another point, he pleads with her, “I live here, I’m real. I just want you to love me. I want you to love me, primal doubts and all.”  As I watched this scene I was reminded of the feelings I had while anxiously awaiting the ballots to be tabulated during the recent presidential election, I kept trying to remind myself that no matter the outcome, no matter what happened with the candidate I voted for, someone: maybe me, maybe my neighbor, someone at work, or on Facebook, but someone, many someones, were going to be disappointed, possibly crushed, or scared, or threatening to leave the country. And most importantly, these “others” are real.  As insane as it sometime seems, these others have thoughts, ambitions, fears, and they believe they see the underlying truth of things just as much as I do.  Just like the affair in Network; two sides of change, romanticism and logic, engaged in battle while at the same time loving the opposite resistance that others provide.

Anyways, my point is that the plot of Network and the occupy movement, and a modern two-party election, they all feel like different views to the same side of a coin.  They’re daring enough to tell you that something is severely wrong with somebody or something, but they can’t (or won’t) pin it down all the way to a tangible solution.  They’re like un-tethered buoys floating down a fast moving river, signaling only the speed of the current, but providing no change to the flow. Network came out in 1976, nearly 40 years ago, but still one of its lines: “The American people are not yet ready for open revolt” is appropriate.  And it was this, this frustrated sense of caged, locked-from-the-inside, change, that stuck with me after watching Network. Maybe that was the whole point of it, but it doesn’t mean I have to like having my face rubbed in it.

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