Live from an Israeli bunker

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Welcome to the Network

Thirty years ago a film was made titled Network. It was written by one of my favorite writers (Paddy Chayefsky), directed by one of my favorite directors (Sidney Lumet), and stared by one of my favorite actors (William Holden). Great movies get better with time, this one may be the best movie of all time.

I've watched it again tonight, sleep avoids me for some reason, and this is just so uncanny, so surreal that I have to share it here.

Howard Beale was a long time anchorman who's life, upon hitting middle age, went downhill. After a streak of bad luck he was fired. This conversation follows, in a bar between him and his best friend Max Schumacher:
"Howard: I'm gonna blow my brains out right on the air... right in the middle of the seven o'clock news.

Max: You'll get a hell of a rating, I'll guarantee that. Fifty share easy.

Howard: You think so?

Max: Sure. We could make a series out of it. "Suicide of the Week." Hell, Why limit ourselves? "Execution of the Week."

Howard: "Terrorist of the Week. "

Max: They'll love it. Suicides. Assassinations. Mad bombers. Mafia hit men. Automobile smashups. "The Death Hour."
"A great Sunday night show for the whole family." It'd put fucking Disney right off the air."

Sure enough, when Howard next goes on the air (he has two weeks notice to complete) he utters the words: "Tune in next Tuesday. I'm going to shoot myself."

Meanwhile, enter a young producer hungry for her shot at success:
"Diana: This is really terrific footage. We can get a movie of the week out of it, maybe even a series.

Man: A series? What are we talking about?

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

Man II: A series about a bunch of bank-robbing guerrillas?

Barbara: What will we call it, the "Mao Tse-Tung Hour"?

Diana: Why not? They've got "Strike Force," "Task Force," "SWAT." Why not Che Guevara and his own little "Mod Squad?"

These words hung in the air for me. Are the hobgoblins not Hezbollah? Isn't this exactly what the media has been doing? SWAT, they have COPS now instead.

All of a sudden the words Max said cynically become all too real. After Diana finds out that Howard threatened to shot himself on the air you can guess what happened. He becomes a TV phenomenon, a news anchor that in his own words "ran out of bullshit", a news anchor who cracked up and started telling the truth.

Click to watch VideoAnnouncer: And starring the Mad Prophet of the Airways, Howard Beale!

Howard: Edward George Ruddy died today!

Edward George Ruddy was the chairman of the board of the Union Broadcasting Systems
and he died at 11:00 this morning of a heart condition. Woe is us! We're in a lot of trouble! So, a rich little man with white hair died. What does that got to do with the price of rice, right? And why is that woe to us?

Because you people... and 62 million other Americans are listening to me right now. Because less than three percent of you people read books. Because less than 15 percent of you read newspapers. Because the only truth you know is what you get over this tube. Right now, there is a whole and entire generation that never knew anything that didn't come out of this tube! This tube is the Gospel. The ultimate revelation. This tube can make or break presidents, popes, prime ministers. This tube is the most awesome goddamn force in the whole godless world... and woe is us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people!

And that's why woe is us that Edward George Ruddy died. Because this company is now in the hands of CCA, the Communication Corporation of America. There's a new chairman of the board, a man called Frank Hackettn sitting in Mr. Ruddy's office on the 20th floor. And when the 12th largest company in the world controls the most awesome, goddamn propaganda force in the whole godless world who knows what shit will be peddled for truth on this network!

So you listen to me. Listen to me! Television is not the truth.
Television's a goddamned amusement park! Television is a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of acrobats.. We're in the boredom-killing business. So if you want the truth, go to God. Go to your gurus. Go to yourselves! Because that's the only place you're ever gonna find any real truth. But, man, you're never gonna get any truth from us. We'll tell you anything you wanna hear. We lie like hell. We'll tell you that Kojak always gets the killer and that nobody ever gets cancer in Archie Bunker's house. And no matter how much trouble the hero is in, don't worry, look at your watch, at the end of the hour he'll win! We'll tell you any shit you want to hear! We deal in illusions. None of it is true! But you people sit there, day after day, night after night. You're 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 the tube is reality and your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you! You dress like the tube, eat like the tube, raise your children like the tube, 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! So turn off your television sets. Turn them off right now. Turn them off and leave them off. Turn them off in the middle of this sentence. Turn them off!"

The producer, realizing that she was unto something (60 million viewers after all) goes ahead and cuts a deal with a communist woman to give her one hour of airtime to use as propaganda her for her party's political views (who don't really interest anyone) in exchange for more of the above mentioned footage, weekly. Not talking to the terrorists directly but using her as a go between and protecting themselves with the 1st amendment, the right of free speech, and their privilege not to disclose their sources. All in the name of ratings.

So many parallels, so many similarities. During the movie you hear about Arab countries wanting to raise the prices of oil and the civil war in Lebanon is briefly mentioned as a backhand remark. I even think I heard the word Iran. Some things never change. But Howard goes on:

Click to watch Video"We all know that the Arabs control $16 billion in this country. They own a chunk of Fifth Avenue, 20 downtown pieces of Boston, a part of the port of New Orleans, an industrial park in Salt Lake City. They own big hunks of the Atlanta Hilton the Arizona Land and Cattle Company the Security National Bank in California the Bank of the Commonwealth in Detroit. They control Aramco, so that puts them into Exxon, Texaco and Mobil Oil. They're all over!

New Jersey, Louisville, St. Louis, Missouri. And that's only what we know about. There's more we don't know about. Because all of those Arab petrol dollars are washed through Switzerland and Canada and the biggest banks in this country. For example, what we don't know about is this CCA deal and all the other CCA deals. Right now the Arabs have screwed us out of enough American dollars to come right back and with our own money buy General Motors, IBM, ITT, AT&T,Du Pont, U.S. Steel and 20 other American companies. Hell, they already own half of England!

Listen to me. Listen to me, goddamn it! The Arabs are simply buying us. There's only one thing that can stop them! You! You! So I want you to get up now. I want you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the phone. I want you to get up from your chairs, go to the phone, get in your cars, drive into the Western Union offices in town. I want you to send a telegram to the White House. Oh, my God - By midnight tonight I want a million telegrams in the White House! I want them wading knee-deep in telegrams at the White House. I want you to get up right now and write a telegram to President Ford saying "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take this anymore! I don't want the banks selling my country to the Arabs!"

The CCA deal he's talking about is part of the movie plot where the Western World Funding Corporation are buying the large company he's working for "the most awesome, goddamn propaganda force in the whole godless world", and that they are buying it on behalf of the Saudis, secretly. This has in fact already happened in a sense.

Look at the places he mentioned. Howard turned out to really be a prophet. How strange it is that a 30 year old movie can be so relevant, can resonate so well, with the situation today.

But unfortunately this is real life, we don't have Beale's with a 60 million audience to tell the truth too. In fact many people are in denial, or just not interested to hear about it. Like he said, if we want the truth (and we do want it, don't we?) "Go to yourselves!", go to the blogosphere, tell people who don't know better, and just for laughs send the White house a telegram.


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