Originally published at Unrhetorical.
I know I’m jumping on this rant pretty late in the game but I just watched the 1976 film Network for the first time last night.
If you haven’t seen the film, Howard Beale, the anchor of the nightly news program of a fictional fourth news network UBS, goes literally mad and takes the rest of his impoverished network with him. Hoping for greater and greater ratings / market share, the news program turns into bona fide edutainment with Howard Beale–a raving truth-spouting lunatic–at the center of the circus. Through most of the film, despite his psychosis, Beale is a character whom you can empathize with and even root for as he preaches against bullshit and encourages everyone to chant with him: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
I expected to do a search online today and find a least a few clever writers comparing Network‘s antics to the last five to ten years of Fox News’ programming. I even speculated that if I failed to find such comparisons made by any of the other major cable or network news outlets, that they would be afraid to draw the edutainment criticism to themselves. What I didn’t expect to see was Wikipedia’s “Culture References” for Network to list examples of both Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck voluntarily comparing themselves to Howard Beale.
Certainly, the stage antics and truth-spouting style of Fox News’ personalities are reminiscent of Howard Beale’s exhortations. But Beale was truly mad. He heard voices telling him what to say. Beale’s popularity wanes after a transformative encounter with the chairman of the large corporation that owns UBS. The chairman, furious that Beale decided to turn his attention and audience against a planned corporate buyout by an Arab firm, offers Beale his own apocalyptic sales pitch preaching money and corporate power as the only thing that matters in the world anymore, and then instructs Beale to spread the gloomy message.
In the end, Beale is a puppet. He has become so disillusioned and volatile that he is now a slave to ideological argument. I’m not sure exactly what to make of the reflexive satire of O’Reilly and Beck actually choosing Beale to be their standard-bearer.