It seems these days, you rarely get a film that hits the nail on the head when it comes to society. That’s ok—a film released 44 years ago does the job.
“Network” is about a news anchor who’s gone mad, but generates ratings for his “prophetic” rants he does every night. This is a boon to the floundering network he works for, but the price is his sanity. He is being exploited by the network, and the powers that be keep it that way at all costs, even to the point of using murder.
There are a number of iconic scenes that resonate today. They reflect the state of American television, as well as our capacity to sacrifice humanity in favor of profit and recognition.
One iconic scene that stands out to me is the scene where Howard Beale rants about the corruption of television and how it misleads the public in its very existence as a corporate entity that serves other interests. As well as pointing out that the audience regularly gets misinformed through watching “the tube”. Then he faints and the theme music closes the program and the audience applauds.
It was an entertaining spectacle, because the showrunners made his madness a show. The problem is his mental health is incentivized to get worse. The audience doesn’t care, they want to be entertained, and the news organization needs to make a profit.
It plays on the moniker “If it bleeds, it leads”. With a charismatic figure like the Beale, people will follow him to the end of the earth for excitement. It doesn’t matter if the truth is being revealed in front of their face, if no one is excited, nothing takes off.
This film was a warning about figures that constantly amplifies outlandish statements, rarely ever making sense. This was also a warning about media organizations modifying reality to entertain its audience.
With the development of cable in the 80s, there were more channels people could watch outside the 3-4 network choices. This was the beginning of the 24-hour news cycle. This also paved the way for reality television, kicking into high gear in the 90s.
It also explains how social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter operate. They generate revenue from ads and comments that are false and hateful. These platforms make its users the product of their disingenuous and nebulous business model.
In terms of the filmmaking, it is masterful and appropriate to subject matter and the era. If you watch films today, characters speak one at a time. In the last century, particularly in “Citizen Kane”, characters speak over each other. It adds to a sense of realism and grittiness that represent the era.
There is little to nothing in this film that tells or manipulates the audience into feeling something. The opinion is obtained just from what you see.
There are signs of the male gaze. When Faye Dunaway in soft focus for the romantic scenes, there is a glow that makes her look like a trophy. When she’s in regular focus for other scenes, she looks more pale, and her teeth look less clean—looking like the cyborg her character is.
When all is said and done, any critiques of the media of today should be traced back to this film. It is a satire, and an informal testament to the state of the media Americans used to trust.