A Movie that’s “[R]ad as Hell!” (Movie Review of Network)

I don’t remember when I first saw the clip.

You know the one:

Yeah this one.

Back when I was a right-wing libertarian (2008-10) I saw speech this get shared around the place more than a few times. I knew it was from a movie called Network but I never did digging past that. I figured this was the highlight of the film, how could it not be? It’s impassioned acting, the writing looks great and the emotions are palpable.

How do you top a moment like this?

Past that, I never considered any good reason to watch Network. If it’s such an acclaimed movie and this is the big scene then maybe that’s all I need. It’s possible that this scene is often shared for a reason, because it’s the part that holds up the most from it or touched the most people.

Well, in watching Network for the first time last night, I think I’ve figured out what parts of my presumptions (conscious or not) were true.

And yes, this scene, taking place almost half-way through the film is an excellent way to get a message to the people: You’ve got to get mad before you want to strive towards justice.

I was watching the most recent season of Dear White People recently and there was a very similar message from the main character Sam. She said that all of her enemies told her that her anger is no different from the oppression she was facing and was harmful to the pursuit of justice. But, she reminds us, it’s precisely her anger that gives her a clearer focus towards confronting that injustice and making strides towards effectively addressing it, instead of being indifferent to it.

The situations and characters are different but their messages aren’t: Anger is a gift and it’s a prerequisite for ending the oppression in our lives. “If you aren’t angry then you’re not paying attention” is the old adage. And while that slogan is overused and overrated, it still holds truth for me and many others. By all means, don’t let anger control you, but use it to your advantage and to let it help you focus yourself.

And I know that for my fellow Star War fans this line of reasoning sounds familiar but look, even the emperor of a fascist empire can make a good point once or twice (but for full clarity: fuck fascism and the empire, OK?). Our emotions, so long as we keep them in check, can be a guide to rational action. Trying to repress them, as the Jedi did, is just as irresponsible as the Sith letting their emotions (especially hatred) control them. Meanwhile, listening to your anger, doesn’t mean letting it control you , it can also be a step towards harnessing it and using it for positive ends.

And that’s what Howard Beale, the “angry prophet” wants from the masses in Network. At first Beale is a down on his luck newscaster who has been news-casting for years and only has a few weeks left till he is forced to retire. A mixture of personal tragedy, heavy drinking and old age are combining to make him “old news”, if you will. Throughout this film you’ll hear individuals reduced to the ratings they can give to the station. Whether someone is a “22 share” or a “50 share” can be the difference between someone living the high life and another person being booted from their job despite their years of service to the network.

But Beale isn’t really into that. He’s tired of the way the world works and he does his damnedest throughout the film to make that apparent. Played by Peter Finch, Beale is perhaps the most sympathetic and well fleshed out characters in the film. On the other hand, there’s also an interesting subplot about whether his anger is being exploited by the Network (get it?) but it’s not developed as much as it should have been. Beale’s speeches throughout the film however more than make up for that minor shortcoming.

I’d call this film anti-work adjacent. It’s not itself against work but it does have many criticisms of how work functions in society. Even if the targets of its ridicule aren’t always necessarily on point. For example, the film points the blame on corporate CEOs, stockholders and network control over studios, but Beale himself also blames Arabs and communists are insulted almost as much as capitalists are. The systemic and exploitative nature inherent to capitalism itself isn’t given as much attention, sadly.

Still, that doesn’t mean there’s no anti-work or work-critical themes to be had. The whole movie is practically begging for a full-fledged anti-work analysis, though that’s not my intent with this post. Perhaps upon a re-watch someday but what I can say for now is that there’s a big story line within the film about how work can control and consume you.

There’s talk of the “corporation man” as well as woman in a position of power that shows that giving equal power to people under an unjust system makes little difference. Ultimately, it’s the system of power that matters, not whether women are in charge or men are. That’s not to say it makes no difference if a woman, a person of color, or a queer person are in positions of power. That can show a level of cultural acceptance that can have some net positive effects in some areas. But without criticisms of capitalism itself it’s not going to stop the economic insecurities inherent to our present day.

And I think the movie shows that in excellent fashion through one of its other main characters: Diana Christensen. Throughout this film she is work personified and it’s all she talks about. A romantic partner of hers says that she practically is television, but it’s more accurate to say she just is capitalism and the way it works. It makes you dispassionately choose profits over people in your day to day living and not only do that over and over again but normalize it for yourself and those close to you.

Eventually everything from cheating to murder to sketchy business practices as well as legal ones are on the table. So long as the ratings keep dropping, what else can you do except remove the obstacles to your success and rise to the top? Whose to stop you at that point when you are so close?

People like Howard Beale aren’t perfect and they aren’t always right, but that kind of anger is good and important in our world. I hope my readers will check out this classic movie if they haven’t already. And maybe the libertarians who recommended it all those years ago will realize the message of Network is heavily anti-corporation and skeptical, to say the least, of capitalism itself. Even if it doesn’t always frame it the best.

But hey, you take your shot where you can, right?

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