Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Network

I'll tell you what happened: I just ran out of bullshit. Am I still on the air?

Yes Howard, you're still on the air.

I approach movies about TV, specifically movies that seem to skewer TV, with some trepidation. It strikes me a little like the pot calling the kettle black.

I'm a theater major, and I'm going to tell you something that probably won't surprise you very much: theater people like to bag on movies. In turn, movies like to bag on TV. And TV bags on the internet. The Internet, now the mass entertainment currently popular (and likely will be for some years to come) bags on everyone. Books, magazines, and newspapers used to bag on each other (and theater), but now they've all realized that their in the same boat.

This isn't to say that I didn't like Network, I loved it. But I've been seeing the same message since I was a child. People have been decrying mass entertainment since it was invented. Plato hated theater. Think about that, ancient Greek theater is held-up as a cornerstone of literature, it is revered as one of the greatest forms of theater ever. Euripides is studied by literature majors as a master poet. And Plato thought it was crap.

You do not want me to start on Shakespeare. Sufficed to say, this trope is older than feudalism.

But just because it's old doesn't mean the criticism isn't valid. There is a lot of money to be made entertaining the masses, and that creates greed. That greed is the antagonist of the film, more so than any specific character. Especially in a movie where people behave badly.

And that is, I think, why the movie holds up so well. Everyone has faults the size of the San Andres.

There's a scene in the movie where the middle managers (it's amazing how middle managers are vilified) of the film are discussing Howard's fate. The plot revolves around changes in the news division of UBS. There's a strong flavor that the changes are not for the better in the movie. The new management is seriously thinking of keeping Howard on because his rants bring in high ratings. During the conversation, one of the old guard discribes Howard's rant as pornography. What's interesting about this is that Howard isn't (yet) saying anything that different from what Jon Stewart says on the daily show. I find that choice of word interesting. It sugests to me a deep distain for Howard's conduct that wouldn't be invoked by some other word like unprofessional. Howard's conduct would not be described like that now, I suspect it wouldn't be described like that then. But it works in the 1976 because porn wasn't a ubiquitous as it is now. The home video and internet have really cleaned-up it's image.

There's an interview on the DVD with Paddy Chayefsky, the writer of Network, on the Dina Shore Show. On it, it talks about how he doesn't get any kind of truth from TV, though he does watch it. What's ironic about that is that he's on TV as he says it.

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